Online shopping activity is on the rise; the signs are clear that e-commerce will continue to drive growth in consumer spending over the next few years, with online retail sales predicted to reach £52.25 billion this year, up 16.2 per cent on the £44.97 billion recorded in 2014.
We only need to look to our own sector to see the impact that the rise of the online estate agency is having; offering vendors and landlords an alternative way of selling or letting properties.
The online estate agency market is forecast to grow to 10 per cent of the overall sector by 2020, despite representing less than two per cent of the market today.
That is the bold prediction put forward by Will Clark, Managing Director at SellMyHome. co.uk, who believes that many high street estate agents will need to consider changing what he described as their “archaic percentage fee structure” in order to remain competitive. But just because it can be cheaper to use an online estate agent that does not necessarily mean everyone will want to go down this route.
“Indications are that online shopping is on the up, however, this does not mean the death of the high street; much online purchasing is driven by the high street,” said Sarah Neate of Mid West Displays. “A strong high street presence will enhance your brand awareness, when a prospective client is online, choosing which search result to ‘click’ on, a recognisable name draws attention.”
While people can find out all they need from the internet, such as local area maps and prices, there is a general feeling among some that some online agents lack a personal service, possess little knowledge about your local area and are not skilled in showing a property in its best light and highlighting the unique selling points.
In other words, while the popularity of online estate agents is on the rise, it is unlikely that it will lead to the end of the traditional estate agent, as most people prefer the traditional face-to-face model of the high street when dealing with the biggest financial transaction of their lives.
Sarah continued, “The knowledge that a physical office exists where there is the availability to speak face-to-face with an expert implores trust to the client. So while people often hit the high street as more of a social occasion or in search of inspiration, engagement is key to make sure you get noticed.”
First impressions mean everything; they only take minutes to develop, but years to change. Regardless of your work quality and sales achievements, the experience and environment that potential clients are exposed to immediately after stepping inside your office could be the biggest factor in their decision of whether to do business with you.
Harry Simons, Partner at MPL Interiors, said, “It is really easy to fall behind the design curve when it comes to shop fronts. The high street is evolving – every new store that opens will make your office look dated, especially if it’s a competitor. Property sellers will be looking for an agent they can trust and who presents a good image – after all, they will be representing a seller’s biggest asset. If a shop front and office looks behind the times that will reflect on the business; clients will make assumptions based on appearances.”
What’s in season?
When it comes to choosing new styles and innovations to help promote your business, fashion trends are forever changing. So what is currently proving popular on the high street?
“This year it’s all about designing an office interior and shop front to appeal to a local market,” added Simons. “This might mean stepping away from the corporate line a little but there is power in being able to relate to and attract your local market. Sometimes a ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work from town to town.”
Illuminated displays draw the eye while a contemporary arrangement allows people to see into the office.” Janice Fairfield, Fairfield Displays and Lighting
Small delicate touches can go a long way with potential clients. Things like outdoor plants or a striking colour can really make an office look far more appealing, based on existing designs and trends, there is definitely a divide between the well establish companies and the newer firms, according to Janice Fairfield of Fairfield Displays, “The older companies are sticking to brand colours like blue, green, red and yellow. While rebrands or young companies are going for deep purples,
pinks and a range of pastel colours.”
Undoubtedly, the features used at the front of an estate or letting agency business are most important when it comes to ensuring that your agency stands out and makes a great and lasting impression, particularly the exterior signage and window display.
In many ways, your office window display is your biggest advert, it could, aside from promoting your properties, really help your firm stand out and look more dynamic, especially when the display is supported by high lighting levels, such as LED lights. Janice Fairfield reports that 2015 has seen the continued development of less cluttered windows, while ‘light pockets’ are proving “incredibly popular”, but the designs are rapidly changing.
“A contemporary display will allow vision into the interior either with displays at the side of the window, at various different heights or low level accompanied by a digital screen,” she said.
“Larger A2 and A1 pockets mixed with the A4 and A3 have become a lot more popular. The larger pockets are now being used more in the north of the country as well as the south. Double and triple width A4 portrait are being used, set at angles in the older buildings.”
