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Sell Water Heaters Online? How Simplified Shopping Can Transform the Market

  • Written by Mark Michalski
  • February 23, 2024
Boston Terrier puppy in bath with soap suds on head, looking at camera

A few years ago, before electric heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) were part of the daily energy efficiency industry news cycle, we had a hypothesis that we could sell them online directly to customers upon learning the trend that consumers were isolating product purchases from installation at big-box retailers. HPWHs have long been heralded for their energy-saving capabilities, yet they make up less than 2% of the domestic hot water market, which meant our hypothesis was worth testing.

A Pilot Takes Shape

Our partners at C+C identified Snohomish PUD as a willing pilot participant, given their interest in driving customer adoption of HPWH. Through months of collaboration and planning, we laid the groundwork for our pilot, which aimed to challenge the traditional approach of bundled purchase and installation by offering an instant discount on HPWHs through a curated storefront with delivery or pick-up as fulfillment options.

With strategic marketing, site development, and logistics in place, we launched a limited-time offer in November 2019. Several of our key findings from that pilot follow.

  • Educating and enticing customers: One of the biggest hurdles was marketing. How do you sell something unfamiliar to consumers? Snohomish PUD and C+C joined forces, crafting a creative educational campaign to reach DIY customers. Through email and social media, we spread awareness in a lighthearted yet informative way.
  • Creating a seamless experience: We built a custom online storefront tailored to DIY customers. With zip code validation and scheduling tools, we ensured a smooth shopping experience from start to finish.
  • Overcoming challenges: The biggest challenge? Logistics. How do you deliver products you don't supply? We partnered with Ferguson and a local delivery company to efficiently fulfill orders.

 With the initial goal set at 25 HPWHs, the limited-time offer exceeded expectations, doubling our target and selling 50 HPWHs in just one month. We proved our hypothesis was correct: customers are willing to separate purchase from installation with HPWHs, paving the way for future innovations. We took our learnings from the pilot and applied them to a series of annual HPWH limited-time offers Snohomish PUD would execute annually from 2019 to 2021, where we sold just shy of 400 units in aggregate.

A Bright Future for HPWH

Our hypothesis and work supporting Snohomish PUD that began in 2019 brings us to today, where we have active HPWH marketplaces and e-commerce platforms for multiple clients with plans to administer additional limited-time offers with new clients this year. Over five years, we have refined our approach by building new tools, supporting new program delivery mechanisms (including fixed-price installation), crafting a better customer experience, and applying what we have learned from customers and our supply chain partners.

Want to hear more about Snohomish PUD’s transformative approach to HPWH and overall online marketplace journey? Join our upcoming webinar, From Vision to Value: Building a Utility Marketplace That Delivers Real Impact.