Is this the solar panel or inverter dealer that you just found on the Internet ?
Do you really know who's at the other end of that phone line ?
Ever wonder why some solar panel dealers use a PO box or an address that's miles away from their actual location ?
Ever wonder why some solar panel dealers won't give you directions to their business ?
Setting up a business in the wilderness 3 hours from the nearest town may be great for a business owner's spiritual well being but what about his customer's well being ?
Nowadays all it takes is a website, cell phone and a
satellite dish and anyone can be in the business of selling solar panels. In fact many so called
solar dealers got their start in solar because they live so far away from power
lines that using solar panels was and still is their only source of electricity.
The trouble is that, the only experience many of these dealers have with solar is the antiquated solar panel system that's on the roof of their remote home, yet they call themselves experts in the field. A person may drive a car every day to work for years on end, yet that doesn't make someone an expert mechanic. Just as living with the products that one sells doesn't necessarily make one an expert in solar.
Expertise in any field involves years of education and professional work experience. Reading the latest issue of a solar magazine or simply living with the products that you sell just doesn't cut it !
Ask these six important questions before handing over your hard earned cash to any solar dealer.
Print and keep this document, it makes a great guide for protecting yourself when purchasing any type of product on the Internet !
1. Is your dealer running a legitimate business ? In other words does he possess a valid business license, resale permit, liability insurance, state license (If he claims to be a contractor). Is he operating under a DBA, a partnership or is his company a Corporation ? Is he an authorized dealer for the products he's selling ? For example what recourse do you have as a customer if the item that you just purchased turns out to be used, refurbished or worse yet, stolen ? In many cases unless you've purchased your system from an authorized dealer, the support that you may desperately need may be limited at best!
Smart Tip ! Only shop from web sites that display a secure site seal that you can click on which has been provided by a well known third party. This insures that the business and website are legitimate. Be sure to click on the seal to confirm its authenticity.
Smart Tip ! Does your dealer boast of being in the solar panel business on the Internet for years, or of having hundreds of thousands or even millions of visitors to their web site. Simply check the websites domain registration. If a web site claims to have been on the Internet since 1996 with the same domain name and claims to have had over a million visitors, but the website's domain name was really registered in 2003, it's safe to assume that you're being lied to. To determine when a website started on the Internet, simply visit Networksolutions.com and type the website's domain name, for example (deceptivewebsite.com) into the "Enter a domain name" window, click search, when the next page displays, enter the security code that is displayed in the window marked "Enter your code here". Click on the "verify code" button and you'll get the full story on who owns the domain name, toward the bottom of the list of information, look for the words "Record created on" That will be the date that the web site's domain name was first registered.
Would you give your credit card number to a complete stranger that you've just met on the street ? Then why would you submit your credit card number to a web site without receiving third party verification of the company's legitimacy ? Nowadays it takes only minutes to set up an impressive looking web site and call yourself a dealer of just about anything and just as easily take the web site down and disappear !
We cannot stress enough, the importance of knowing who you are dealing with ! Don't just blindly give your credit card number out to anyone. Ask questions. If a dealer makes claims that seem unreal, demand proof of his claim. Click here to learn how some unscrupulous dealers still make money from you by selling product at ridiculously low prices
2. Does your dealer operate out of a commercial facility ? In other words does he work from at least an office with a warehouse area. Or does he operate from a spare bedroom, automobile or worse ? Does your dealer post directions to his location on his website ? If you want to be sure that your dealer is being honest with you about his location, here's a little test, before you establish a relationship with any Internet solar dealer, even though you don't live nearby, tell the dealer that you would like directions to his facility so that you can come by and take a look at some product. In most cases you'll hear some pretty good excuses as to why he can't see you just then.
***** UPDATE ! UPDATE ! UPDATE !***** It now appears that several of these garage based dealers have read our warnings concerning the stocking of inventory and are now calling the customers bluff ! So asking these dealers for directions so that you can stop by to take a look at some product doesn't work with these dealers anymore. Most of these dealers have caught on and are now giving out directions assuming that the customer is bluffing and won't make the trip to their out of the way location. What we are now recommending to customers is that they demand a shipping tracking number within 24 hours of having their credit card charged or cancel their order if the dealer can't provide the tracking number. Their is no reason why a dealer should not be able to give you a tracking number for your order within 24 hours of charging your credit card if he really has the item in stock ! ***** Update ! Update ! Update ! *****
Smart Tip ! You'd be surprised at how many popular Internet solar panel dealers, don't even operate out of the address that they have posted on their website. A dealer with an toll free number can post a fictitious address on their website and have that number re-directed to any state in the country. If you can't get a straight answer as to a dealer's location, steer clear !
