The Covid-19 pandemic has caught the realty sector off-guard, with diminishing transactions and near-zero site visits since the lockdown started. Developers and builders, however, are responding to the crisis logically by undergoing a digital transformation.
Businesses across sectors are facing innumerable challenges, and real estate is no different. The renewed extension of the lockdown to contain the spread of the virus in India has left the industry with no option but to be ready with the only viable contingent plan. Currently, the industry is in agreement with the fact that:
# People are spending a lot more time on e-commerce and social platforms, more than they have ever done.
# The reach and influence of social media is peaking, and can be leveraged to build a sustainable customer base.
Why does the industry need digital transformation?
Studies have been carried out in the last couple of weeks which clearly indicate that the lockdown has brought about a change in the general buying behaviour. People are tilting more acutely towards e-zones for most day-to-day activities like making new connections, playing games, buying essential groceries or even for their dose of daily news. One great benefit is remaining connected and being able to drive transactions with convenience and more importantly, while keeping a safe distance. As people are more sensitive and perhaps doubtful about what the future holds, conservation of capital may be a guiding thought influencing their decisions. In such a scenario, it will be almost impossible to motivate people by conventional marketing to step out for site visits and seek real estate.
While the customers (potential home buyers) are present on such digital spaces, the real estate players have to look at innovative digital initiatives to engage with their prospective audience – further converting that engagement into a digital familiarization of a product that may be mapped to their need. The lockdown has forced real estate companies to fortify their digital presence with robust online communication to gain mileage on the sales front.
To stay relevant, many real estate companies have started spending exponentially more on an array of digital marketing solutions and other productive online tools like e-mailers, virtual walk-throughs, digitours, personalized video presentations, to enhance brand value and build trust without a physical face to face. Some are competently using Artificial Intelligence and algorithms to host integrated chatbots on their website to address queries 24 x 7 and implement search engine optimization services to track visitor footfalls. This migration towards digitization will play a significant role in sustaining a relevant customer pool ensuring a solid demand for homes in the future. Thus, an early mover who digitizes their approach sooner will be able to create a more dependable customer base.
The answer lies in the data that is being churned through this large-scale enablement. For both home buyers and developers, there is enough information available to do first-round research before the actual spend.
While on the one hand, the consumers can understand the localities, project specifications and development firms; the developers, on the other hand, can conduct studies on consumer data demographics to refine their target group. Both parties stand to benefit from the existing data.
Several levels of technology intervention are being brought in to help firms in property selling. While tech enablement may not mean actual sales conversion, the queries generated through various modes of digital communication helps in creating a strong database of potential buyers for the company.
It is understood that by the time operations resume to an optimum level, companies will have identified a pool of potential buyers interested in their projects.
What should the sector look at?
It is safe to assume that the demand for homes will be back once normalcy is restored. After all, homes have proved to be the best defence for families during the pandemic! The industry should remain optimistic and sustain through this the rough patch.
A slew of measures, including employee retention, optimisation of costs and efficiency in operations will help a lot. Focusing on construction and deliveries will enable developers to call in for milestone linked payments from existing buyers. Monetising non-core assets may also help certain companies to reduce their interest burden. Assessing the pain points in the overall business eco-system will certainly help.
While it is certain that increasing the digital presence is the need of the hour, it is equally important to scale the competence of the team to manage the new business order. Hence, one can look at upgrading the knowledge and skillsets of employees that are currently working from home.
(By Ankush Kaul, President-Sales & Marketing, Ambience Group)