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Is a fear of online agents justified?

Barely a week goes by without an announcement relating to the latest player entering the online agency world and when they do, those of us from ‘traditional’ agencies can sometimes be all too quick to dismiss them as second-class options.  

Quips that they’re offer a low cost option with an absence of any genuine expertise, quality of service or even demonstrable success may sometimes be justified but, let’s face it, while some online players come and go, there remains a critical mass which are proving themselves to be long-term (perhaps even permanent) fixtures on the agency scene.

So it got me thinking...what can the traditional agency model learn from the rise of online or hybrid agencies?  

The fact that established players are increasingly investing in online competitors, or launching them themselves, suggests a certain ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mentality – one which, I believe, we need to consider in more detail. 

If you lead a traditional agency and have rested on your laurels, avoided progress, and ignored the bespoke needs of your client base then you probably should be concerned with the growth of online competitors.  

Indeed, they pose a very real threat to you but this is not an insurmountable problem to tackle.

What we’re dealing with is simply a question of choice.  

Think about booking your summer holiday each year. Are you the sort of person who will visit your local high street travel agent and spend an hour or two discussing the options with the in-house expert?  

Perhaps you prefer to engage with a high street name but manage your booking via their website?  

You may even take a complete ‘do it yourself’ approach to your research and booking needs.  

The fact is, there isn’t a right way to book your holiday – all of these options work depending on what your needs and preferences are. The same is now increasingly true in property.

What the rise of online and hybrid agencies has provided is choice. At its most basic it’s a choice between full service and self-service, but it’s what an increasingly diverse customer base demands.  

Digital natives – those who know nothing other than a world which revolves around technology – are now property purchasers and tenants themselves and their requirements are likely to be different to a more mature customer who values the personalised service offered by in-branch teams of local experts.  
Simply, there is room in the market for a variety of agency models – if, and this the crux, they’re offering a standard of service that meets the needs of its client base.

For those of us in the traditional agency world what this means is that we need to identify what the online agents are doing particularly well and consider whether it’s appropriate to introduce those features in to our own businesses.  

Ask yourself: is your online presence delivered via the very best that technology can offer; do you provide an ‘always open’ service to your client base; and do you offer flexibility in the services that you offer in order to appeal to a wide range of clients?

I don’t believe we should view online agencies as a threat, but you may wish to consider that for yourself. 

*David Westgate is Managing Director of Andrews Letting & Management

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