Consumer Insight in the time of Lockdown

by Matt Lipson

Consumer Insight Business Lead

The problem with Consumer Insight is the people. They are often busy to take part in research. Or say they do things that bare no relation to what they actually do. They change their mind from one minute to the next. Worse still it can be hard to relate the things they do to the implications for the energy system .. and that hasn’t changed during lockdown.

Luckily, over the past couple of years Energy Systems Catapult has pioneered new ways to tackle these age-old challenges. They are helping us to gather Consumer Insight during the lockdown.

We got to know consumers as individuals, slowly over time. Then we use our Home Truths panel to see how insights we learn generalise to the wider population. We use remote tools to make it easy for consumers to engage with us in the course of living their daily lives. Sensors in our Living Lab help us see beyond what people say to what they do. Computer models relate consumer behaviour to the wider energy system.

And the reality is, many people who are stuck at home during lockdown may even have more time on their hands than usual – even taking account of the home schooling challenges. They’re certainly still very engaged with our projects. Here are a few recent insights we’ve collected from phone interviews, video calls, IM and blogs over the past few weeks.

Electric vehicle charging unlocking demand side flexibility

An electric vehicle charging trial we are supporting, has drivers that live and drive all over the country, so it would have been hard to spend time with them in person. Instead we’ve used video-calls and a blogging platform to have rich conversations and gather a wealth of insight about how they charge their vehicles, including:

  • Insights into when and how they charge for different types of journeys. Behaviours driven by different aims – to save money, drive on “green” miles – along with motives we’d never have guessed.
  • We learned about charging set ups in garages and driveways; while being given guided video tours of the equipment around homes. We’re using Skype to get “in the moment” feedback on whether people notice demand side response events.

These remote tools give consumers more flexibility to share rarer insights. They can contact us when it’s convenient for them and show us unusual things they know we’re interested in. When we watch people using products and services it’s easy to find ways to improve them. We often spot things they would forget by the time we’ve scheduled a focus group or an interview.

Danica Caiger-Smith, Consumer Insight Manager, said:

“One driver mentioned it was a pain to make changes on his smart charger. Seeing him walk 50m through doors and gates really helped us understand his point!”

Consumers and new energy concepts

We’ve been doing surveys online for years. We even created our own Home Truths panel of 6,000 consumers. More recently we’ve started doing interviews online. We’ve been using video calls to ask consumers about new concepts. We email them material to explain how it works, then call them up to find out what they think. The video calls help us build up rapport so consumers share their honest opinion. We can even read their body language like we can in real life.

We also blend online methods. Using interviews to understand the range of opinions, then doing surveys to see how many share the same view. We used this to find out what consumers thought about new energy concepts being trialled in projects support by the Energy Revolution Integration Service.

  • Peer-2-Peer trading: consumers sell energy they generate but don’t use – to people in their local area
  • Demand Side Response: suppliers turn home appliances off for short periods to balance supply
  • Vehicle-2-Grid: charging EV batteries when electricity is cheap and selling it when the price is high
  • Heat as a service: buying a warm home instead of kwh of fuel.

The results we found were:

  • 40% particularly trusted local energy companies. They liked the idea that they would deliver ‘community benefits’ and ‘greener energy’.
  • But 24% said they might not trust a local energy company. They worried they might lack experience or be unreliable.
  • Those who trusted local energy companies were more open to the concepts we tested.
  • Few would give a 3rd party control until they were sure they would get what they wanted (e.g. a warm home, or a charged car).

How can we help?

Our Consumer Panel

So, even though consumers can be hard to work with, especially during the Lockdown, digital technologies present new opportunities. You can find out more about our work and how we can help at People Lab.

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Contact the Consumer Insight team

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