More than Just a Trend: How AI is Reshaping Fashion and Beauty

In fashion, AI has first been embraced by big brands such as Amazon, Adidas, and Zara. Adidas, for instance, has voice-assisted in-store robots, while competitors are now following Zara after it partnered with Jetlore for a consumer behavior prediction platform. Zara’s aim to create “full integration between store and online stock rooms” is becoming an industry trend. Across the fashion world, consumer-facing AI solutions have been focused on improving personalisation and customer experience.

But AI has also crept into supply chain optimisation, inventory management, and other aspects of production. H&M and Adidas have begun integrating ‘smart’, interconnected robots into production to gain leverage. On the other side of the room are efforts to predict fashion trends and create products that fit these trends. For instance, Indonesian entrepreneur Lingga Madu has gained global attention after using AI to predict what styles will blow up and which ones will flop.

Similar efforts can be seen in the cosmetics industry, as the sector is now tapping into AI to improve customer engagement and relevancy. Mobile apps such as Modiface and HiMirror claim to be capable of assessing your face’s quality and even give you skincare advice. Estée Lauder, Sephora, Benefit, and others have developed their own apps with basically the same features, all powered by AI. Olay’s wildly popular app even lets you identify which parts of your face are most prone to ageing while also addressing other problems.

Taking this concept further, Swedish beauty tech brand FOREO’s has developed a cleansing device called LUNA fofo which can read hydration levels and suggest a personalised skincare routine. FOREO founder and CEO Filip Sedic even said that they plan to “detect air quality and [the] user’s skin conditions in real time,” making the device “the world’s smallest beauty coach.”

Nonetheless, despite these lofty claims, these fashion and beauty innovations are not without some blind spots. While AI has the capacity to process huge amounts of skin data based on user photos and facial recognition, factors such as lighting and picture quality play a huge part in the overall assessment. Indeed, there is a lot of pseudo-science in the world of skincare. For instance, Olay’s vague concept of “skin age”, while its very convenient idea, it is not backed by hard science.

While we can’t doubt that AI and machine learning can transform these industries, it is difficult to make out the exact shape of the things to come. When asked about using AI to address negative fast fashion practices, Elle writer Jo Fuertes stated that a sustainable and ethical future for fashion “requires a seismic cultural shift in how humans work together, not a technological one.” AI is driving more personalised consumer experiences, but it is still underpinned by traditional market models. Unless we see AI radically transforming these models from the ground up, what we can only expect from it today are on-point recommendations and fancy camera tricks for your social media feed.

What Is Robotic Process Automation?

Through the use of specialized software, you can eliminate repetitive tasks from your team’s workload.

As technology continues to advance, humankind is finding more efficient ways to use emerging technology to simplify and eliminate repetitive tasks. One such advancement is the ominously named robotic process automation, which leverages software to make repetitive tasks a thing of the past. While RPA is more common in the enterprise realm, small businesses can also utilize this emergent tech.

What is robotic process automation?

Though its name might evoke images of an uprising of metal and lasers, robotic process automation is anything but that. At its core, RPA is a piece of “robot” software that lets users reduce the number of repetitive tasks they need to do on a computer by mimicking those actions.

From timecard management to data entry, RPA tools eliminate the need for employees to spend their time on computer-based, routine tasks. Instead, employees can focus their energies where they’re actively needed, increasing overall productivity.

Because of its relatively new status on the automation front and increased hype surrounding the technology, researchers at Forrester estimated that the RPA market would balloon from $250 million in 2016 to $2.9 billion in 2021.

How does robotic process automation work?

Since RPA is not powered by artificial intelligence, it needs some level of human interaction to work. It’s after that initial setup that the magic happens.

To get RPA working, a person must first teach it the actions that will be automated on the computer or virtual machine. Whenever an application is opened, a mouse click is initiated, a new task is started, or some other action is taken in an application, an RPA can be taught to do those same actions as a set of programmable rules and instructions. After each step is mapped out, the program can run those manual tasks back, recreating each action with incredible speed and precision.

While RPA by itself is not considered AI, the two can work in tandem to pick up how an employee completes certain tasks. Through the inclusion of intelligent bots, RPA software can actively follow a person’s actions on a computer. Once enough data is collected, the bot and the RPA it’s attached to can begin handling whatever processes it needs to do by itself.

In both instances, RPA needs some form of data input to mimic. Once it gets that data, however, it’s off to the races with those tasks, freeing up precious resources to be allocated elsewhere within your company. Both explanations are at the very basic level of how RPA works, since this kind of software can handle as many as simple or complex processes as you need it to, based on the actions you want to automate.

