The popularity of water dispensers continues to grow and as more continue to be produced to meet the public’s demand, it is important for manufacturers and distributors to stay focused on the wants and needs to of their customers. Why are they buying water coolers? What features are most appealing to them? What features are least appealing? Answering these questions provide companies with the knowledge necessary to stand out in an expanding and increasingly crowded marketplace. For this reason, we crafted a survey that asked customers the reasons why they had purchased a water cooler, or considered purchasing one, as well as which features they found most important and useful. The results provided a valuable insight into the mind of the average consumer.
We discovered that despite the popular association between water dispensers and the work place a clear majority (56.4%) of consumers buy water dispensers for home use. We also discovered that despite the plethora of new features used to market water dispensers, there was only one features that the majority of consumers (71.8%) said was important to them: the ability to dispense hot and cold water. Significant minorities thought other features were important as well: stainless steel water tanks (41%), color (33.3%), design (33.3%), ENERGY STAR approval (33.3%), BPA-free (30.8%), and hot water shutoff switches (25.6%).
We also asked customers about features they found useful, though not necessarily important: storage compartments, digital displays, and automatic water dispensers. Again, opinion was split. 46.2 percent of customers thought storage cabinets were useful. 38.4 percent of customers thought digital displays were useful, and only 25.6 percent thought automatic water dispensers were useful. The majority (71.8%) preferred manual spigots or push button controls, indicating that simpler design features are not an obstacle when marketing water dispensers.
The most surprising finding was the degree that trust played in consumers’ decisions. 42 percent of customers cited ratings, brand, quality, value, or durability as the biggest influence on their purchase decision. Taken together, they indicate a strong desire to ensure that the products they buy are reliable and dependable. Some of the features they thought were important, such as BPA-free and ENERGY STAR approval, also speak to this need. They ensure the water the cooler dispenses is clean and that its electrical systems are well-constructed and efficient.
This paper is designed to serve as a guide that will allow manufacturers, distributors, and marketers to identify the most purposes, features, and reasons behind a customer’s decision to purchase a water dispenser in order to sell their products more effectively.
To collect the necessary data from consumers, we composed an eight-question survey that asked them which water dispenser features they were most interested in, where they planned to use their water dispenser, and whether they found certain features useful or not. The survey also asked consumers questions about their experiences with our website, which were used by the company to improve its customer service.
In order to target the survey to the appropriate market segment, we mined data from our website and assembled a list of over 5,000 emails from visitors who had either purchased a water dispenser from us or who had searched for one on our website. The survey was sent out on January 26, 2016. Responses were voluntary and no compensation or reward was offered to any of the participants. The results were collected over the following four weeks, finally concluding on Feb .17, 2016. The results were collected and organized by our marketing team.
The survey provided three notable findings. First, 56.4% of respondents bought or were planning to buy a water dispenser for their kitchen, while only a quarter (25.6%) planned on buying on for their office. The remaining 33.3% of respondents planned to install their water dispenser in another location, but did not specify which. These findings indicate that consumers are not buying water dispensers to supplement to their drinking water. Instead, water coolers are being placed in the hub of the house and being used as the primary appliance for accessing drinking water.
Second, despite the wide range of features available on modern water coolers, there was only one feature that was important to the majority of respondents: whether the cooler could dispense both hot and cold water. 71.8 percent of respondents listed this feature as the most important. A host of other features were rated highly by 25% or more of respondents, indicating that they were not a decisive factor in purchasing. They were:
Stainless Steel Water Tanks. 41 percent of respondents listed stainless steel water tanks as an important feature, indicating that taste and durability were important to them. (Stainless steel is corrosion resistant and imparts no flavor to water stored in it)
ENERGY STAR Approval. 33.3 percent of respondents listed ENERGY STAR approval as an important feature, indicating the success of the EPA at promoting awareness of the ENERGY STAR program, whose goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting the use and sale of energy efficient appliances.
Color & Design. Another 33.3 percent of respondents listed the color and design of their water cooler as an important feature, indicating that form as well as function needs to be taken into account while manufacturing water coolers for public consumption.
BPA-Free. 30.8 percent of respondents listed BPA-free construction as an important feature, indicating that the health concerns over BPA have become widespread among the American public. BPA (short for Bisphenol A) is a synthetic, organic compound used as a stiffening agent in the manufacturing of plastic containers, including containers for food and water. Recent findings by the Food & Drug Administration found that when food and water is stored in BPA containers, the chemical can seep out from the plastic and contaminate the food. Ingesting BPA cause a number of health problems, including altering brain and hormone levels and increasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Hot Water Shut Off. 25.6 percent of respondents listed hot water shut off switches as an important feature. To ensure the water is hot enough, hot and cold water dispensers often heat water above 180°F. This is a large and continuous drain on the dispensers. Not only does the dispenser require a large amount of energy to raise water temperatures up to this level, but it also requires a continuous flow of energy in order to maintain it. Respondents were not only worried about the effect this would have on their utility bills, but also the strain it placed on their electrical system. They were worried that the dispenser’s energy requirements would overload their system and damage their home’s electrical wiring, and they appreciated the control the shut off switch provided over the unit’s energy consumption.
