While the Internet has become a valuable tool for online transactions, it has also contributed to the commoditization of products traditionally sold and serviced by HVACR contractors, distributors, and manufacturers. Furnaces and condensing units are commonly sold via online retailers.

This practice can make it easier for consumers to shop and compare prices from the convenience of their keyboards, but it also raises concerns among the HVACR trade that do-it-yourselfers who purchase these products are not correctly installing and maintaining the equipment.

This situation may lead to warranty problems - problems that wouldn't arise if the equipment were installed by a licensed HVACR professional.

One company, Fujitsu General America Inc., recently announced a policy regarding online retail purchasing and product warranties. The manufacturer's nonretail Internet sales policy covers its line of Halcyon ductless mini-split heating-cooling products. Warranty coverage is voided for products purchased through online retailers and resellers, the company said. "Fujitsu does not authorize online retail sales of any of its products."

According to Tedd Rozylowicz, Fujitsu General America president, "We want to ensure that everyone who purchases a Fujitsu Halcyon ductless mini-split system gets the full benefits of their purchase. The only way customers can be certain of full warranty protection and unmatched performance is if they purchase a Halcyon system from an authorized distributor or contractor.

"Authorized distributors are responsible for who they sell our products to," he continued. "We partner with the finest distributors who also choose to support the HVAC contractor by not selling to online retailers. The purchase and sale of our products requires an extensive amount of pre- and post-sale support, support that cannot be adequately provided over the Internet.

"While there is an opportunity to sell much more product by authorizing Internet sales," he said, "we believe that by managing our distribution in this way, the Fujitsu brand, our authorized distributors, contractors, and the end users will benefit."

Fujitsu General America does not authorize online retail sales of its Halcyon ductless mini-split systems, and warranty coverage is voided if products are purchased through online retailers and resellers. However, the company said it embraces the Internet as an important sales and service tool, and its Web site, www.fujitsugeneral.com (below), contains a wealth of information for end users, contractors, and distributors alike.

Fighting Commoditization

According to the company, this policy was designed to keep the mini-split system from becoming a commodity product.

Roy Kuczera, Fujitsu General America vice president of sales, HVAC Division, told The News that the best way for dealers and distributors to fight commoditization is to support the new policy.

"Contractors can keep our products and services from becoming commodity items by supporting and abiding by the nonretail Internet sales policy enforced by Fujitsu and other manufacturers," Kuczera said.

"Fujitsu does not authorize online retail sales of any of its products. Our authorized distributors are able to operate password-protected sites to sell Fujitsu products to qualified technicians.

"This new policy keeps mini-splits from becoming a commodity item, supports the HVAC channel, and avoids circumventing the distributor and contractor."

The company also wants to ensure that customers who purchase a Halcyon ductless mini-split system get the full benefits of their system, by purchasing it from an authorized distributor or contractor.

Don't Dump The Web

Although the company does not authorize online retail sales of any of its products, it is not implying that the Internet cannot be a useful tool - quite the opposite.

"If used in an appropriate manner, the Internet can be a very positive influence on our trade," said Kuczera.

"It allows manufacturers, distributors, contractors, and end users to perform their roles more efficiently.

"Fujitsu embraces the Internet as a very important sales and service tool.

"Our Web site contains a wealth of information for end users, contractors, and distributors alike. It allows us to effectively communicate with these different groups of people in real time."

Kuczera said the Web site gives end users instant access to all product information, including specs, brochures, owner's manuals, warranty statements, press releases, and more, allowing them to conduct extensive research to make an educated purchasing decision.

He added, "Contractors have access to troubleshooting guides, training schedules, and service manuals. Through a password-protected area they can also view a parts finder including blow-apart system drawings, a Btu calculator, procedures, forms, and more.

"In addition to this information, distributors have access to ordering literature and promotional items, as well as downloading product images and brand logos."

For more information, visit www.fujitsugeneral.com.

Publication date: 01/31/2005