What can RPA automate?

It doesn’t necessarily matter how big or small your business is – if there’s any computer-based drudge work you want to eliminate for yourself or your employees, RPA technology can handle it. General knowledge points to the idea that RPA is best for tasks that rely on repetitive actions. Tasks like data entry and returns processing are ideal fits for RPAs.

While speaking with The Enterprisers ProjectOlive chief product officer David Landreman listed four basic criteria for whether an RPA is the right tool for a specific repetitive task:

  • Is the process rule-based?
  • Can the process be repeated at regular intervals, or does it have an easily defined trigger?
  • Does the process have expected inputs and outputs?
  • Does the task have sufficient volume?

According to Guy Nadivi, director of business development at Ayehu, RPA is usually used for specific business functions like customer service, accounting and human resources.

The most common uses include tasks that “tend to involve a worker moving information from one system to another,” Nadivi told business.com. “A typical example might be taking regular hours, overtime hours, [and] sick time from a timecard, consolidating them for a given individual, then inputting those numbers into a payroll system. Some have argued that a more accurate term for this category of software might be ‘clerical process automation.'”

No matter what the technology is used for, the ever-changing nature of technology and efficiency-minded software means RPA could eventually handle more complex tasks. Shay Antebi, chief technology officer of Kryon Systems, believes that to be the case because it’s “still a young technology.”

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what RPA can do,” he said. “RPA is the perfect technology for offloading time-intensive, repetitive processes that can drag down productivity or create a sense of boredom for human workers.”

What are the benefits of robotic process automation?

Along with the reduction in repetitive tasks and the ability to free up employees to be productive in other areas of your business, RPA has some other inherent benefits that any business would find valuable. Sagi Eliyahu, co-founder and CEO of Tonkean, said using more adaptive process automation helped his client, Shopping Angels, address the biggest operational issue in its organization.

“Instead of asking state coordinators to spend their time manually assessing which volunteers were in the closest proximity to each other and contacting them one by one, they automated that process, giving state coordinators more time to fix issues and interact directly with shoppers in need,” Eliyahu said. “That’s a huge deal for a nonprofit that wants to put all their energy into what really matters: helping people in need.”

Here are some other examples of how a good RPA can help businesses of all sizes.

Reduced costs

Automation in its many forms is well known for its ability to cut operating costs as a sort of digital workforce. If you no longer need an employee to handle a certain task because of automation, you are spending less money on that task. Similarly, RPA can cut costs that can be due to human error, since the software will handle its functions accurately as long as it was taught correctly.

More engaged employees

Doing repetitive tasks for hours on end can be a mentally and emotionally draining experience. Implementing an RPA robot to handle boring tasks frees up employees to work on more engaging activities that increase their attentiveness, boost morale and, in the case of businesses that regularly deal with the public, provide a better overall customer experience.

Easy, flexible implementation

Since RPA mimics a person’s actions when completing tasks, programming it is relatively easy. No coding knowledge is necessary, and it can easily transfer from one task to another. As businesses grow, RPA can scale with them to meet their changing needs.

Interoperability with legacy systems

Since RPA mimics a person’s actions on a computer, it does not replace any existing software to function. Operating as a virtual employee, a well-trained RPA can leverage all existing technology on your company’s computers to complete tasks.

What are some robotic process automation tools?

As the fastest-growing area of enterprise software on the market, RPA has a wide range of offerings available on the internet. If you believe your small business could benefit from a reduction in repetitive tasks so you can focus on more important matters, you may want to check out the following tools that some business owners we spoke with have used.

Automation Anywhere

Automation Anywhere touts its secure platform and AI-augmented functionality that carries out various tasks in compliance with government regulations across the globe. As a more enterprise-focused service, Automation Anywhere’s pricing starts at $750 per month for the Cloud Starter Pack, which it claims is for small businesses or teams.

Blue Prism

Based in the U.K., Blue Prism is another enterprise-level RPA provider. It currently serves more than 1,800 clients (including Fortune 500 brands) around the globe, claiming a 90% “average customer satisfaction rate” and a 98% customer retention rate. Pricing is not available on its website, though Blue Prism does offer a free 30-day trial.

Zapier

Like the other vendors, Zapier provides software that can automate repetitive tasks. Its pricing is why Zapier might be more small business friendly than the other two vendors. Packages start at 750 tasks per month for $19.99 per month when billed annually or $24.99 when billed on a month-to-month basis. Costs go as high as $3,599 per month annually or $4,498.75 on a monthly basis for 2 million tasks per month. For users who don’t need to automate that many functions, Zapier offers a free version that handles 100 tasks per month.

