Lockdown calls for a stronger digital footprint

The real estate sector continues to face innumerable challenges. With the current lock-down having extended further in the wake of rising COVID-19 positive cases in India, the industry needs to prepare itself for the long term. What are the challenges?

The lock-down is already showing its impact on the nature and formats of operating businesses. There are some encouraging observations :

• People, in general, have been using the online space for their day-to-day activities, transactions and businesses.

• The true potential of social media and being connected on the go has been realized.

Like most businesses, Real Estate players are now looking at technology innovation, digitization as possible solutions against the current challenge of social distancing. This will play a crucial role in sustaining the interest and demand for properties in the long term. The real estate business will sooner than later transform its approach towards customer acquisition.

Why is it needed?

A month of lock-down has impacted buyer behavior.

More people have migrated to the online space for their daily needs. Buying has become need based and specific. Consumers have started exhibiting prudent behavior in this time of uncertainty. Savings and conservation of capital is now seen as a hedge against the downturn. As a result, property buying which has largely been sentiment driven, would have naturally come down on the priority list. But this is certainly a temporary hang – the inherent desire for families to own their first home, or to move to bigger and better homes will ensure the buying activity will resume soon. And it is here that the real estate companies can bring about a change in the way they do business. Since the social distancing protocol is likely to have a lingering effect, development companies will need to undergo a digital transformation with hope to reach to all prospective home-buyers, who otherwise would have otherwise waited for a convenient time to visit the project sites. Robust online communication and messaging will create the platform on which genuine interest in their projects is created. Mind you, unlike apparels or utilities, the final buying decision for a home will in all probability be done face to face and on site, but the process of digital familiarization with the project will create affinity and clarify most queries.

Resultingly, several companies are already spending on these areas. Reaching out to the target audience through an array of e mailers, virtual walk-troughs, videos and webinars have increased significantly of late. Some companies have introduced chat-bots on their websites to welcome the visitor and engage them with interactive Q & A sessions.

How can this help?

The answer lies in the data that is being churned through this large-scale ennoblement. For both home buyers and developers, there is enough information available to do a first-round research before the actual spend.

While on one hand consumers can research on localities, project specifications and development firms, developers, on the other hand, can conduct studies on consumer data demographics to refine their target group. Both parties stand to benefit from existing data.

Several levels of technology intervention are being brought in to help firms in selling. While tech ennoblement may not really mean actual sales conversion, the queries (“leads”) created 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 defense for families during the pandemic ! The industry should remain optimistic and sustain through this the rough patch.

A slew of measures including employee retention, keeping costs optimized and operating efficiently will help. Focusing on construction and deliveries will enable developers to call in for milestone linked payments from existing buyers. Monetizing 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 skill sets of employees, currently working from home, for better preparedness for tomorrow.

Digitization and tech adoption at all levels means being future proof. How well are you prepared?

--BY Ankush Kaul – President – Sales and Marketing, Ambience Group