Business specialists say that retail electricity companies follow a model used in other mature industries, such as banking, cell phone services and cable television, where the market is saturated and the main way to grow is by poaching customers from competitors. In all these industries, companies use cut-rate promotional offers to win customers and then hope inertia sets in once promotions expire and prices increase.
One way NRG has expanded its customer base — it has about 30 percent of the retail electricity market in Texas compared to about 20 percent a decade ago —is by putting employees into retail settings such as grocery stores and discount stores to meet with consumers about the company’s electricity plan offerings. The face-to-face interactions have helped the company explain the range of current offerings, said Killinger. NRG also emphasizes the importance of buying power from a company with enough financial heft that it will be around in the future.
That’s what Josh Burdick thinks when looks around for electricity deals on Power to Choose for his 1,400 square foot West University condo. But Burdick, 45, an information technology project manager for an oil company in Houston, figured that he wouldn’t end up saving that much. He signed up with Reliant 11 years ago and has never left, paying anywhere from $120 to $150 a month during the summer. He is not even on a plan, instead paying month-to-month market rates, which typically cost more than longer term retail contracts.