Another way to confirm a dealer's true location is to contact the City Hall where his address is located, and ask them whether the address is in a commercial or residential district. To obtain the phone number for the appropriate City Hall, simply visit a search engine such as http://www.yahoo.com/ and type in the name of the city the business is located in, followed by the words city hall, for example "victorville city hall"
Smart Tip ! Beware of dealers that provide only PO boxes ! If you've contacted an unscrupulous dealer, a PO box can provide a quick exit for a dealer who doesn't want to be traced. Always get your dealer's physical address ! And what that physical address leads to !!! Does the physical address that he has posted on his website really exist ? Or does the physical address really belong to someone's home or maybe some other business that has nothing to do with the dealers business. You would not believe how many scams we've uncovered in the last few years ! The latest gimmick is for a solar dealer to rent a tiny space in a commercial facility in town so that he can advertise a commercial address and obtain a business license but actually operate from home, miles away from the bogus commercial site. Again even though you don't live nearby, the simplest way to weed out these fake businesses is to ask for directions so that you can pick up your order. Here's a question, WHY WOULD ANY BUSINESS IN THE WORLD NOT WANT TO POST DIRECTIONS TO THEIR LOCATION ???? I'll give you three guesses !
Smart Tip ! A quick word about dealers that do installations. Always insist on seeing a copy of an installing dealer's contractor's license. After receiving the copy, confirm the legitimacy of the license by contacting your state's contractor licensing board, which can easily be located on the Internet by typing your state's name followed by the words contractors licensing board into any major search engine. Here's a link to the State of California's contractor's licensing board: http://www2.cslb.ca.gov/CSLB_LIBRARY/Name+Request.asp
If the dealer claims to be a contractor, the name of the dealer's business should be listed with the state. Never ever allow anyone to perform work on your home without first seeing evidence that he is an employee or subcontractor of the contractor that you're dealing with and is covered under the contractor's or subcontractor's insurance.
If a worker is not covered by the contractor's insurance or the contractor has no insurance and the worker is injured on your property, lookout because you could wind up with a lawsuit on your hands and could even lose your home. Always demand a copy of the list of the contractor's employees and insurance before letting anyone on to your property, especially on the roof of your home.
3. Does your dealer have any inventory ? And by that I don't mean a couple of sample solar panels and maybe an inverter or two, what I mean is has he made a financial commitment to the industry that he serves ?
A popular scam that has cropped up lately is for Internet dealers to say something to the effect of "In stock today !" or "This item is ready to ship" giving the consumer the false impression that the product is stock at the dealers location.
The question the consumer should ask in response to these misleading statements is "IN STOCK WHERE ?" or "READY TO SHIP FROM WHERE ?" What these websites should be stating is "I think this item is in stock at one of my distributors locations. But I can't be sure because I have no way to track their inventory, but I'll take your credit card information anyway, thank you !" A clue to this deception is that you will never see one of these dealers state "We have this in stock at our location"
No dealer can be expected to have everything in stock but if your dealer has no inventory and is having everything drop shipped, who do you go to if there is a shipping problem such as damage to the product or lost product. Who has to file the claim with the shipping company, is it you, the dealer or the distributor ?
Dealing through second or even third party claims can be a nightmare, especially when your dealer has no replacement inventory to ship you. In the mean time the dealer has your money and you've got no product ! In our opinion, dealers with no inventory are not committed to the industry or the customer !
Smart Tip ! Have you been told by a dealer that he has an item in stock in his "warehouse" ? That may sound like a straightforward statement but if you examined it a little closer, you'd be surprised at the truth. Only a very small handful of alternative energy dealers actually stock anything. When most dealers that you'll encounter on the Internet tell you that they "have an item in stock in their warehouse", what they really mean is that they THINK it's in stock at some distributor's warehouse, which may be a thousand miles away from their location. We had a good laugh recently when we spoke to a new Internet solar dealer that boasted that he owned "warehouses" in Maryland, California and one in Arizona. After a few phone calls, what we found was that in reality, he operated out of a trailer in New Mexico and the warehouses really belonged to distributors that drop shipped product for him ! Again, beware of dealers that provide only PO boxes !
4. Does your dealer offer free technical support ? That is, before and after the sale. This is an especially important question and it's two fold in that you may hear " sure we offer tech support " but is he qualified to offer tech support ? What is his background and training ? The term "engineer" is used loosely in this industry, if the person that your speaking with identifies himself as a solar engineer, ask what university he received his engineering degree from. If you ask simple technical questions and you consistently hear " I'll have to get back to you with an answer " or your questions are avoided with what is sometimes referred to as "sales speak" or "used car salesman's fast talk" (you know the type), then beware, your dealer probably doesn't know what he's doing and could offer you advice that may damage your system or worse !
Secondly, some dealers may offer free technical support to make the sale but what about afterwards when you have all those boxes open and you've got wires and connectors everywhere with a million and one questions that need answers ?
And then there are dealers that don't offer any technical support at all ! Which in our opinion is totally outrageous ! At the very least without qualified technical support, chances are good that you will damage the equipment that you just purchased and void your warranty, worse yet, you could start a fire or injure or even kill yourself or someone else in the process. ELECTRICITY, WHETHER IT COMES FROM THE UTILITY COMPANY OR A SOLAR PANEL IS NOT SOMETHING TO MESS AROUND WITH UNLESS YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING, AND THEN YOU SHOULD STILL CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL ! In our opinion, steer clear from "dealers" that do not offer live technical support. The little bit of money if any that you save, will not be worth it in the end !
5. Does your dealer operate his business on a full time basis ? When you need your dealer the most, will he be at his full time job which has nothing to do with alternative energy ? Does he have staff there at his facility to support you while he's away ? Or is he a one man show juggling too many other responsibilities. Some dealers will boast about having lots of staff, staff to handle this portion of their business and staff for that portion, which is great if it's true, But beware, in many cases, claims of multiple staff in various departments are nothing more than deception meant to create the illusion of a larger company. If the same person answers the phone, every time you call and he or she is not the receptionist or if he's unable to transfer you to one of those other departments that he claims to have, then you have your answer.
Return policies will vary, but typically you will find a re-stocking fee of from 15 to 20 percent and a allowable return period of from 20 to 30 days from the date of original shipment. The re-stocking fee covers the fee charged by the credit card companies when initially charging the credit card and the fee for refunding the credit card which is not reimbursed to the vendor. It also covers the vendor's losses for having to re-sell the product as an open box or returned unit. In any event the fee should be reasonable and should only cover the dealers actual losses.
Smart Tip ! Re-stocking fees should typically be waived if the product is defective right out of the box and is being replaced, or the product is being exchanged for an upgrade or another equally valued item.
The allowable return period should be long enough to inspect the product and ship the product back to the vendor using a reasonable shipping method, so 20 to 30 days should be plenty of time.
Always read the
return policy which again should be located on the sales policy page of the
website. It is our opinion that charging more than 20% for a re-stocking fee and
offering less than 20 days to return a product is unreasonable. So we can't
stress enough, be sure to check the website's return policy
It doesn't take much nowadays to set up a web site from a spare bedroom and call yourself a renewable energy dealer. So called "dealers" like that are cropping up every day on the Internet.
Don't get us wrong we're not trying to make it difficult for the little guy who's just getting started, we just feel that it's important for an individual to have a certain level of integrity, competency and commitment to the industry before they identify themselves as a renewable energy dealer.
At the same time, we do not feel that this is the type of business that an individual can start without previously having received professional training and experience, especially if the individual is using deceptive marketing practices.
After all, you as a consumer are not buying a stereo system or jewelry, you're buying high energy devices that can be lethal if installed improperly. Take your time and protect yourself. By asking these six simple questions and following the tips that we have outlined, you can be confident that your experience with renewable energy will be pleasant, rewarding and safe.
Click here to visit Verisign's safe holiday shopping web page for year round safe Internet shopping tips.