The Fight Against COVID-19 Is the Moment Robots Have Been Waiting For

Whether they’re falling into fountains, knocking down toddlers, or losing a fight against an unruly drunk, when robots in office spaces make headlines, it’s often because of a comical mishap. But, our troubled robotic operating buddies may have finally found their moment. In the time of COVID, when limiting human interaction in offices and public spaces is paramount, landlords and property managers are taking another look at what robots can do. A tidal wave of robots aimed at coronavirus prevention is sweeping through the PropTech industry. 

“The coronavirus has created a need for robots because they can reduce direct contact between people,” Mira Robotics CEO Ken Matsui told Reuters. The Tokyo-based startup has found a new purpose for its “Ugo” robot: ultraviolet (UV) disinfection. The robot uses UV hand attachments mounted on adjustable arms to roll around via remote control, using the UV light to kill viruses on door handles, toilets, and other surfaces. 

Russia-based Promobot has developed its own robot, designed to screen people and take their temperatures before they enter a building. Promobot’s latest version, dubbed Thermocontrol, also questions people about symptoms, gives advice about avoiding the virus, and hands out facemasks. Silicon Valley-based Knightscope has been pushing free updates to its robots in the field, which now promote COVID prevention by broadcasting public safety and social distancing reminders to those within ear shot. The list of new or improved robots aimed at fighting the virus goes on and on. 

What sets the robots apart is their efficacy. UV robots in particular have been proven to be faster and more effective than their human counterparts. Many have been clinically tested, achieving a 99.99% level of disinfection in half the time it takes a human worker. Most importantly, the robots never stop and are immune to the virus, so they won’t catch it or spread it. 

After decades of missing the mark, social robots have found something they can do better than their human counterparts. That’s why facility managers are finally taking notice. Chinese hospitals have recently ordered more than 2,000 UV robots, and the units now operate in more than 40 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Sales of Neo, a floor-cleaning robot made by Canadian startup Avidbots, were already doubling on an annual basis before the coronavirus hit—but now sales have doubled again, the company’s CEO Faizan Sheikh told Fortune. San Antonio-based Xenex, maker of a disinfecting robot known as LightStrike that uses technology developed by John Hopkins University, has been running its manufacturing facility 24/7 to keep up with skyrocketing demand, up 600 percent. 

Robotic companies are in an all-out race to seize the moment, and investor money is pouring into the industry. There has never been an appetite for automation quite like the current moment. Cleaning robots are already being rolled out in some of the nation’s most prolific stores, like Kroger and Walmart, which just placed another order for 1,500 more Brain cleaning robots. All that activity means a robot could be coming to your office building soon. 

“What we’re seeing in the market in general now is a lot of pull from places like hotels, from airports, airlines, schools, government office buildings, private office buildings, doctors’ offices,” Xenex CEO Morris Miller told Spectrum News. While payment plans vary, from rentals to outright ownership, each robot has an immense cost. Xenex’s LightStrike robots cost around $100,000. On the lower end, Mira Robotics’ Ugo bot can be rented for $1,000 a month. 

Knightscope’s patrol and surveillance bots charge by the hour, coming in at around $122,000 a year. While those costs may have been prohibitive in the past, facility managers and landlords are starting to see the cost-benefit analysis differently. To be competitive, historically commercial robots are priced largely on who they replace, Medhat Moussa, Robotic Engineering Professor at Canada’s University of Guelph, explained. Now people responsible for public spaces like office buildings are starting to see robots as an insurance policy, rather than a labor cost.

“What’s the cost of a COVID outbreak? It’s astronomical,” Moussa said. “That’s the insurance policy cost robotics can help with. If you understand these robots can prevent disease and offer early detection, you see lots of funding. If one of these ‘bots prevents an outbreak or catches it early, it can be mitigated. If offices can’t control the virus, the losses are massive.” 

Getting workers back into the office was always going to be a struggle. Amid a growing second-wave of the coronavirus, that task has only become more difficult. Half of American professionals are reluctant to go back to the office, according to a survey by Korn Ferry conducted in early June. When asked what precautions they want to see employers take as offices reopen, temperature checks, regular and documented deep cleanings and enforced social distancing were among the top responses in a Citrix survey of more than two thousand American office workers. 

“Crises shift perceptions on what is possible regarding investment and transformative action on the part of both private and government actors. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, robots will be mainstreamed across a range of applications and markets,” Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research, said in a release. “Automating disinfection is a key part of maintaining health and safety and could be one of the major bright spots in the response to COVID-19.”

