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What Best Buy Learned at Its Annual Energy Efficiency Summit

At Best Buy, we sell technology products and solutions. Utilities provide the energy that powers those products. We're both in a state of transformation as efficiency continues to emerge as the next challenge and opportunity for consumer-facing industries.

This simple truth is the reason Best Buy hosts an annual Energy Efficiency Summit. This week marks our third Summit, a time when we convene utility companies and other industry players for a conversation about ways we can work together to drive more efficient use of power. These meetings consist of partnership-driven conversations: We talk a lot about our customers, we gather additional third-party insight, and we make our best guesses as to what they (the customers) want and need. We then agree to initiatives and pilots designed to target the consumer and motivate their purchase decisions.

We choose to take a different approach. Our current business, through the knowledge of our Blue Shirts and Geek Squad agents, is to help demystify technology for our customers, and help them make the most of that technology in their lives. We also have experience in helping them make more sustainable choices: Last year, for instance, we sold 23 million Energy Star products that saved customers $114 million in energy costs.

And as we seek our future growth opportunities, we pay keen attention to where consumer technology is going next. As we watch utilities rethink and reframe how they do business, utilizing those emerging tools and technologies to help consumers manage their energy use and costs are not unlike the CE products and services we already provide.

And so our approach to the Energy Efficiency Summit is notably different than usual partnership meetings. This week, nearly 200 third-party attendees formed an impressive group, including:

• Approximately 150 utilities from across the U.S.
• Various industry and policy group representatives, including the Alliance to Save Energy
• Device manufacturers, HVAC teams, service providers, and various industrial partners
• And a panel of six people. We usually call them consumers; also referred to as ratepayers. They referred to themselves as homeowners, parents and community members.

We shared data representing thousands of Best Buy customers, whom we've researched gaining valuable insights on technology use and energy consumption. Together, we listened to utility representatives and industry group leaders, talking about the intersections of policy, business, and sustainability.

But the consumer panel discussion was clearly the highlight of the Summit, as the consumers told us what they want (and don't) to help them manage their energy use. The questions from our guests were thoughtful, even skeptical at times. And the answers from the panel members were candid:

• "I don't care about the 'benefits of the smart grid.' You might care as businesses, but I don't think about it that way."
• "I get that a gallon of gas is like a gallon of milk. What's a kilowatt-hour? Help me see it."
• "We need two different efficiency labels on products: a technically detailed label, and a simple label. I'll buy based on the tech label, but my fiancée won't."
• "A new 'green' home model here in Minnesota cost $1 million to build! I can't afford that. How can you help 'green' be accessible to someone like me?"

Their voices illuminated our shared challenge and opportunity: We need business models that are truly considerate of how people actually think and make decisions. We must bring forward our respective best assets -- utilities and retail/services -- and reengineer the ways we help customers with their energy use: how they use it, how they consume it, and how they can find ways to better manage it. And we need to embrace the very technology they know and use today to drive the efficiency we all want to see.

I was thrilled to see the growing sense of opportunity in the room this week. Together with the utilities, we discussed deeply this week about our shared customers, and we'll explore initiatives and pilots designed to target the consumer and motivate their decisions.

But we're not taking a "best guess" approach to what our customers want and need. We've grown our business over the years by standing shoulder to shoulder with the consumer, and we're not moving: The voice of the customer will be at the center of these partnerships to build a more energy efficient connected world.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user jiazi.

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