Is It Time for Estate Agency to Join the Retail Revolution?

With the rise of e-commerce, retail has been in a struggle for survival constantly making the headlines in recent years. Traditional retail faces numerous challenges as online business models with less overheads, better pricing and a constantly improving customer experience grow and develop. (see more)

It is a well known fact that estate agency business is going through the same pressures, with the rise of online business models like Purple Bricks, eMoov etc that  have mastered digital marketing, are able to secure funding, advertise aggressively and can offer good enough service for a minimum fixed fee – what I would call a cheap and cheerful strategy focused on volume.

In the context of increased competition and increasing costs of holding on to a highstreet presence, estate agents see their margins erode and their pipelines dwindle so it is no wonder one in five high street agencies are anticipated to close (source).

In my role as a Marketing and Social Media Manager for Fourfifteen, I have been working with many estate agents locally in the last three years and I can see the pressure to reinvent or innovate their business models in order to survive and thrive.

As my clients are mostly being driven by their owners, their personality and preference definitely marks their approach to refreshing their business approach, one thing is certain: change is hard for anyone who has been in a business that kept the same for 20 years or more.

Added to all that context comes the extra pressure of seeing other bigger agents attempt change – look at the example of Countrywide who tried a hybrid approach of offering an online agent pricing while still maintaining a hightstreet presence – and obtaining less than expected results (read more about Countrywide here).

Time to join the retail revolution

One of the retailers that have reinvented their business model and that I admire is Waterstones. From boring tired old bookshops, they transformed into places customers love to spend time in and make purchases from. The West End shop on Byres Road looks animated and inviting from first glance, offering good coffee and wi-fi, a fantastic selection of tactile stationery, a busy calendar of events and meet-ups and last but not least a selection of tempting books all carefully selected for the local taste. Read more about Waterstone’s reinvention here.

Waterstones is a tired book shop nobody goes into no more, but a retailer putting customer experience first and reinventing their services from product pushing to a full encompassing, sense filling experience that still makes perfect sense for book lovers.

There are many ideas attempting to revolutionise retail – from cutting edge tech to influencer marketing, etc –  and I believe the estate agency industry can hugely benefit from focusing on bringing more of the local community through their doors – by organizing local events, getting involved with local charities and generally making much better use of that privileged highstreet presence they already hold. The effort would not be pointless but

By leveraging their high street presence together with a strong digital presence that allows the local community to keep engaged well after joining an event, property agents can focus on improving selected KPIs and having a direct, undiluted relationship with local property sellers and buyers – which can be a huge competitive advantage in the face of impersonal online services.

One thing is clear, the current beautiful and solemn mausoleums with the windows covered in the tiny and dated window cards, where no one ever comes in except for employees, is becoming an unsustainable luxury that very few can afford long term.

A customer experience centric approach will require deep change within staff and operational routines from an industry that is traditionally resistant to change, but it is also a much simpler, inexpensive and low risk approach compared to the alternative.

Estate agents have the privilege of having prominent offices and of being a natural adhesive for the vertical industry – with solicitors, surveyors, finance advisers and many other property and home related industries as close collaborators. So it is only a small step to transform these relationships and the heavily underused spaces into real hubs buzzing with business and local community spirit.

In the last year I have worked to support agency clients in opening new high street branches and could see the underwhelming feedback on social media: the general groan of “not another estate agent” – and that happens because as they function right now, property agents offer little back to the local community.

That being said, I have recently seen a fantastic initiative in Clyde Property Perth, where the local team has organised a cycling charity relay in their office – generating a local buzz, doing something good for a great cause and bringing people through the door – it is the kind of thing we will hopefully end up seeing more.

Transforming a team of admin staff and sales people into perfect hosts and pulling off a flawless calendar of events throughout the year so that local home owners get into the habit of just dropping into an estate agent’s office can seem outlandish at a moment but we’ve seen bigger miracles happening, so I say – why not?

Hi, I am Ina, an experienced Marketing Consultant in the Glasgow area. I have over 15 years of experience in delivering marketing campaigns from corporate to agency to startup environments, currently helping local small and medium businesses achieve their marketing potential. 

I currently drive the digital team for a creative agency in Glasgow and have gained valuable experience in delivering strategic plans for a variety of clients. If you would like to ask me a question just drop me a line at ina@biscottidigital.co.uk.

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