If you think a complete website overhaul will put your multifamily online presence immediately back on the map, think again. Even after an exhaustive update to the skin and functionality of their online prospect-facing web platform, Atlanta-based Post Properties looked into the competitive apartment internet marketing landscape and saw the opportunity to increase functionally by developing an online reservation and leasing system that would enable prospects to conduct any portion of the leasing process, at any time, all with the click of a mouse.
With a successful rollout under its belt and the busy summer leasing season at the doorstep, Post's vice president of information technology services Janet Ham sat down with Multifamily Executive to talk about online apartment marketingopportunities and how the Post Open Door technology looks to figure large into 2011 prospect conversion.
MFE: Can you tell us a little bit more about Post Open Door and how your team developed it?
HAM: Well, Post Open Door really goes back two years ago when the IT department teamed up with our marketing group to completely redesign the skin and functionality of our website with the goal of providing real-time pricing and availability, and really offering the granular online information on our apartments in communities that we did not have in place. Some of our competitors already had products on their web site that took prospects the extra step of reserving units and paying associated fees for taking a unit off the market in preparation of a lease, and we needed to catch up. So last year in a pretty rapid three-month period we gathered requirements, developed, tested, and went live with what we branded as "Post Open Door."
MFE: What were some of the key functionalities you looked to incorporate?
HAM: Post Open Door takes a prospect through the entire lease cycle: They can see availability and pricing, pick a unit, add unit preferences, add occupants, begin a secure online leasing and resident-screening process, and then allow them to pay all reservation fees with a credit card and basically lease the apartment. All that is left is to finalize the details with the leasing consultant on-site and pick up the keys.
MFE: So you rolled the system out to the entire portfolio at once. Was there any trepidation in that process?
HAM: I want to be quick to market, but I want to make sure I am doing it in a way that is going to draw my customer in and create a positive, streamlined experience for them. That’s key. But we learned a lot from some of our past programming efforts, and we evaluated our competitors. I’m passionate about the product, and I think that passion went into the development: We had a core two developer, two person marketing team, and of course we had some peripheral members who helped with user acceptance and testing and feedback, but we knew exactly what we wanted and the requirements we had to satisfy, and that led to a very rapid development. That’s not how we would always do it, but we were eager to get it to market. It was unrolled to the portfolio at once, and we were 100 percent confident in the execution.
MFE: What helped to that end when it came to user adoption?
HAM: One of the things we did in working with Post Properties executive vice president Jamie Teabo and her management team was to get together with the area vice presidents who brought in two onsite associates each to help us with requirements gathering, and that is key to both buy-in and roll-out: when associates can see that their input is both vested and invested in the product.
MFE: So what kind of market validation have you received?
HAM: We went live Oct 21 and had our first lease in 30 minutes, but we have launched during the slowest part of the season, se we are seeing much more rapid growth in February and March of 2011 then we did in the last quarter of 2010, and I think the numbers will continue to rise in an exponential fashion into the summer leasing season. Right now, POD accounts for 11 percent of our leases. It’s pretty exciting; it’s saving time for everybody.
MFE: And it looks like you’ll have the functionality in time for both the 2011 leasing season and for the huge demographic wave of tech-friendly renters and prospects.
HAM: Yes. I check the [growth] statistics everyday. It was very rewarding from an IT perspective to build the product, satisfy the customer needs, and see enthusiasm from everyone in the process. We wanted it to be simple, easy, and enhance what we already offer from a brand and service perspective: a positive, efficient, easy experience online.