“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology,” Steve Jobs said in 1997.
We are going to take the advice of the late Mr. Jobs for this article. Before we talk about the groundbreaking micro-location technology called beacons, let’s focus on something far more important — the customer.
After all, agents are constantly reading about the next new technology that promises to make their business more efficient, increase leads or make more sales — some technologies help, some don’t. The technologies that help, and are successful, are ones that focus on the customer. So when it comes to real estate technology, the best approach is to put the homebuyer first, and that value naturally extends to the agent. The goal is to leverage technology to make the homebuying experience as “friction-free” as possible for the buyer, which enables agents to build customer-centric brands and businesses.
What is the customer experience in real estate? Well, the buying process, as you know, likely starts with search online and ends offline, hopefully with a sale. Between online and offline, the experience for the homebuyer can be frustrating, fragmented, filled with open house trips, unanswered questions and doubts about who to trust — the list goes on.
Consider this scenario repeated at countless open houses: A potential buyer enters an open house wanting to look around, the agent stops the buyer and awkwardly pushes a sign-in sheet to the buyer, who scribbles some illegible information. After a quick tour, the buyer leaves, feeling somewhat unsatisfied, and gripping a show sheet likely destined for the recycle bin.
Now consider this scenario: The buyer walks into an open house; their mobile device prompts them to register, and upon consent, their information is delivered to the agent’s inbox. As the buyer looks around, property details and agent contact information automatically populate the buyer’s smartphone without the agent having to do anything. Agent and buyer both get the information they need — everyone is happy.
Beacons make that possible. So, what are beacons anyway?
Without getting too technical, beacons are small wireless sensors that push information to smartphones through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which allows for micro-location marketing. As the name suggests, BLE uses considerably less power compared to previous Bluetooth technology and no longer drains phone batteries.
Beacons have two features that cater to the needs of the homebuyer. They are mobile and location-based — key for younger, first-time homebuyers.
Two facts help confirm this. According to comScore’s Media Metrix, millennial real estate Web usage grew 30 percent from May 2013 to July 2014, and millennial real estate mobile usage grew 81 percent over the same period. And, according to Google, mobile queries for open houses grew 36 percent in June (year over year, 2013-2014), while desktop searches remained the same.
Beacons have already been tried and tested in the retail sector. Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Virgin Airlines, Starwood Hotels and American Eagle stores have all successfully used beacons, so consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with this technology.
Homebuyers are on the go, and technology solutions must be along for the ride as an essential guide. As we indicated, beacons can eliminate the need for sign-in sheets; they automatically deliver property information to the buyers’ mobile device; they make the open house experience as elegant and modern for the buyer as the open houses they are seeing.
As the next generation of homebuyers are fast entering the market, it is essential to meet their needs, and manual sign-ins and elaborate paper-based property information are, frankly, out-of-date and annoying for these buyers.
And there is one last thing.
Beacons can collect vital information — information that has been missing up until now. With beacons, agents will actually gain insights into a buyer’s offline real estate buying experience. Agents will know if their customers viewed the property information or if they’ve deleted it after visiting an open house, essential data to help qualify a lead as well as activity data on location. The customer is satisfied, and the agent gains valuable insights, a “win-win” as they say.
As I mentioned in my “Behind the Curtain” interview at Real Estate Connect New York 2015, “Movements never happen with just one person or one company.” Giving the buyer this automated and seamless real estate shopping experience at every open house is a movement that requires participation from everyone, and we hope it will be adopted by the entire industry.
As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision, it started with the question: What incredible benefits can we give to the customer?
That is our approach at Spacio, and we hope it will be for the entire real estate marketing industry.
Melissa Kwan is the CEO of Spacio, a real estate organizer that makes house hunting easier for buyers. She started her career in real estate working for a developer and then a marketing firm while being licensed as an agent. She then pursued business development roles in a number of diverse industries including manufacturing, hospitality and technology. Spacio is her second real estate tech venture. You can find her on LinkedIn.