Choosing and dealing with an energy supplier is one of life’s necessities. The only alternative is a life off-grid. Yet, whilst the romance of being completely self-sufficient is more than appealing for some, for most of us we’re forced to choose between a host of providers offering fixed tariffs discounts, variable tariffs, free insulation, free boilers and more.
In 2018 we have more choice than ever before. As KPMG reports, The UK has a record number of domestic retail suppliers with 12 new entrants into the market on an already near historic high in 2017.
With lower prices and better customer services being the key motivators for switching, both of which perpetuated as the consumer nirvana by money advice sites such as Money Saving Expert , it’s not surprising to see that in 2017 Ofgem observed increased levels of consumer engagement (defined as having switched supplier, changed tariff or compared tariff with their own or other suppliers over the last 12 months) in their annual ‘consumer engagement in the energy market’ report.
The report shows that the majority who are engaged are younger people, those in social grade ABC1, households on higher incomes, and frequent internet users. With younger people (16-34s) more likely to switch provider than 35-64s who are more prone to switching tariff.
The impact of the millennial consumer on the market cannot be ignored. As Utility Drive notes “they are bringing radically different interests and perspectives to their relationships with their electricity providers than previous generations.”
A key trait of this demographic is a greater concern for the environment and the impact business are having on both the planet and society.
This is a trend we are expecting to see play a significant role in building consumer trust in 2018.
This poses the question;
Are we about to see a shift in consumer preference from those that offer the lowest prices to those who have the lowest negative environmental impact?
There are certainly signs to suggest it’s possible.
A recent report from Nielson shows that, globally, 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. With millennials even more so at 73% indicating a similar preference. Additionally, the report found that, 81% of millennials expect their favourite companies to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship. Moreover, sources suggest that Millennials are increasingly happy to switch to businesses which invest in their responsibility for a greener environment even if it means paying more. With the whispers of change on the wind we can see that energy brands are already to starting to take notice and respond.
Some of the largest energy businesses are becoming increasingly vocal about their commitment to investing in new and re-usable sources of energy. BP, for example, are spending more time referencing their work around wind energy, bio fuels, and even testing how our everyday waste can be used as a source of energy. What’s particularly interesting about BP is their transparency (another key trend for 2018) around how they don’t expect every experiment to work however those that do, will likely make the most impact on the world. Other providers are doing their bit to raise awareness of sustainability issues and further the conversation through entertaining yet informative content.
E-on’s collaboration with the band Gorillaz is an interesting example of how energy brands are finding new ways to engage audiences (particularly millennials) in the conversation beyond ‘green manifestos’ and policy announcements. We’re also seeing the sharing of responsibility around efficient energy consumption through the roll out of smart meters. Whilst primarily providing a tool for customers to feel more in control of their spending, visualising energy data in people’s home is enabling customers to educate themselves and develop good energy habits in a more organic way than content and policies alone ever could.
Customers gain the double benefit of knowing they’re in control of their spending but also their carbon footprint. In 2018 it remains to be seen if consumers will truly shift their energy preferences from lowest price to greenest. However one thing is clear; CSR is firmly on the agenda for the largest consumer generation and therefore energy brands cannot afford to ignore the eco-friendly expectations that are placed on them.
-Adam Reader, Senior Planner