A new longitudinal study by 60 Decibels and Efficiency for Access explores how customers’ relationship with their off-grid appliances changes over time. We captured critical indicators through phone interviews with off-grid TV, solar water pump, and refrigerator customers to track product quality, durability, satisfaction, impact, and uptake. Customers purchased appliances from 22 companies.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Impact results for solar water pumps were positive and increased as the length of ownership increased. Impact results for TVs and refrigerators, however, were mixed over time.
- For refrigerators and solar water pumps, the proportion of customers experiencing challenges increases as the length of ownership increases.
- Word of mouth is the most common way new customers learn about products, potentially posing a challenge to companies with higher rates of unresolved product issues.
The main insights on all appliances:
Appliance Uptake Trend
Aside from TVs, the likelihood that customers purchased an additional appliance decreased over time.
12% of customers purchased additional offgrid products since they were last interviewed. Most that made additional purchases bought TVs, solar home systems, and solar water pumps. It’s interesting to note that while purchases of other appliances decrease over time, the uptake of TVs almost doubles. From sales figures for the regions covered by this study, we know that TVs tend to be the most desired and purchased entry-level off-grid appliances. Additionally, their relative affordability compared to SWPs and refrigerators might further support sales.
There is a marginal increase in the number of customers who reported seeing more people own or buy these appliances in their community as the tenure of ownership increased, which seems to reflect the slower-than-anticipated growth of the off-grid appliance sector. The latest solar market trend report saw annual unit sales of off-grid appliances decline by 21% between 2019 and 2021 and were yet to recover by 2022.
For refrigerators and solar water pumps, a significant number of people no longer use their appliances. While discounted usage trends are down for refrigerator owners, the opposite is true for solar water pumps: over 30% of customers no longer use their appliance by year 3-4 of ownership.
Interestingly, the percentage of customers who no longer use their TV remains much lower and consistent than the other technologies. This may be due to the lower price of TVs, making repayment easier and thus repossession less likely.
Discontinued Usage & Possession
A quarter of all customers no longer have their appliance, 55% of whom had their appliance repossessed. While other reasons for discontinued use are shown in the graph, the high repossession rate is significant. Especially for solar water pumps and refrigerators – which remain unaffordable for many households and businesses – making repayments can often mean customers are forced to make unacceptable sacrifices. As seen from previous research on this cohort, there is evidence of overindebtedness affecting customers. More flexible and longer loan terms may better enable customers to repay their loans without cutting back on consumption. Improving the affordability of appliances is also critical to lowering repossession rates and allowing more households to access their numerous positive impacts.
Top Reasons For Stopped Use
- Issues with appliance (49%)
- Appliance was inefficient (21%)
- Business worsened (13%)
Customer Suggestions & Opportunities for Improvement
52% of customers had a specific suggestion for improvement.
38% could not think of a specific improvement & 10% had positive feedback at the end of the interview.
Of the customers who had suggestions for improvement, 13% asked for the companies to improve their customer service, while 7% talked about the improvement of product quality.
Excerpt of: Appliance Impacts Over Time: Longitudinal insights from off-grid TV, refrigerators, & solar water pumps users (60 Decibels / Efficiency for Access, 2023)