Our survey also discovered a number of features that were not a factor in the purchasing decision at all. These were:
High Flow Rate. Only 20.5 percent of respondents listed high water flow rate as an important feature.
Bottom Loading. Only 15.4 percent of respondents listed bottom loading as an important feature, indicating either that they’re not familiar with the benefits of bottom loading water dispensers, they’re not concerned with the drawbacks of top loading water dispensers (e.g. back strain, water spills), or that features related to energy use and water quality are of more concern to them.
Bottle Spike. Only 7.7 percent of respondents listed bottle spikes as an important feature, which was surprising given the difficulties involved with loading a traditional top loading water dispenser, e.g. spilling water over the side. This may indicate that consumers are not familiar with this feature, that problems with water spills are less common than manufactures suppose, or that other features take precedence over those concerns.
Ice Dispensing. Only 6 percent of respondents listed ice dispensers as an important feature in a water dispenser.
The final and most surprising finding was the role of what we are calling “trust.” When asked what the was biggest influence on their purchasing decision, 42 percent of our respondents cited ratings, brand, quality, value, or durability. This was greater than the number of people who listed price as their biggest influence (25%), indicating that the cheaper water coolers do not have an automatic advantage over other water cooler, not if they are reliable and well-built. Quality and durability are both clear signals of solid construction and craftsmanship, and a unit that is well-made will last a long time. Good ratings are a good indication of all three of these, indicating that other customers are happy with their purchase decision, and brand is a reflection on the company’s reputation. Only Trustworthy companies that sell valuable, durable, and high-quality products will receive good ratings from their customers, which is likely to attract new customers.
In addition to the findings above, our survey uncovered some additional information about the perceived usefulness of three popular design features: storage compartments, automatic spigots, and digital displays.
- Storage Compartments. When asked, 46.2 percent of respondents said a storage compartment in the base of the water cooler was a useful feature. Storage compartments are not a universal feature of water dispensers. In fact, they’re only found in top loading water dispensers, where they are also not a universal feature. The positive response by so many of the survey recipients indicates that there is some advantage to be gained by emphasizing this feature in marketing campaigns to the public.
- Dispensing Methods. Increasingly, water dispenser manufacturers have been installing more sophisticated dispensing methods in their units. Besides the basic manual spigot, some water dispensers now use push buttons or sensors that automatically dispense water when a cup is placed underneath. Do any of these features provide an advantage when reaching out to consumers? How useful did customers find them? When we asked our customers, they were split. 41 percent preferred manual spigots, 30.8 percent preferred push-button spigots, and 25.6 percent preferred automatic spigots. 2.6 percent preferred a different method, but did not specify which.
- Digital Displays. Digital screens are another increasingly common method being used to track, display, and alter the settings on water dispensers. How useful did customers find them? Again, survey respondents were closely split. 38.4 found them useful, 28.2 percent found them somewhat useful, while 33.2 percent did not find them useful at all.
Taken together, these last two findings show a strong tendency for simpler dispensing methods, which customers found more useful than complicated ones. This suggests that manufacturers and distributors don’t need to rely on new technology to win or retain customers. The old methods work just fine.
The results of our survey provide a guide for companies who manufacture and distribute water coolers in the United States. They show what customers use their dispensers for, which features they prefer, and how companies can attract customers to them. Americans are buying water dispensers for their kitchens and using them as the primary source of drinking water in their home. They’re looking for water dispensers that provide both hot and cold drinking water. To a lesser extent, they prefer coolers that have stainless steel water tanks, ENERGY STAR approval, pleasant colors, nice design, BPA-free materials, and hot water shutoff switches. A little under half think storage cabinets are a useful feature. Over half don’t think automatic dispensers or digital displays are useful, which suggests that companies don’t need technologically advanced features to successfully reach consumers, as a significant share of them are perfectly happy with the basic controls found on older models.
The most far-reaching finding of our survey was the influence of trust on purchasing decisions. The importance customers assigned to a brand’s quality, value, dependability, and customer ratings indicates that a company’s reputation, and the reputation of its products, plays a very large role in attracting customers. For 42 percent of our respondents, quality and overall trust were the biggest influences on their decision whether or not to buy a water dispenser. Price was only an influence for 25 percent.
The implications are clear. Companies not only need to market water coolers for home use and emphasize the right features, they also need to stay focused on product quality and customer service if they’re going to retain a competitive edge in the marketplace.