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Real Estate Search Stores – Coming Soon?

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Found on Dalton’s Arizona Homes Blog – a real estate firm in Phoenix has opened a sales office inside a local Wal-Mart. Huh?

You can read more on the initiative from the Arizona Republic. But like Jonathan, I can’t help but feel the idea is misplaced. He says:

Yes, there’s a ton of foot traffic. But if it’s not foot traffic for people actually looking to purchase real estate, what’s the point?

I’ve actually been bullish on the idea of real estate firms taking a more aggressive retail approach ever since I was interviewed about what @Properties, a Chicago area brokerage, was doing with their real estate coffee bars (see Let’s Do Coffee… and Real Estate).

But the Arizona effort just seems a bit misguided. More than just the wrong kind of foot traffic – the central problem I see with this approach is the overall customer experience I’d likely have walking into the location.

It’s the hard sales tactics I’d be afraid of walking into.

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Instead, we should should take a hard look at lessons that can be learned from a company that gets the retail experience right. Apple.

Imagine a high end real estate storefront patterned after an Apple Store. Having an inviting environment with a clean, clear design ethos. Put it in the right place (not a Walmart) – a suburban walking mall or hip downtown neighborhood. It has comfortable seating and cafe style approach (Foxtons UK does this already). A kids play area. Free coffee/drinks.

The product should easily available for the customers to play with just like at Apple. Our imaginary real estate store has the product (i.e. listings) up front and center and accessible everywhere. Terminals and WiFi access points (with a real estate search site as the default gateway page) throughout. A few years down the road this could even include multi-touch technology like that from Microsoft Surface (see Surface Technology Could Save Full Service Brokers) or Perceptive Pixel (see House Hunting… with your Hands?).

It should have expertise on site. Let’s call ’em “Genius bars” for real estate. Need a hand with a search? Want to know what the hot areas are to investigate or avoid? Non-commissioned help are there to attend to your immediate questions and needs. You can even schedule an appointment to speak with a professional when you’re ready to commit to your search full-time.

As broker or a brand (Zillow or Trulia could pull this off too), the idea is you create a compelling enough environment to entice people to step inside. Stop spending thousands of dollars to reach the people where they are (i.e advertising) – they’re largely unreceptive in those places anyway. Flip the model, invest the money and have them come to you instead.

The crux of the issue is that this is a pure branding play and a way of reconnecting with increasingly disenchanted and cynical customers. It’s not necessarily a lead generation activity (though it certainly could be very productive) but rather a way to endear consumers to your brand and, in the end, create a greater connection to your business and this industry in general.