In a previous post written by On-Site’s User Experience Designer and NAA speaker Dave Luciano, Dave outlined the do’s and don’ts of community website design. But why is good community website design so important? What happens when web design goes wrong and frustrated prospects and applicants either can’t find the information they want about a community or can’t figure out how to apply online to the community?
Global research and advisory firm Forrester Research Inc. explored a similar issue in the report “Websites That Don't Support Customers Waste Millions.” In their survey of U.S. consumers Forrester found that when websites fail to provide adequate product information or otherwise make it difficult to purchase a product, the majority of consumers switch to more expensive channels (i.e. phone or email) or take their business to a competitor.
Specifically, Forrester asked consumers to think back to the last time they researched a product or service on a company’s website, but couldn’t find the information they were looking for. 30% of those surveyed indicated that they called customer service, while 16% did business with another company altogether.
Similarly, when asked to think back to the last time they tried to purchase a product or service on a company’s website but couldn’t complete the transaction, 35% of survey respondents said they called customer service, while 17% did business with another company instead.
Some might argue that retail consumers and apartment hunters are fundamentally different when it comes to their shopping behaviors, but that’s simply not the case anymore. According to a study of apartment hunters conducted by J Turner Research titled “Prospect Research 2010,” 53% of prospects shopping for an apartment turned to the Internet as their primary source of information. This statistic suggests that the majority of renters are just like any other consumer. However, instead of shopping for electronics or clothing online, they’re shopping for apartments.
"When websites fail to provide adequate product information or otherwise make it difficult to purchase a product, the majority of consumers switch to more expensive channels (i.e. phone or email) or take their business to a competitor."
The important message here is that housing providers need to deliver a rock solid online presence to prospective renters. Otherwise, there’s a very good chance they’re going to take their business to a competitor. And even if prospects don't take their business elsewhere, delivering a bad web experience ends up costing money, because prospects must utilize a more expensive channel of communication. This leaves leasing agents tied up on the phone or responding to emails, attempting to resolve tech support issues when they should be closing leases.
Of course, that’s assuming a leasing agent will be in the office ready to respond. A recent internal study of On-Site users shows that 37% of prospects chose to complete leasing related tasks, e.g. shopping for apartments and applying online, outside of traditional office hours. Even more reason to have a good website in place so renters can initiate the leasing process when it’s convenient for them.
In light of these statistics, how can housing providers ensure they aren’t losing out on valuable leads, while at the same time saving on staffing costs?
Now is a good time to go back to Dave’s story on website design. For the sake of convenience, here’s a quick gloss of his do’s and don’ts:
- Have a clear call to action. For example, make the online application button standout from the rest of the website.
- Don’t use stock photography—it’s a big turn off for prospective renters.
- Clearly label all links and use concise language overall. Don’t use industry jargon.
- Keep the overall look clean and simple—avoid fluff and flash that slow down the browsing experience.
- Make websites mobile friendly with responsive design. Don’t make prospects download a mobile app.
By following Dave's quick tips, housing providers can ensure their community websites deliver a user-friendly online experience and, in the process, save money and close more leases.
For more on community website design: