The web, mobile and social media are quietly changing how home shoppers interact with agents and find the properties they want. Are agents and the real estate sector taking note?
Recently, the international consulting giant Accenture published the results of a study about how millennial shoppers (born between 1980 and 2000) interact with retail vendors to best find what they want to buy.
Now, real estate isn't exactly retail, but buyers shopping for homes behave in many similar ways as those shopping for, say, cars or televisions. Plus, with the bulk of the shopping-public getting younger and increasingly reliant on technology, pretty much all shopping experiences are starting to look very much alike.
Or, rather, according to Accenture, they should.
The key finding of the study was that retailers must provide what they term a "seamless" shopping experience across what they sell and how they use technology to sell it.
So, what's that mean?
The Accenture folks maintain that, to be successful in the now-dominant digital shopping age, those with a product or service to sell must provide the buyer with a truly memorable, consistent, end-to-end shopping experience that offers the shopper the same value and convenience from the first click at their website done from their phones all the way through to the in-person experience at the store.
It's a lot to take in, but the key point here is that anyone who wants to be successful now and in the future must take great care in using technology not just as a "check the box" business card, but one that creates a unique shopping experience for their intended audience that translates at every touch point.
It's differentiated brand building. It's very focused information aimed at educating and helping buyers make decisions. It's interactivity and personalization. It's consistency and quality of user experience. It's a whole lot of things that set you apart in real ways with your customers whether they see you on the web or at your store.
Now, this may all sound like common sense, but as an industry, real estate has been slow to meld their highly-personal, traditional approaches with the effective use of technology to give their customers this kind of seamless experience.
In fact, many agents still don't use social media or even have a website at all.
And those that do check the box on both? Well, most are just checking the box. They stand up websites and assume they're doing their jobs by blasting out listings on Facebook or Twitter.
The big problem?
The most important point of the Accenture study is that it takes a commitment to more - a lot more - to truly deliver a seamless experience that will grow your business as the future continues to creep up on us.
So how can agents create more seamless experiences? Here are 10 things to get you started:
1. Build a website that gets found. Your website can look great but if it doesn’t appear in web searches, it will do you little good. And everyone has property search, that won’t do it.
2. Create a consistent look. Care about the consistency of your brand's "look" across web to print to signage and make sure it's modern. Your tastes matter little, it’s about what your customers like so hire a pro to help.
3. Make your site ‘mobile-first’. Most searches are done via phones and/or tablets. Your site needs to be responsive on these devices.
4. Offer original, benefits-focused information. Website and social media content should help customers decide on homes, the area, how best to navigate the real estate process and - most importantly - why you are better than the next agent at helping them. Address their pain points with your well-defined service offerings not just brags.
5. Continually update your website. Always keep the content on your site current and make sure to offer practical new insights at least monthly.
6. Keep your tech skills current. Use your own sites and apps with your customers when you meet.
7. Communicate the way younger shoppers do. Beyond email and SMS, use popular (and more robust) technology platforms like GroupMe, WhatsApp and Slack to communicate with your customers.
8. Partner with other service providers. Be a resource for your clients and find well-connected service providers they’ll need like handymen, landscapers and house cleaners. And, make sure they too are web-friendly and convenient. That way you can connect your clients as part of a “now what step?” or after close.
9. Focus on simple new tools that help you be more efficient. Convenience throughout processes that touch buyers and sellers is more important than you think. From transaction support tools like Skyslope that make you less error-prone to convenience tools like Docusign and secure, encrypted email like Hushmail that protect your clients (and you), the adoption of tools takes time, but in the end saves it - and a lot of money.
10. Make sure your technology always works! Hire someone to help if you have to, but broken or inconsistent technology is frustrating and anything but seamless.
A quick spin on the web's best commerce sites like Nike, Geico and RocketMortgage by Quicken Loans will show you that the technology used by vendors and service providers to connect with their customers is becoming indistinguishable from their brands themselves and what they offer. Even small businesses can take their overall approaches and model their own web identities after their value, simplicity and convenience.
Like it or not, real estate too is steadily and surely headed in this direction. Creating seamlessness isn't easy, and it's a long-term commitment but the future of real estate will be owned by those that get it and do something about it now.