Lessons for HVAC World from Holiday Retail Sales


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Savvy retailers continue to succeed in high-sales seasons due to their embrace and implementation of powerful technology across sales channels. Retail tracking firm ShopperTrak found that visits to physical stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday showed a 1.6 percent year-over-year decline, while Salesforce reported a 24 percent increase in Black Friday online sales – driving home the importance for AC contractors (and everyone in consumer sales) to ensure digital capabilities ahead of the busy spring and summer months.

Further, a survey from MagnifyMoney found that the average U.S. shopper took on an average of $1,054 in debt during the holiday season. The need for heavy spending presents an opportunity for stores carrying credit cards, and because HVAC repairs and replacements are also costly purchases for families to make (and are typically unexpected), it is essential that dealers have great financing options available to meet customer needs.

Just as the fall months are busy for retailers as families cross off their holiday shopping lists or look to make important purchases they may have put off during the summer, spring and summer are opportune seasons in the HVAC business as families prepare to beat the heat. Taking lessons from the retailer playbook to deliver a great customer experience and offer effective financing is vital to compete for these families’ business.

Comprehensive, Financing is Key

Consumers looking to make large purchases for their home need payment options.

“All studies show that American’s have less in savings and discretionary funds to afford unforeseen emergencies, and they need a way to pay,” said Lisa Stickley, Senior Manager of Channel Marketing and Training at Rheem Manufacuring. “If contractors are not offering finance, they ARE missing sales. The ability to finance these type of transactions is assumed by consumers.”

While most HVAC dealers have financing options, they can gain a significant competitive advantage by offering flexible credit programs to reach credit-impaired customers in need of their services. A 2017 survey from Vyze found that 10.4 percent of responding retail shoppers cited “fear of being declined” as a reason they opted out of credit applications.

To combat this aversion, stores increasingly offer alternative payment solutions like second look financing, which allows a customer who has been declined credit due to their FICO score the opportunity to reapply for consideration based on factors beyond their credit score. More than 43 percent of Americans have FICO scores below 700 according to FICO.com, so offering a second look option for initially declined shoppers allows retailers to sell to a much more broad segment of customers.

“Offering this additional opportunity to our channel customers strengthens Rheem’s program participation, our relationship with the contractor and, ultimately, helps contractors secure more sales – our main goal,” Stickley said of Rheem’s second look line of credit option. “Having a portfolio with primary and second look finance options certainly sets contractors apart from their competition and gives them a solid prospect for more sales.”

Leveraging Tech Across Payment Channels

The March 2017 International Council of Shopping Centers Retail Technology Survey found that by 2020, 62 percent of consumer respondents want to have access to products available in-store without engaging a salesperson. Accordingly, investment in technology that makes the shopping experience easier and more informative – both in-store and online – are essential. Retailers have made significant efforts to develop and improve their omnichannel offerings throughout the past decade, and as technology advances and consumer preferences shift, the more adaptable businesses have prevailed. Top HVAC companies are also benefitting from this roadmap.

“Technology is the driving force to help us disseminate information to our customers throughout the channel quicker,” Stickley said of Rheem’s technology applications. “It enables us to provide this information in multiple formats and vehicles, so that contractors can access information where they are (in the home, at the office, on the job). It allows everyone to be more efficient.”

Technology can also boost the effectiveness of the two-tiered consumer financing programs discussed earlier. Respondents to the 2017 Vyze survey also opted out of credit applications because of (1) not wanting to disclose financial information to a store representative (26.9 percent of respondents) and (2) a long application process (15 percent). It is essential that financing applications are a simple, quick and private process for the customer.

For that reason, retailers seek financing providers with applications that integrate seamlessly with their omnichannel platforms. Partnerships between prime and second look financing providers as well as fintech solutions accomplish this by integrating financing applications together and into retailers’ existing sales platforms to ensure a seamless customer experience. Fortunately, the HVAC industry stands to benefit from this trend as providers and fintech solutions have also narrowed their focus on solutions for home improvement contractors.

For example, Fortiva Retail Credit has integrated with prime lenders so that a second look application is automatically triggered after a customer is declined prime financing – taking the time and anxiety out of a second application process.

Alternatively, fintech providers allow customers and HVAC sales reps to work through the financing process on one interface by bringing prime and second look providers together onto one platform. This allows for integration with a heating and air sales staff’s in-store or on-site point of sale, online and mobile applications and more. HVAC contractors are able to leverage partnerships from financing and payment vendors that heed consumer demand for a simplified and easy checkout process for their larger purchases.

Conclusion

Technology is increasingly vital for retailers and HVAC providers alike to satisfy customer demand for a convenient shopping and payment experience. As such, dealers continue to gain large competitive advantages thanks to investment in innovative solutions across channels and partnerships with financing providers that keep technological innovation and customer experience at the forefront. Those that fail to keep up could be in for a rough 2018.

Mike Fredricks
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Posted In: Money

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