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How can traditional estate agents adapt their customer experience to compete with online?

14 April 2016 8832 Views
How can traditional estate agents adapt their customer experience to compete with online?

In 2014 there were 19,000 estate agent branches in the UK. Of which 18,000 were registered to list properties on the then industry status quo, Rightmove. But things are changing. The number of registered house hunters per branch is currently at its highest level for 12 years at 463, yet the number of houses listed per branch is just 35, a huge disparity in supply and demand. Alongside this, disruptive independents and online estate agents are starting to upset this balance and restructure the industry. In this article we look at what traditional agents can learn from this growing trend.

The rise of the online ‘agent’

2015 saw online estate agents progress from being marginal to being mainstream, when Purple Bricks was listed last December. Online estate agents typically charge significantly less in fees than traditional agents and they capitalise on the number of online potential purchasers. Around 90% of first contacts by purchasers with estate agents occur after they have found the property online. Yet, only 4% of properties sold last year were sold online.

However, these ‘disrupters’ are now finding themselves advertising on mainstream platforms like Rightmove and use traditional property signage to help market the properties they are listing. Some now even provide viewings services for additional fees and the flexibility for sellers to contact them outside of traditional office hours.

Anecdotally within the industry, many are seeing the rise of the online estate agent as a false economy. How can they achieve the best price for you without being on the ground with years of experience? Traditional agents warrant that fee by providing what online estate agents can’t yet replicate, insider knowledge.

The future for traditional agents

Many customers will still want face-to-face interactions when selling their home, achieved by home visits and a local high street presence. There are 2,600 estate agents registered in the capital alone, with an average of 83 branches in each London borough.

For the customer it’s all about choice. They hold the cards as they know the market is short on supply. Traditional agents must adopt the latest marketing techniques, together with their local expertise and advertising methods that have worked for generations. If Purple Bricks is adopting old school methods in parallel, then there must be value in them.

Conversely, Countrywide, who have over 1000+ locations, are one of the large agencies who seem to be taking note of the industry sea changes to invest in more ‘new kids of the block’ techniques. They are focusing on building a retail culture as well as investing in ‘proptech’ applications. These are all efforts to help empower their staff with what they need to give customers the latest experiences to set them apart from their competitors.

The in branch experience

Think about Apple, one of the most disruptive and innovative brands in the world. Yet when you want your phone fixed or to buy a new computer or tablet device, chances are that you’ll go to one of their high street branches and chat it through with a friendly ‘Genius’. Why? Because of their in store experience and expertise. They have centred their selling on their users. Traditional estate agents can learn a lot from this. Dynamic window displays that are lit 24/7, full width wall maps and the death of the traditional desk layout are all ways you can breath life into the high street experience.   

Speaking from our own personal experience here at Kremer Signs, we have constantly had to adapt our offering over the past few years to provide the latest technology to our customers. Now agents must do the same. Ultimately, it will be the agents who embrace the latest technology and innovation both online and in branch that will thrive in the coming challenging months. We’ll leave you with the words of John Lewis’ CEO Andy Street the future lies in “bricks and clicks”.

Tom Cummuskey is Sales & Marketing Manager for the property sign specialist, Kremer Signs. 

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