While it’s often difficult to sort out which new technology is likely to be around for the long haul, there’s no question when it comes to all things mobile. The stats are astounding: More iPhones are sold every day than babies are born; more mobile devices are connected to the Internet than there are people in the world; and nearly three out of five smartphone owners conduct an Internet search on their phones at least once a day. Add tablet technology like iPads into the mix (iPad use is growing at five times the rate of iPhones) and there’s little consumers can’t do over the Internet from virtually anywhere.
Consumers may be increasingly relying on mobile technology, but some experts would argue that the apartment industry as a whole has been a little slow to leverage mobile technology-and consumers’ preference for it-to the fullest potential. In the session “Guerilla Webfare: How to Optimize Your Web Presence,” Michael Manfred, director of interactive residential for Forest City Residential, argued that the apartment industry has a major opportunity to make searching, leasing and communicating over mobile technologies easier for customers. He pointed to the fact that people who search on mobile devices are more likely to make a purchase within a day and then cited these industry stats as proof of room to grow:
- Average mobile traffic growth rate for apartment firms is growing 15 to 20 percent per month; yet, 24 percent of total apartment web site visits are mobile
- Mobile rent payments are growing at 10 percent per month (versus a five percent per month growth rate for online payments); yet, just six percent of all online rent payments are made from mobile devices
However, many apartment firms have begun to focus on making mobile technology work better for them from a variety of standpoints-searchability, leasing and resident services, to name a few. Several industry execs said they were focusing on ensuring company and community web sites were optimized for mobile search and viewing, using adaptive design to improve the customer experience on mobile devices. Others were using mobile technology to communicate with residents about everything from service calls to package deliveries.
However, where many apartment companies have started to invest considerably in mobile technology is in the leasing center. In the session “Operating in a Mobile World,” Elaine Williams, vice president of property operations for UDR, told attendees that the goal is to “untether our sales team from their desks.”
This means that new sales centers are being designed differently going forward. Gone are the traditional offices where leasing agents shepherded prospects to capture their information and provide them with unit options. In their place is what Williams called a “bullpen” with a central concierge desk. Also absent will be the paper guest cards and pens; instead, there’ll be an iPad that prospects can use to register their information or peruse floorplans.
Similarly, other companies are issuing iPads or other table devices to the leasing agents so that as they are touring prospects through the community, the leasing agents can pull up photos, look up comps or access local maps, for example. And still others are pursuing a leasing kiosk strategy, featuring a self-service station with a touch screen where prospects can check in and get basic community information and current residents can perform a suite of services, including paying their rent. Greg Lozinak, executive vice president and COO of Waterton Residential, said his company plans to pursue leasing kiosks in 2013, if only to encourage more residents to begin to pay their rent online. “Eighty-five percent of people who pay their rent online pay their rent online the next month,” he said.