Robots can help offices reopen safely. Disinfection, deep cleaning, surveillance, temperature checks, and social distancing enforcement can all be automated in office buildings to keep employees safer. In the world of industrial real estate, robots are ubiquitous. From assembly lines to warehouses, they’ve become essential. As the world comes together to fight against the coronavirus, they may become just as essential in our office buildings. Social robots are finally evolving from accident-prone machines into the helpers we dreamed they could be. 

Phones in Hand, Leasing Teams Take On Marketing

Live virtual tours help apartment operators sign prospects in peak moving season, according to industry experts.

The onset of COVID-19 in mid-March could not have come at a more inopportune time for apartment operators. The sector’s spring and summer peak leasing season was set to begin, but stay-at-home orders largely restricted apartment communities from providing tours to prospective tenants.

The initial fallout jolted the multifamily industry. By the end of March, year-over-year leasing volume had plunged 46 percent, and only in mid-May did it start to rebound, according to RealPage.

Tested by the crisis, apartment owners and managers pivoted to technology-driven virtual tours. Many communities already provided videos of units and amenities on websites well before the pandemic interrupted business. But the shutdown forced them to strengthen their technology by providing much more detailed videos and live one-on-one tours via FaceTime, Zoom and various social media platforms.

“Before COVID, we thought our virtual marketing efforts were enhancements, but they quickly became ‘must-haves’,” said Marc Turner, managing director of investment management for Origin Investments, a Chicago-based owner of some 3,600 units primarily in southern growth markets. “When you can’t tour an apartment, it becomes much harder to gauge what it would feel like to live there, so we personalized tours to create a better experience.”

Origin’s communities possessed a lot of video content that it could immediately deploy as part of the effort, he said. But the owner and its managers also realized that the videos needed to provide more visual information, including views into cabinets, refrigerators, closets and storage, displays of functioning faucets and ovens, and architectural highlights.

GOING VIRTUAL

Cabana on Washington. Image courtesy of Alliance Greystar

Because professional videographers were unavailable, leasing staff had to practice taking video with their phones. Ultimately, that proficiency transferred to live virtual tours.

The approach paid off. Despite the forced closure of leasing offices, virtual tours helped Origin net one additional lease per week in April and May compared with the same period in 2019, Turner stated.

“We found that the video content helped people say, ‘OK, this is a community I’m interested in, and I want to learn more,’” he explained. “From there we could do a personalized tour on FaceTime or other platform and answer questions that maybe didn’t get covered in the video.”

Other apartment operators have had similar results. In Phoenix, more than 50 percent of prospects interested in two new Greenlight Communities are inking leases, which is about 10 to 15 percentage points higher than the original lease-up goal, noted Erica Herald, regional manager of new sites for property management firm Alliance Greystar, formerly Alliance Residential.

In January and February, Alliance had been providing virtual tours of the two properties—Cabana on 12th and Cabana on Washington—to drum up pre-leasing activity for spring and summer move-ins. The tours included standard online videos of its models as well as live “hard hat” showings online. Yet early in the rollout, the latter strategy was still considered a bit awkward for people who were used to physically touring properties, Herald said.

“I don’t think the pandemic has done many great things for the world, but it did make apartment prospects more open to virtual experiences, and virtual tours have become an industry standard,” she pointed out. “Because we wanted to be more progressive prior to receiving a certificate of occupancy, our teams had already transitioned to conducting virtual tours, and it served us well when COVID set in.”

TECH SAVVY

RangeWater Real Estate, an Atlanta-based apartment service provider, focused on creating new content that blended professional videos with self-made clips made by on-site teams to ensure that all of its communities were digitally optimized, according to Dana Pate, senior director of marketing for the firm.

“COVID-19 escalated any beta-testing into full blown, portfolio-wide rollouts,” she said. “Our experience and training team established a standard for RangeWater virtual tours, utilizing all technology available—from Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to FaceTime and Facebook video messenger. If prospects were using it in their day-to-day lives, then we needed to be available and proficient in those same systems.”

Thanks to those and other marketing efforts, the firm has not seen a significant drop in conversion rates from lead to lease since the crisis began, she said.

To a large extent, on-site guided and self-guided tours have returned to properties, but appointments are generally required and are spaced to avoid overcrowding and to allow for cleaning, observers say. Virtual tours still remain an option, especially as some people remain cautious about where they travel.

Prior to the pandemic, property manager Village Green primarily provided virtual tours for out-of-state prospects that wanted a detailed look at units, said Ryan Kirby, senior vice president of the Midwest region for the Southfield, Mich.-based firm, which oversees 40,000 units in 20 states. But virtual tours became much more effective in April and May.

