Many HVAC contractors prefer to discuss prices in person with consumers. For a long time, consumers accepted that. Now, consumers expect businesses to present pricing upfront and online. A growing number of contractors and vendors say it’s time for the HVAC industry to give consumers the transparency they want.
Paul Redman, vice president of sales for Contractor Commerce, said the demand for e-commerce grew during the pandemic. This was due in part to consumer concerns about having people in their homes. As a result, inviting two or three HVAC contractors to present bids at the kitchen table became something to avoid. The biggest driver, however, is just the general shift in shopping behavior.
“We believe that like every other industry, it will be a normal thing to have pricing on your website for the things you do,” Redman said.
Contractor Commerce provides a plug-and-play solution for HVAC contractors’ e-commerce needs. Redman uses the example of auto sales as another field that was slow to provide online pricing. Today, it’s common practice, and dealers find it benefits them as much as their customers.
“There’s this level of trust now in the automobile industry that’s never been there before,” Redman said.
Someone Will Post Prices Online
Dealers started listing prices in part because third-party sites were already providing estimates to potential buyers. It’s the same case for the HVAC business, Redman said. Several sites provide consumers with what they claim is the average price for buying and installing a new HVAC system.
“The reality is they’re going to get pricing somewhere online,” Redman said. “They just aren’t going to get it from the contractor. Pricing is out there, but contractors just aren’t delivering it. If I’m the contractor, I’d want to be the source of that information.”
The main objection among HVAC contractors is that they sell more than equipment. Each job is different because each house is different. Redman said customers understand there are variables. What they don’t want is a surprise jump in price once they go to finalize the sale.
On a Contractor Commerce site, homeowners fill out a questionnaire that includes the size of the home, location of the unit, and the type of fuel. They then receive prices for three options of varying price. The site also provides payment options, including cash, financing, and leasing. Redman said HVAC contractors can post disclaimers on the site cautioning that the final price may prove different, but Redman said it should be pretty close unless the consumer really misrepresents the house.
Create Value to Avoid Competing on Price
Another concern for HVAC contractors is competing on price. Redman said e-commerce actually allows them to do the opposite. It filters out the homeowners who fail to see the added value a firm offers.
Travis Ringe, co-founder of ProSkills Services in Anthem, Arizona, said providing pricing online actually requires even more of an investment in branding and reputation management. ProSkills has offered an e-commerce section on its website for a few years, but Ringe began building the firm’s name long before that. ProSkills maintains a five-star rating in Google.
“Your reputation has to be able to stand on your own if you’re going to do it,” Ringe said.
Ringe started offering online pricing with water heaters and added HVAC based on the success of that move. He said the website needs regular updating, but it’s worth it, as he’s seen revenue jump since starting to offer e-commerce options. That’s due in part to providing a service customers want.
“People enjoy being able to shop in the privacy of their own home,” Ringe said.
Consumers shop how they want, when they want online, Redman said. They no longer need to schedule their days around waiting for someone to come to them. This helps HVAC contractors as well, especially in this time of labor shortages and high fuel costs. Redman said he knows one contractor who directed all inquiries to his site during a recent heat wave.
Redman sees e-commerce only growing in the future. He said smaller HVAC contractors will need to start adapting once the larger operators add online pricing. At the same time, it can level the playing field.
“The contractors who do business the way customers want to do business are the one who are going to win,” Redman said.