Estate agents have been urged to follow the example of the travel agency industry and make high street offices more stimulating and modern in a bid to improve the ‘customer experience’ and help fight off competition from the online sector.
Peter Veash, chief executive of The BIO Agency - a digital business consultancy - says media hype suggests new online agencies such as Purplebricks are beating traditional firms, whereas the reality is that onliners have only four per cent market share of sales.
But he says recent developments such as moves by Countrywide and Zoopla to buy into tech start-ups, and the arrival of OpenRent as a no-fees lettings portal, suggests there is already continual innovation even in the fledgling online services.
In the light of that, Veash says, “it’s astounding that the estate agent industry hasn’t jumped at the chance to breathe new life into its often dull in-store experience.”
Writing a technology contribution in The Guardian newspaper, he says: “Time and time again we see the same beige interiors, the same sad window displays and mountains of dreary paperwork being pushed back and forth over desks. To make matters worse, there is a lack of consistency ... from branch to branch, which means that for a lot of prospective buyers and sellers, visiting a high street estate agent isn’t just a drag, it’s also a gamble.”
He says estate agents know more than most the importance of an attractive and exciting physical environment - “when homebuyers traipse from viewing to viewing, it definitely isn’t for the fun of it, it’s because the look and feel of a home is one of the most pivotal factors in making a purchase decision” he believes.
So he suggests agents take a look at what other high street services are doing, in particular travel agencies.
“Thomas Cook ... has introduced virtual holidays in-store that inspire customers using immersive 360-degree tours of hotels and resorts ... or Virgin Holidays, which has taken the concept of try-before-you-buy to a new level by allowing customers to peer through a Google Cardboard set” he suggests.
Only by learning from examples of innovative physical high street shops can estate agents future-proof their position in the future digital economy, he says.
It’s a provocative but interesting read, and you can see it here.