Online Shopping and eCommerce in Multifamily

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America rents online but wants to visit your property first

For nearly three decades, the nonprofit, nonpartisan “fact tank,” Pew Research Center, has surveyed public opinion on a range of topics that address the world’s challenges and trends. A staff of journalists and social scientists survey public opinions to achieve a high level of neutral, independent information.

Since its inception, the center’s mission is to be the “foundation of facts that enriches the public dialogue and supports sound decision-making.”

Research shows more are making purchases on the internet

One of the core components of its research is analyzing the social impact of digital technologies, the same tools that drive multifamily today. A recent survey on online shopping and e-commerce, while not targeting multifamily specifically, reveals interesting findings that reaffirm the evolving digital consumer vertical that has redrawn leasing and renewal strategies in multifamily housing.

Online Shopping and E-Commerce, released at the end of last year, confirms that Americans today rely on the digital world for purchasing goods. According to the survey, 80 percent of Americans now shop online, compared to 22 percent just 16 years ago. Fifty-one percent have made purchases on their cellphone, and 15 percent have followed a link from a social media site to buy something.

The numbers suggest that consumers tend to prefer the ease of online leasing. Online reviews are a huge piece of that buying process (more on that later).

Consumers prefer physical stores if prices are equal

Brick-and-mortar stores still figure prominently for American shopping trends, with a catch. According to the survey, 64 percent of Americans would rather buy from physical stores than buy online if the price is equal; however, physical stores often cannot match the prices of online stores. 78 percent like to try out a product in person. Translating these findings to apartments implies that, though much of the search process for multifamily is done online, prospects still want to get their bearings by visiting the community and taking a tour prior to signing a lease.

My friend’s son signed a lease after seeing only the apartment model. A week later, at move-in, he found that the Internet connections in his unit weren’t the same as in the model. He brought it to the attention of the property management company, but they did nothing. He’s now looking for a new apartment.

This experience goes to show that diligent, online research and in-person visits are integral for prospects. Additionally, online reviews of poor conduct carry more and more weight as more people begin to search for multifamily online.

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Online reviews heavily influence purchasing decisions

As my personal anecdote indicates, your online reputation shapes your first impression to prospects. The apartment industry is well aware of the power of an online reputation. Just about every conference speaks to this modern-day marketing paradigm.

Prior to the internet era, consumers only ever scrutinized a company’s standing when it made headlines. On a local level, a bad consumer experience – at a restaurant, car dealership etc. – trickled down to friends and family by word of mouth. This tarnished reputation remained largely inconspicuous to an outsider or someone new to the area.

However, word of mouth is now completely visible. A bad online review remains easily accessible to anyone for years.

According to the Pew Research Center, online reviews are a dominant influence when Americans make purchases. Eighty-two percent of shoppers say they seek reviews when buying a product for the first time. Additionally, half of adults under the age of 50 routinely scan online reviews before buying new items. Of those who utilize online reviews, 46 percent feel more confident in their purchases.

Appearances of properties online and in person are strong selling points

This data may only confirm what property managers already know, or at least suspected. You can bet that renters look at your properties online, and even if they don’t mind pulling the trigger on a lease over the internet, they want to see in person what they’re leasing.

As peak leasing season approaches, the appearance of your properties and their amenities – online and on site – remains a strong selling point. Keeping the sidewalks clean, common areas inviting and golf simulators ready to go is good preparation, as is an attractive, functional website and online leasing program.

Your prospects are informed and attentive. Make sure that you are meeting their expectations.

 


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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