“We’ve pretty much opened everywhere for physical tours at this point, but because our virtual tours were so successful, we’ve just incorporated them as an option as part of our sales presentation,” he added. “We got a lot better at them through the pandemic, and I think they’re here to stay.”

Chatbots & Multifamily

Do you use chatbots to provide prospective residents with information about your property or specific units? Here are some reasons you might want to.

Chatbots seem to be popping up everywhere nowadays. And not just Alexa, but those helpful “people” who IM you on every site to help with customer service.

These are certainly not new. Back in the Stone Age when I was in college and iPods were gaining popularity, Joe Millionaire was winning over our hearts, and we were constantly perfecting our away messages on AIM, there was a chatbot called Smarterchild that we all talked to. Of course, we would just curse at it and laugh hysterically at it’s “offended” response. College was a wild time.

But now chatbots are getting smarter, or at least more responsive. And people are happily using them. We’re heading for Westworld-level customer service robots, people! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. “These violent delights have free-return-policy ends.” Or something. I don’t know, I’m still a few episodes behind.

Anyway, according to a study on Convince & Convert, “as of 2018, 15 percent of American adults say they have used a chatbot to interact with a company in the prior 12 months.”

Yup, this apartment is pet friendly. Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you today. Hasta la vista, baby.

And according to Ideal.com, 35 percent of people who use chatbots expect to get detailed responses to inquiries. Also, they found that 64 percent of people believe the top benefit of them is to get 24-hour service, and that 55 percent of people believe the top benefit is getting an instant response.

APARTMENT AIDES

All these things seem like they would be ideal for apartment community websites. Do you use chatbots to provide prospective residents with information about your property or specific units?

These chatbots can be programmed with specific keywords to answer questions about the community, which could be extremely useful for your leasing agents. This would free up their time, and when they talked to their prospects, the prospective renters would then have basic information about the property.

UNCANNY VALLEY

Though there are many benefits to chatbots in multifamily marketing, there are of course still some downsides. Some people might not yet know how to interact with these chatbots to get the right information out of them. That could end up being extremely frustrating for them, and could end up losing you a lead.

Also, and maybe it’s just me, but there always seems to be something off about talking with a chatbot. It’s not human, but it can answer seemingly random questions. Do you have to thank them? I know, I know, they’re robots, so no, right? If you talk to a different bot later, will you get different answers? And will the original bot get jealous? These things keep me up at night.

But, seriously, sometimes people do want to talk to an actual human. If your site offers chatbots, it might be beneficial to also offer that option. Then potential residents can get information in the way that makes them the most comfortable. And, who knows. In the near future, the chatbots might become so sophisticated that people won’t even be able to tell they’re talking to robots, and then the issue might become moot. Actually, maybe that time is already here. Maybe even the writer of this blog is a robot. Talk about a twist ending!

Do you use chatbots on your apartment websites? If so, what have you liked or disliked about them? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post your comments on our Facebook page or send a tweet to @MHNOnline or @jfiur.

Webinar–From Scaling Back to the Comeback: Marketing During COVID-19

Ben Faunce, senior customer success manager at SOCi, discusses how marketing has been affected during the pandemic and what leaders should be doing going forward.

Clear communication and a strong online marketing strategy are more important than ever as multifamily property managers navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Multi-Housing News hosted a 30-minute “Snap Session” webinar last week with Ben Faunce, senior customer success manager at software company SOCi, to discuss the challenges that property management firms are facing and content and messaging strategies they can adopt.

“It’s important to get content out there now,” said Faunce, urging companies to make full use of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to engage with current and prospective residents and make their properties stand out. Property managers can post appealing photos of available units. Companies that have taken advantage of prolonged closures to improve their amenities should let the world know.

Multifamily managers can also brand themselves as community builders by sending thanks to local hospitals and pharmacies, promoting local restaurants and grocery stores that may be open and giving weekly shout-outs to team members such as maintenance workers, Faunce added.

Companies should also use social media to support and engage current residents. Ideas include asking residents questions on Facebook and promoting fun and unique events, such as a cute puppy contest at an apartment community or a balcony dance party at a senior living center. “I see some really inspiring posts across thousands of properties I work with,” said Faunce. “At the end of the day, always be leading with empathy in everything you’re doing.”

GOING VIRTUAL

The industry is currently gravitating towards virtual property tours as leasing has become challenging over the last month or so. Google’s Tour Creator is a useful tool for creating immersive, 360-degree views of a community. Self-guided tours are also an option to consider. The tours can be scheduled on Zoom and property managers can speak to prospective renters over the phone as they navigate the property. Having a messenger bot on the company’s website and Facebook page is an easy way to weed out prospects that aren’t serious.

