As originally published on Forbes
By Anthony Hitt, President & CEO, Engel & Völkers Americas
It’s remarkable to think that less than two decades ago, the vast majority of consumers had never made an online purchase, while by the end of last year, e-commerce retail sales had reached $453.5 billion.
Right now, the real estate industry is in the midst of a similarly meteoric disruption, in that technology is changing the way we interact with clients. And as with the upending of the traditional retail industry, there will be winners and losers as the dust settles and the industry continues to evolve.
Fortunately, there are lessons we can learn from what has already transpired in retail, and perhaps of most importance is that an omnichannel approach to business will be key for real estate brands’ survival and growth. Consider Amazon, the global retail behemoth whose founder, Jeff Bezos, recently became the wealthiest man in the world. A pioneer in e-commerce, Amazon later invested in a unique approach to brick-and-mortar (see: Amazon Books, Amazon Go and last year’s acquisition of Whole Foods), seeing the value of strategic investment in a physical space that effectively communicates brand identity and value, extends consumers’ brand experience to a new channel and helps tell a more complete brand story.
Though it is an oft-repeated mantra for retail brands, we hear less about the omnichannel approach in real estate. However, most simply, it means meeting customers where they are to create a holistic brand experience, whether that’s online, in-store, via social, on mobile, etc. As disruptive, digital-first brands enter real estate, many traditional players are scrambling to keep up by redefining themselves and their businesses (registration required). And while adaptation is critical to remain competitive (just consider the number of big-box retailers that did not adjust their business models and have gone out of business because of it), it’s equally important not to lose sight of delivering a distinct brand experience, especially in real estate, through the creation and fostering of interpersonal relationships.
A study (registration required) published in Harvard Business Review last year found that the strength of a consumer’s loyalty to a brand directly correlates to the number of channels that the customer uses to interact and engage with that brand. That means that while real estate professionals should absolutely be investing in technology and reaching their clients through digital channels, they should not overlook the power of one of their biggest existing brand assets: the in-store experience.
Buying or selling a home is one of biggest and most emotionally charged decisions in a person’s life, and the role of a real estate professional is to serve as an expert adviser to guide and support them through this process. So shouldn’t your physical location reflect this as well? Here are three ways to leverage the in-store experience as part of a holistic, omnichannel approach to client service:
View space as an extension of your marketing strategy.
Just like a website or listing presentation, the physical space of a brokerage is a reflection of brand identity and values. Every real estate professional needs to consider how the distinctive aspects of their brand can be translated into their physical space. Is signage clear, recognizable and consistent with other marketing materials? Are exceptional listings showcased in a pleasing manner? These are all things to consider before clients or prospects walk through the door. Once they do, is someone there to greet them and offer a beverage? Is there a comfortable and welcoming waiting area? What other brand resources do you have on hand for them to peruse? Answering these questions will begin to define your in-store brand experience.
Create community experiences.
Good real estate professionals are community and neighborhood experts, not only in terms of real estate, but in terms of what’s happening with other local businesses and events and what amenities residents are able to take advantage of. A simple tactic for connecting with area consumers is to view your physical office space as a community venue and a place for residents to come together. For example, host a wine tasting with a local restaurant or vineyard, or an art show featuring local talent. Our network has seen a lot of success hosting Special Olympics fundraising events or simply bringing in Santa or the Easter Bunny to their shops so the community can come together to create memories and get family photos taken.
In a relationship-based business like real estate, every touch point that brings people into your shop and face-to-face with agents is critical for when it comes time for them to choose a real estate partner. This why our network doesn’t operate in offices, but rather, shops. When our clients visit an Engel & Völkers location across the globe, we want it to feel like a luxury, personal shopping experience, not a harried office visit. This distinction is one that set us apart.
Get as close to your customers as possible.
No one knows better than real estate professionals the importance of location. The physical location of a brokerage should be in the heart of the market they’re serving, in the thick of where their clients are, interacting with them every day. While technology can help enhance the experience, it will never be able to take the place of an agent who understands the difference between two city blocks that are seemingly identical, or problems that plague certain buildings but not others. It is this added human value that will continue to reign supreme in our industry.
Real estate is evolving at a rapid pace. On one end of the spectrum will be those players who don’t adapt, while on the other will be those who attempt to redefine their business to compete with every new market entrant. I would argue that the most successful real estate companies will be those who embrace an omnichannel approach, viewing every channel in terms of how it can best help deliver a unique, personal brand experience to each client.