Office supply giant Staples has adopted EnergySage’s online solar marketplace to help its customers comparison-shop for solar photovoltaic systems.
Staples is not directly getting into the solar game, but it will give e-gift cards to consumers who end up installing solar through the Staples-EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Homeowners will get $125 to $300, and businesses will receive $500 to $2,500, depending on the size of the installation.
“Consumers will get choice and transparency,” said Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, of the offering.
EnergySage has been called the Expedia of solar. The company's platform offers customers the chance to comparison shop for solar installers and financing options the way they would for other products, such as insurance policies or airline flights. The deal with Staples is the Boston-based startup’s first major commercial deal.
“Solar, so far, has been a push product,” said Aggarwal. “But as the industry matures, consumers are becoming shoppers.”
By helping customers navigate the solar landscape, Staples hopes to be seen as a go-to trusted partner, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that often do not have the time or resources to evaluate solar on their own. The solar marketplace will be an extension of Staples’ energy-efficient product offerings. Staples is competing with other big-box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe's and Best Buy, to win customers who are interested in energy-conscious purchases.
“Our partnership with EnergySage is a natural extension of our commitment to helping our customers run their businesses and homes more sustainably,” Jake Swenson, director of sustainable products and services at Staples, said in a statement.
The agreement with Staples is not an exclusive one, and EnergySage is pursuing other major retailers. Walgreens is using EnergySage's platform to help its employees shop for solar, and EnergySage hopes the partnership will grow to a point where Walgreens begins offering it to customers.
Most of EnergySage’s current business comes from nonprofit partners, such as World Wildlife Fund and Massachusetts Sierra Club, as well as government deals. The company has just landed a soon-to-be-announced state government and is also trying to close deals with utilities, which are often notoriously slow to act.
Aggarwal says that consumers who shop through EnergySage save about 9 percent on solar PV systems compared to the national average. In its home state of Massachusetts, EnergySage recently found that its customers saved an average of $5,000 to $10,000 compared to going directly through an installer.
Comparison shopping can save customers a substantial amount of money, but EnergySage also has something to offer the hundreds of solar installers that are listed on its site: higher conversion rates. In some of the markets the company serves, such as California, conversion rates are closing in on 25 percent.
Unlike Expedia, EnergySage is not currently facing competition in the form of the Kayak, Travelocity or Orbitz of the solar shopping market. For now, it is mostly competing with solar companies such as SolarCity and Sunrun. But Aggarwal is aware that deep-pocketed players could come along to try to rival EnergySage, although he sees EnergySage’s three-year head start as a strong buffer to competition.
“We are in this enviable position because we’re truly agnostic,” said Aggarwal. “Consumers are starting to say, ‘Let me do my homework.’”