By Jonathan Marshall
In the world of big retail, the Sears Partners in Transformation Award is almost as prestigious as an Olympics medal. Out of more than 30,000 Sears partners and suppliers who compete for it, fewer than half of one percent receive it.
PG&E was honored this year by the program’s award for Retail Excellence, which recognizes Sears’s “top-performing suppliers as true partners in transformation,” in the words of Lou D’Ambrosio, president and chief executive officer of Sears Holdings. PG&E was the only utility to receive the award.
$3 million in customer rebates
Sears recognized PG&E for “consistently lead(ing) the way with respect to introducing and executing creative/innovative/collaborative solutions that benefit our mutual customer base in Northern California.” Among other accomplishments, PG&E provided instant and mail-in rebates worth more than $3 million to Sears customers for purchasing energy-efficient appliances and other products. PG&E also installed information kiosks at 14 Sears stores to help shoppers better understand SmartMeters and how to control their energy consumption.
Sears was one of the inaugural participants in the Business and Consumer Electronics (BCE) Program, a retailer-based program designed by PG&E in 2008. In a model of utility collaboration, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Nevada Energy joined the program in 2009. BCE members collectively set strict energy-efficiency specifications based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program and encourage manufacturers and retailers to educate, promote and sell the most energy-efficient televisions.
Sears also participates in PG&E’s Customer Energy Solutions program, which promotes a broad range of energy efficiency solutions for the utility’s customers. Participating retailers, which also include Best Buy, Costco, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Orchard Supply, Sam’s Club, Target, and Wal-Mart, have more than 500 stores in PG&E’s service area capable of delivering these solutions. Sales associates, who have been trained by PG&E representatives about energy efficiency, help boost sales of qualifying energy-efficient products, a win for both the retailers and the environment.
Partnerships with other retailers
Last year, PG&E’s retail engagement team began to form deeper strategic partnerships with Sears, along with Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Orchard Supply, aimed at building programs, communicating better with customers, and sharing best practices. PG&E Vice President Steven Malnight has participated in executive meetings with his counterparts at the retailers to drive progress on the partnership.
One outcome of the Sears partnership was a successful pilot of a new point-of-sale rebate process, allowing customers to receive PG&E rebates on qualifying products immediately. An overwhelming 93 percent of customers surveyed had a positive view of this method of receiving instant rebates. As a result of the close partnership, Sears also shared with PG&E its best practices with regard to training and customer service gleaned from years of experience sending service teams into the field to repair appliances.
In all, PG&E’s collaboration with Sears and other strategic retail partners cut electric power demand in PG&E’s service area by an estimated 11 megawatts last year.
Building on this experience in “executing creative/innovative/collaborative solutions,” PG&E is now working closely with more than 100 other utilities through the Western Utility Summit to extend the benefits of strong partnerships with retailers like Sears to more and more utilities and their customers. (PG&E offers tips for buyers of many products, from electric vehicles to energy-efficient appliances, on its website.)
Email Jonathan Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.