Every industry has unique issues. Yet industries also share common problems. When solving problems for one industry, I often find the solutions by looking at best practices in another industry.
Although I mainly focus on the problems facing multichannel retail companies in this column, I often get email from people who run business-to-business (B2B) service companies, pharmaceutical companies, financial companies, real estate companies, and so forth. They ask similar questions, believing information about retailers doesn’t apply to them. One of our current clients, for example, is a very large real estate company. Let’s look at how we sectionalize a typical retail site’s functionality and apply it to the real estate company’s site.
Properties Are Products
There are three major user processes in the retail industry:
- Product process. This process takes the user from the home page to a product page. It encompasses the search engine, search results page, category/subcategory pages, product listing pages, and product detail page. This process helps the user find the correct product and provide the relevant information required for the user to purchase the product. It also recommends other products in case the user isn’t interested in the current product, as well as up-sells to the current product.
- Checkout process. The checkout process encompasses the shopping cart page, all checkout pages, and the thank-you page. The purpose of this process it to quickly and easily allow the user to buy the products he’s chosen. The process also collects customer information and up-sells other products.
- Support process. The support process exists when retailers (or companies) support their products. The process involves staying in touch with users, proactively updating them with useful information tailored to their needs, providing product information and updates, and providing a mechanism for the customer to ask questions and receive answers (via any number of channels including Web site, email, and phone).
The real estate industry has similar processes:
- Property process. This process shows the user properties he may be interested in, as well as generates interest in them. Like the product process, it encompasses the search page, search results page, category pages, property listing page, and property detail pages. In addition to providing all information required for the user to decide to rent or buy the selected property, the process is also responsible for recommending other properties in case the user isn’t interested in the current one, as well as up-sells (such as parking spots) for the current property.
- The application process. Once the user has found a property to buy or rent, this process ushers the user through the application and approval. Additionally, it should offer relevant up-sells (insurance, parking spots, etc.) and collect vital user information.
- Tenant support. Much like product support, this process is for an existing tenant and provides customer support for the property. It also provides additional services, such as letting the tenant know about pertinent information, providing a feedback mechanism for the tenant, and enabling services, such as “find a roommate,” “sublet your apartment,” “contact management,” and “get information about the surrounding area.”
By drawing these parallels, we can look at best practices in other industries (such as retail) and see what functionality can be used in the context of this site. The real estate site we’re working on doesn’t make recommendations during the property process, for example. It simply lists the properties and displays details for the property selected. Taking a cue from the retail world, it should offer a comparison feature, suggest alternative properties, and list up-sells (such as a parking space) the user could opt to lease along with an apartment.
The next time you redesign your site or add new functionality, survey sites similar to yours, as well as those with wholly different business models or that are in completely different industries, and seemingly have nothing to offer in the way of best practices. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn.
Until next time…
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