Dan Wolt, owner of Zen Windows, in Columbus, Ohio, is known for getting in and out of the house on a sales call in less than 15 minutes. He inspects, measures, makes notes, and emails a proposal later that day.

But lately those who buy from Zen Windows often never even see Wolt before they buy. Because, according to the owner, 80% of customers now make a product selection on the Internet and buy from Zen Windows online.

WE WANT A PRICE! WE WANT A PRICE! Online window companies remain few. Each has its own way of going to market. Some require a sales visit and in-person contract signing. Some email contracts to prospects after a measure tech stops by to verify the size of openings. All give visitors some initial idea, online, of what the windows cost. Although that may or may not be an installed cost. House of Windows, in Maryland, for instance, sells its installation service separately.

Although online window operations have existed for years — Newpane, in Dixon, Calif., is now in its 10th year of business — the idea of homeowners actually obtaining pricing information prior to meeting with salespeople has gained traction during the recession. Online research is now “crucial to the home improvement buying experience,” says Peter Devellis, co-owner of Rite Window, in Woburn, Mass. He points out that consumers researching a window purchase could find out just about everything but the price of the product they want. Rite Window set out to change that. Initially the company offered a feature where homeowners could enter opening dimensions and get a price. That proved “way too complicated,” so the company switched to showing a good/better/best product selection and price points.

ON A VISIT While online companies all show product pricing, some also require a sales visit. So are posted prices just a way to generate more, and better, Internet leads? And is the practice one that will spread? “More and more people want that [meaning product pricing beforehand],” says Scott Hayes, owner of New York Sash, in upstate New York, a traditional window seller. “We service start to finish.”

Newpane owner Michael King says that his appeal is to consumers who loathe high pressure. When someone calls about a product, Newpane dispatches a remeasure tech. “He's there to answer their questions,” King says. “Then he leaves and we email [the homeowner] a contract. If they don't contact us, we leave them alone.”