Now is also an opportune time for companies to create videos. If the budget is available, it’s a good idea to spend the extra money to make them look sharp and professional. If not, keep the videos loose and engaging. “Video is just skyrocketing across social media,” said Faunce, noting that video-sharing service TikTok was the most-downloaded app across Android and iPhone over the last 90 days.

Finally, as parts of the U.S. gradually lift restrictions related to the pandemic, property managers should think about putting together a social campaign around the reopening of amenities such as gyms, pools and rooftops. Each reopening milestone can warrant its own post, complete with an explanation of why it makes sense, as well as quotes from the relevant government or public health guidelines.

Embracing Stay at Home Tech During a Time of Social Distancing in The Multifamily Industry

Social distancing is a new phenomenon for many. As humans, we are instinctively social creatures, who like to be surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones, and there’s nothing we look forward to more than sharing experiences. Though the evolution of human social behavior is not fully understood, researchers believe it was a gradual process, evolving from couples to clans to larger communities. Once The Digital Age took hold of the globe, our social interactions ceased being limited to in-person exchanges. Now that we can email, text, direct message, and video chat, digital interactions often supplement face-to-face contact, and some people even prefer it this way.

In the wake of COVID-19, an infectious disease caused by a virus not previously identified in humans, many government officials and medical professionals are promoting social distancing to prevent overwhelming the health system of our country. More than just a buzzword, social distancing is vital in stopping the spread of the illness, which happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or otherwise releases droplets of saliva from the mouth or discharge from the nose.

As of this week, COVID-19 cases surpassed 1.6 million people worldwide. Although nearly 100,000 people have died from the illness, over 350,000 have successfully recovered. With America now being the most infected country in the world— with over 450,000 confirmed cases—experts have recommend self-isolation  for everyone to “flatten the curve” of infection rates, which are adding up at lightning speed.

Across the globe, social distancing has been difficult for many countries to implement successfully, including Italy, Germany, and France. America has been no different. As a result, government officials have started enforcing stricter guidelines on our daily lives. The majority of states have closed gathering spaces, such as schools, restaurants, gyms, churches, movie theatres, and more.

Yet, despite this, Americans aren’t completely without social outlets. Unlike other pandemics, wars, and crises, COVID-19 is unique in that we have the Internet, social media, and other web-based resources at our side—all of which support constant connectivity and can help multifamily housing professionals weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Internet can provide more than entertainment during this time of uncertainty. We will depend upon it to connect us to the outside world – whether that means placing online orders for food and grocery items or providing crucial digital services to apartment residents and prospects. Since 95 percent of the country is under stay at home orders, American citizens must self-isolate, especially older, more vulnerable populations with co-morbidities.

Although share economy apps, like Uber and Lyft, have suspended rideshare services during this worldwide health crisis, food and grocery delivery apps, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, are stronger than ever. At the end of last year, Forbes reported that the food delivery industry is expected to supersize to a 200 billion-dollar industry by 2025.  

With people stuck at home and states limiting restaurant operations to delivery and pick-up only, both Uber Eats and DoorDash experienced their highest customer spending over the last eleven weeks, with their weekly customer spending increasing by 15 percent since Q1 of 2020. The numbers clearly show that many people are turning to these stay at home tech services to protect their health and well-being when a degree of separation is needed most.

TechCrunch has also recently reported that grocery delivery app downloads are soaring amidst the health crisis, with InstacartWalmart Grocery, and Shipt experiencing a surge in daily downloads by 218 percent160 percent, and 124 percent, respectively. Grocery store delivery and pickup presents an easier option to stock-up on essentials, while limiting one’s exposure to other people, and in turn, the virus. With its added workforce of 100,000 warehouse and delivery employees, Amazon Prime is also fighting hard to meet online shopping demands during the coronavirus outbreak.

Like every other sector, multifamily professionals must turn to digital tools to meet consumers’ needs during this unprecedented time. Because there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, it’s safe to say that we can expect similar outbreaks in the future that will require the same amount of social distancing. Therefore, we must collaborate, communicate, and cooperate with one another and come up with ways to reduce the impact of this very real scenario on our industry.

One way to do so is by devoting time, money, and other resources to our own versions of stay at home technology within the real estate sector. Consider investing in products that align with social distancing, such as interactive chatbots, livestream tours, and other digital marketing and leasing tools, to keep prospects satisfied, occupancies up, and rents paid.

