You often hear that we live in a digital age where connected technologies and online platforms are the norm in most consumers’ lives. However, not all of today’s consumers have the same affinity or level of comfort with technology.
The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently updated its consumer segmentation framework following an online survey of 2,500 Americans who pay their electric bills. For the first time, SECC’s segmentation incorporated consumers’ interest with and affinity for technology as one of the main inputs in addition to their interest in energy management.
And, from these five distinct segments of American consumers in the new framework, we identified two that tend to avoid technology-driven solutions – the Simply Sustainable and the Trusting Traditionalists. Though these consumers are quite different in some ways, they both share the same values that technology tends not be central to their daily lives.
The Simply Sustainable consumers are the largest of the new segments, representing 28 percent of the general population. Behind the Green Pioneers, these are the most eco-conscious of the new segments: 57 percent of them strongly agree that “reducing their electricity usage helps the environment”, compared with 61 percent for the Green Pioneers.
When it comes to technology, however, they're indifferent, or even averse. Less than one percent of them strongly agree that “it is important to have the latest technology”. Also, not many of them currently have smart home devices installed in their homes (either for energy-related or other purposes).
But, given their strongly environmental values, these consumers are still open to learning about technology; in fact, 64 percent of them say that they are interested in learning how to use a smart thermostat to manage their electricity usage – compared with 68 percent of Green Pioneers and 61 percent of Connected Pragmatists, a segment that tends to skew younger and more tech-savvy.
At more than one-quarter of the population, the Simply Sustainable consumers are an important segment for electric utilities to engage, and these consumers have indicated that they are open to learning about new programs and technologies. Promoting simple solutions and set-it-forget-it technologies may be attractive to consumers in this segment who are looking for ways to reduce their electricity usage, while helping the environment.
For example, an electricity provider may offer a smart thermostat along with “white-glove” set up based on the consumer’s preferences. Or the provider may offer technical support to integrate the consumer’s existing smart speaker with available energy-related functions to help manage the home environment and electricity use.
Like the Simply Sustainable, the Trusting Traditionalists – 17 percent of the general population –also tend to be older and somewhat intimidated by technology. They're even less likely than the Simply Sustainable to currently be using smart home devices for energy-related purposes, and only three percent strongly agree that they “enjoy learning about new technologies [they] can use at home” – by far the lowest of any of the five segments.
That said, they have a few of attributes that make them a good target for electric utilities to engage. They are most likely to trust their utilities; the most likely to be satisfied with their utilities; and they're looking for ways to reduce their electricity bills at a similar level to the mean for all five segments.
The Trusting Traditionalists are unlikely to have taken many steps at home to manage their electricity usage, hence electricity providers have a great opportunity to harness these consumers’ trust and desire for lower bills and help them take easy, proven actions to lower their electricity bills. For example, less than half have installed any energy-efficient lighting – less than even the disengaged Comfort Seekers (51 percent).
Surprisingly, though, they are interested in some programs at levels similar to more engaged segments. They’re interested in a peak-time rebate programs at about the same rate as the Green Pioneers, and one-third are very interested in conducting an energy audit. However, when we look at barriers, upfront costs are a considerable barrier (just like the Simply Sustainable consumers, in fact).
Given their trust of their utilities and high levels of satisfaction, these Trusting Traditionalist consumers may respond to outreach regarding in-person energy assessments from their utility, especially if upgrades are made easy for them and if rebates are available to help with the upfront costs.
While we often hear about the digital-native Millennial and Gen Z demographics, it’s important to remember that many of today’s consumers – including the largest segment in our new segmentation framework – are not tech-savvy and need additional support to engage with technology-driven energy management solutions. However, due to their specific values and attitudes, these consumers may still be ideal targets for innovative programs and services – so long as they have the support and education they need.