According to data published in October of 2018, 77% of shoppers said they planned to do at least some of their holiday shopping online.
In one sense, this can seem like a fairly superficial change: One person shops from their couch on a laptop or phone, and the other shops in a store. What difference does the location make?
But the issue is not only with the location.
Online Shopping and the Power of Information
Shopping online fundamentally changes the way the whole process works by transforming the relationship between the buyer and seller. The key is, which is typical with digital technology, the way that online shopping makes more information available to the average consumer. The shopper is no longer at the mercy of the business when researching a product. In fact, one group has said that by 2020, consumers will control 85% of their relationship with a company without ever talking to a person who works for the company.
In an online economy, the consumer is able to find virtually anything they could want to know online without ever talking to a salesperson. So, when they finally do talk to someone, they are the empowered one, rather than the person looking to make the deal.
How Online Shopping Changes Apartment Marketing
Because of the ubiquity of online shopping, consumers have become used to having self-serve information online. The opposite of 'self-serve information' is 'gated' information. A 'gate' could refer to anything: It could be a form they have to fill out before visiting a page or accessing a piece of content. Or it could be a flag on the site saying, "call for pricing information." The point is that the website is requiring users to take an extra step in order to acquire the information they want.
Gating Information Creates a Bad User Experience
First, consumers are frustrated because of a bad experience with the brand. They came to a website or app looking for pricing information or perhaps some basic information about the product—the size of a piece of furniture, the return policy on a clothing item, even the price of the product, etc.—and they were unable to find the information.
This creates frustration, which is not the experience you want someone to have during one of their first interactions with your brand.
Gating Information Inconveniences Users
Second, consumers feel inconvenienced because they are now going to have to take another step to find whatever information they need. They will have to browse to another website or call the business to get the information. Data suggests that over half of US consumers will abandon the purchase process entirely if made to take extra steps in order to make a purchase decision. Of course, they may well make that call.
But they are making it under duress, as it were, rather than because they are choosing to make the call because they actually like the business and want to buy from them. Generally speaking, internet-age consumers are going to respond badly to being strong-armed, and that is what they will feel is happening if they are being forced to call for information.
Gating Information Can Create Added Demands on the Website Visitor's Time
Third, consumers will feel disrespected by the brand. 73% of consumers say that respecting their time is the best thing a brand can do to offer them good online customer service. But when you are forcing them to take extra steps to acquire basic product information, you are implicitly telling them that you do not value their time.
Shopper-Focused Apartment Marketing
We believe that professional life works better when businesses consider their customers to be more important than themselves. One significant aspect of this work is valuing the customer's time and preferences enough to build a website that serves them well, by giving them what they expect and want from the site.
Serving Apartment Shoppers Means Making It Easy to Rent an Apartment
To get more specific, we believe that apartment communities can serve apartment shoppers by building websites that help them rent apartments without ever getting into a car. Pricing information should be easy to find. There should be photos and videos for each floorplan in the community. Amenities listings should be clear and specific. Pet policy should be listed on the website. If your website is doing its job, you shouldn't hear from a prospect until they are ready to schedule a showing of a specific floorplan, or even are ready to sign a lease without touring the community at all.
Serving the Shopper's Needs Also Helps the Community
What's particularly interesting about this philosophy, is that when you serve your customers first, you also benefit. Think about the amount of time you waste taking bad phone calls from people who are never going to lease an apartment. Think about the number of bad or missed showings your leasing team has given in just the past month. A marketing platform that serves prospective residents well is also serving your team well, by taking extra work off their plate. A customer-focused website means your leasing team only has to focus on qualified leads that have a high chance of becoming residents.
Such an approach also helps the community's bottom line: By cutting out lots of unnecessary work, communities can be run with smaller teams and those teams can focus on doing the most important work to promote the health of that property.
To put it another way, and with perhaps a bit more edge, when apartment communities build marketing platforms chiefly with their own needs and desires in mind, that platform will fail to serve prospective residents, and as a result, also fail to achieve its goals for the community.
If you are not publishing certain important pieces of information that your prospective residents need to make good leasing decisions, you are not serving your prospective residents. And when you don't serve your prospective residents, you lose too. Make renting apartments easy. Publish accessible and important information about your community on your website, and you'll be happy you did.