By finding ways to minimize the severity of current and forthcoming social disruptions— such as the novel coronavirus— with solid online user experiences and workflows, you will set your community up for success during future challenges – and who doesn’t crave a bit of certainty during times of emergency, instability, and change?

AUTHOR

Kerry W. Kirbyis a renowned entrepreneur, speaker, and technology innovator. He is the founder and CEO of 365 Connect, a leading provider of award-winning digital marketing, leasing, and resident service platforms for the multifamily housing industry. Kerry has propelled 365 Connect from a scrappy bootstrapped startup to a globally recognized company, which has won an array of highly acclaimed international, national, and regional awards, including the esteemed Louisiana Governor’s Technology Award.

Marketing to Multiple Generations

Today’s renter pool comprises a wide range of ages that can pose challenges to developers, owners and operators. Eric Clark of Bainbridge Cos. shares four tips on how communities can appeal to anyone.

Millennials, Millennials, Millennials. Peruse some industry trades or attend a multifamily conference, and you might get the impression that the renting population consists entirely of this generation.

The focus on Millennials in multifamily is certainly understandable. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015 Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Furthermore, they are set to become the largest living adult generation next year. So, of course, they are at the very heart of the renter pool.

However, the truth is that renters are a diverse group. As Baby Boomers age, they are selling their homes and opting for the ease and convenience of apartment living. And as Generation Z reaches early adulthood, they are emerging as a sizable segment of the renting population. The post-Millennial cohort will account for 33 percent of the global population by 2020, and they already contribute $44 billion annually to the U.S. economy, according to Commscope.

Clearly, multifamily developers—unless they are building communities specifically targeted at seniors or students—are tasked with creating and marketing properties that appeal simultaneously to different generations. How can they go about doing that?

FLEXIBLE COMMON SPACES

Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z all enjoy common areas at apartment communities, but they want them for different purposes. For example, Baby Boomers love onsite group activities that allow for ample socializing. Think dance lessons, wine tastings, cooking classes and brunches with room for large groups to sit together. Gen Z’ers, on the other hand, prefer the “alone together” concept. Yes, they want to spend time in the community clubhouse, but they want to be in their own nook while on their mobile device.

The result is that developers have to strike that balance of designing a community’s common areas so that they can easily accommodate group activities but still allow individuals to use them and have their own space when a group activity isn’t taking place.

UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS

Today we all use technology. Suffice to say, though, each generation has a different relationship with mobile devices and technology.

Millennials grew up immersed in the Internet. Gen Z—they haven’t known a world without the Internet, instant access and as such, they are absolutely wedded to their smartphones and mobile devices. Communities need to offer blazing-fast Internet speeds in both common areas and apartment homes. Similarly, younger residents are perfectly happy, and even prefer, to fill out maintenance requests online and then communicate with the service team exclusively via text afterwards. In fact, they often view phone calls related to the requests as unwelcome encroachments on their personal time. They want to control when and how they communicate with their community; be sure your technologies and platforms can meet that demand.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Baby Boomers are generally happy to complete that initial service request online, but afterwards they want to speak with the technicians and leasing staff as the work order proceeds and is completed.

On another technology note, apartment owners and operators looking to appeal to a broad swath of renters should outfit their units with enough smart-home technology—say, Nest thermostats and smart locks—to be attractive to younger renters but they shouldn’t go so overboard that they intimidate the older crowd.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION

As the old saying goes, real estate has always been about location, location, location. That’s especially true in today’s multifamily industry.

Overall, renters have become more inclined towards in-town living in recent years, but downtown properties can be tough to build in a way that appeals to a mass audience. Instead, development sites that are located about 10 minutes away from a central business district can offer real advantages. These less expensive and bigger sites can allow developers to build units at a size and with a finish level that attract residents in their mid-30s and older, while still allowing younger renters to be within an easy and inexpensive Uber or Lyft ride of downtown. These locations also provide the walkability and proximity to jobs that renters of all ages are seeking.

MARKET STRATEGICALLY

Each generation responds to different marketing tactics. But when trying to generate leads for an apartment community, it’s best to heavily consider geography. For instance, in urban markets that skew younger, chat bots and robust text campaigns will prove to be invaluable tools. In southern suburban areas, you’re going to need to focus more on face-to-face hospitality, regardless of the age of prospects.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of marketing methods that some in the industry might be quick to dismiss as “old school.” You might be surprised at how younger Millennials and Gen Z’ers respond to guerrilla marketing. For example, I’ve seen communities enjoy considerable results from having a leasing agent set up shop in a local coffee house, unobtrusively strike up conversations with the patrons and even offer to pay for their coffee.