Agents with offices which have large windows down to floor level are increasingly adopting low level ‘Sirius’ illuminated property displays, with the sparkling glow edges helping to draw the eye to the presentation, as Fairfield explained, “One display that look most attractive is to have two A3 landscape wide x two high. To increase the impact, these are often designed at different levels in large windows.”
These latest pocket lights have colour changing LEDs – a choice of 11 colours. Uniquely, it is now possible to alter the colour by simply pressing a button to change the entire appearance of the window.
“These units can be used for featured properties so a colour can be selected to match the brand image,” Fairfield added. “Custom coloured light pockets are becoming more popular especially with matching header signs.”
As with the window display, fresh looking office signage can really help an estate agency stand out and look more appealing, not to mention set their company apart from rivals on the high street.
“The fascia is the first impression that a potential client will have on your company whilst walking down the high street, so it is extremely important to have signage which will not only draw the eyes to your office, but to stand out from competitors’ offices,” said Tom Cummuskey at Kremer Signs.
Tom says that the chosen office fascia sign should complement a company’s wider brand and image, including signboards and internal office signage, and is especially important for multi-office agents “where sometimes the consistency can go astray.”
“This can happen due to different suppliers working for each office, which can result in colours, proportions and sometimes even fonts not matching the brand guidelines,” he added.
To help increase brand awareness, Cummuskey advises that agents consider adopting LED illuminated fascia, which generally looks more attractive, not to
mention stands out from a distance, especially as the nights draw in.
“The brighter the better,” he insisted. “By being able to increase brand awareness down the high street after working hours through the illuminated fascia, window display and projecting sign, this really does maximise the exposure of your office.
“With an option of fret cut LED illuminated signs, LED built up lettering or just a simple LED Parabeam trough light, which ever style is used, you can rest assured it will help your brand identity to stand out from the competition.”
To gain valuable visibility, an increasing number of agents are adopting more innovative techniques, such as TV screens or touch screen devices in their window displays.
Through-glass touch screens are a proven way of winning instructions– they are now in numerous retail outlets.” Paul Marks, inTouch Display
Describing ‘through glass’ touch screens as a ‘proven way of winning instructions’, Paul Marks, Sales Director, inTouch Display, says that more vendors now recognise the benefit of comprehensive touch screen marketing, providing agencies with a competitive edge as well as enhancing their brand identity.
“The option to interact with a display screen is not only accepted but often expected as touch screen technology is more popular than ever and is now appearing in numerous public sector and retail outlets,” he said.
DESIGN INSIDE AND OUT
If your shop looks tired on the outside then it may not attract customers. But if you can get the creative design of your office right on the outside, it will encourage more people, including prospective clients, to come inside.
Open social spaces for working as well as meeting are popular, as are acoustic pods. Creative design brings people in!” Andrew Tomlinson, Crucial Projects
Andrew Tomlinson, Creative Director, Crucial Projects, says that his firm always aims to create a bespoke style for the agent and the character of the business to give it “stand out”, rather than following trends “which date too quickly.”
“There are so many popular office styles; open plan with communal desk arrangements and open social spaces for working as well as meeting, even acoustic pods which are an original way of creating meeting space,” said Tomlinson. “Interiors with a homely and welcoming feel with large sofas and wing-back chairs are popular, as are those with café style seating.”
“A professional can also think holistically about the brand look and how this can be integrated from the exterior and interior through to the stationery,” he added.
Ultimately, a professional will manage any practical details with the local authorities as well as help minimise the disruption of the shop fit on the agent’s day to day business, saving the agent time and making the process as smooth as possible, so getting your office professionally refurbished could be rather cheaper than you may think – and bring in much more business.
MEET THE PROFESSIONALS:
● Crucial Projects www.crucialprojects.co.uk
● Fairfield Displays & Lighting Ltd www.fairfielddisplays.co.uk
● inTouch Display www.intouchdisplay.co.uk
● Kraft www.kraftdesign.co.uk
● Kremer Signs www.kremersigns.co.uk
● Mid West Displays www.midwestdisplays.co.uk
● MPL Interiors www.mplinteriors.com
● Store Graphics www.storegraphics.co.uk