Today’s renter pool comprises a wide range of ages. The diversity in age can pose some real challenges to developers, owners and operators. But in the end, these are challenges that, with planning and strategic thought, can be readily overcome.

Eric Clark is vice president of Marketing & Strategic Development for the Bainbridge Cos. He oversees the strategic planning and execution of marketing and branding at the corporate and community level in addition to the company’s training and team development initiatives.

When Will Technology Replace People in Multifamily?

Zlatko Bogoevski, Founder and CEO of Betterbot, Mike Brewer, COO of RADCO, and Michael Myers, Founder and CEO of Hayven explain when and how technology will replace people in multifamily. The truth is it’s already happening. Technology is slowly taking over our simple tasks and freeing up time for humans to focus on what they do best. Are the tasks you are doing right now suitable for AI?  Which parts can be replaced and which can’t? Is moving towards more automation going to be beneficial? You have to watch to find out.

Top Tech Trends for 2020

Five technology advancements that are likely to hit the apartment industry in a big way in the year ahead.

There’s little doubt that 2019 was the year for PropTech. We saw record levels of investment in not only real estate tech writ large but also multifamily-specific tech. These new technology companies and platforms are challenging our traditional ways of operating our communities and serving our residents, giving us new tools for marketing, leasing, connectivity, security, business intelligence, resident finance, community management, and much, much more.

We saw this at our recent NMHC OPTECH event in Dallas, where more than 2,000 apartment executives and technology partners gathered to explore new software and technology solutions, discuss evolving multifamily tech needs, and get practical advice on implementing new technologies. Here are five big things the leaders in tech and innovation were talking about that we believe will have meaningful impact on the industry in the year to come.

1. Chatbots

The industry continues to be slapped with the sobering figures of how many leads go unanswered because leasing agents can’t—or won’t, as the case may be—return a phone call or reply to an email. Sometimes they are too busy with other tasks. Sometimes the inquiries come in during off hours. Regardless of the reason, it’s costing operators money to not only have to market but remarket units.

Operators are searching for low-cost solutions to getting more prospects into the sales funnel, and call centers just aren’t cutting it in a lot of cases. Enter the latest generation of AI-powered chatbots. But please don’t call them bots. These digital leasing assistants have gotten so sophisticated that prospects often can’t tell that it’s a robot responding to the thread. Fueled by machine learning, these digital leasing assistants also get smarter over time, improving performance. We expect that they could become a leasing agent’s new best friend.

2. Self-Guided Tours

With the dual goals of unburdening leasing staff and delivering a better on-demand shopping experience for prospects, many apartment operators are experimenting with self-guided tours. For some it’s a be-back strategy, available to prospects who are making a return visit; for others, this is a shift to a whole new touring model.

Operators also have varying definitions of self-guided. Some are investing in the high-tech version with virtual ID checks and remote or keyless entry to provide a truly self-service experience; however, others are rolling with a low-tech version, where IDs are held in exchange for a unit key and returned at the end of the tour. Operators are still struggling, though, with the question of when humans should reinsert themselves into the leasing process.

3. Intelligent Buildings

While apartment operators haven’t quite found the perfect solution, most are testing the smart home waters and figuring it out as they go. But with the benefits of consumer-facing smart tech going to the resident, they’re also looking at scalable smart building tech to net new operational efficiencies.

These intelligent building platforms hem together smart home tech with digital remote access for maintenance and guest access, energy-saving solutions, and systems monitoring technologies like leak detection for a comprehensive, real-time community management solution. While the focus today is on asset protection and preventative maintenance, the technologies are likely to make predictive maintenance a mainstream reality soon enough.

4. Curb to Community Room Connectivity

Residents certainly want it, but increasingly our building systems are also demanding seamless connectivity. From controlled access to sensor technology, future-proofing begins with getting the broadband and cellular infrastructure right.

Two new and interesting telecom advancements are on the horizon. The Federal Communications Commission is opening up some additional spectrum—this is 5G and CBRS—that could positively affect connectivity. While that’s good for the residents, it’s also potentially good for owners and operators. The expectation that 5G and CBRS will deliver better, faster, and more reliable mobile connectivity could be a boon for the rollout of IOT-based systems, not only smart home features but also intelligent building technologies.

5. Resident Finance Solutions

With housing affordability becoming a bigger issue in markets nationwide, new renter-focused FinTech solutions are emerging. These solutions aim to lower upfront costs and provide more financial flexibility for renters while providing operators with more efficiencies and protections against lease loss. These platforms are providing new alternatives to traditional security deposits, guarantors, and late rent payment hurdles with more modern takes on old-school insurance or payday loan solutions.