At a glance, Kent Avenue is like any other street.
It‘s lined with coffee shops, small businesses and warehouses with no identifying signage. But one of these Brooklyn warehouses represents a shift in online marketing; one that’s proving transformational for UK estate agencies.
Professional-grade product photography is standard practice at Amazon. It’s been that way for years. As the undisputed giant of online shopping, it had sufficient data to prove the effectiveness of professional photography, which made investing in a 40,000-square-foot studio a no-brainer.
"Photos can have the same effect as a good salesperson – no matter what the industry"
President of Amazon Fashion, Cathy Beaudoin, says high-level photography can be likened to a virtual sales associate.
In a shop, customers make their decisions by picking up a product, getting a feel for it and inspecting it closely. The role of photography in the online shopping experience is to substitute an emotional bond that might otherwise be lost.
When a business touches as many demographics as Amazon, its standard practices have a ripple effect.
Amazon customers are your customers, too
People start getting used to high quality visual aids assisting their purchase decisions. Consciously or not, it forms a habit in their mind; and they take these high expectations to every online experience they have.
Of course, different industries develop at different paces. Amazon is primarily a purveyor of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), so it’s no surprise that its marketing and photography moves fast, too.
Conversely, the property industries have a reputation of developing at a slower pace.
But that all began to change with the PropTech subset, starting with Airbnb.
Life at Airbnb (just as it was going bust)
Rewind to 2009, when Airbnb was close to shutting its doors. The company’s $200-a-week revenue was flatlining, and the three founders had maxed out on their credit cards.
Analysing the product from a user’s perspective, co-founders Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia had a penny-drop moment.
“We noticed a pattern,” Gebbia recalled. “…the photos sucked. The photos were not great photos. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It wasn’t actually a surprise that people weren’t booking rooms because you couldn’t even really see what it is that you were paying for.”
On a hunch, the three founders flew to New York, rented a DSLR and replaced the amateur images with hi-res photos.
A week later, revenue had doubled. It was the first financial improvement they’d seen in over 8 months.
“I’ll never forget it because it changed the trajectory of the business,” said Gebbia.
‘Photo as salesperson’: what this means for estate agents
Airbnb aside, it’s a familiar story for marketing-minded estate agents like Thomas Morris Sales & Lettings: take a stale listing, upcycle the photos and floor plan, and see the returns immediately.
Like Cathy Beaudoin, President at Amazon Fashion, the team members consider photography to have immense power as a virtual sales associate.
After learning more about the right angles and camera settings to use, their photos – and click rates – stepped up.
But, as Branch Manager Alastair Smith says, “you can train a team up to take better photos, but you can’t train the weather. Taking better photos is one thing, but learning how to edit out the glare of the sun, or remove shadows? That can be clunky.”
He continues: “[My Director, Simon Bradbury] told me [floor plan and photo enhancement app] PropertyBOX could do some pretty amazing things, so we decided to test it with the hardest case of photo editing we could find.”
Transforming a property sale
Alastair had a property on the market that wasn’t getting a lot of interest, and he knew the photos were playing a big role in that. He’d wanted to use a shot that showed off the space brilliantly with near-perfect angles.
Unfortunately, as the photo had been taken when the sun was behind the property, a big, purple bubble of sun glare stood in the way of Alastair proudly using the shot. To make matters more complicated, the photo also had a reflection of the agent in the window.
“It was a challenging photo,” Alastair recalls, “but one we were dying to get right. We knew that if we got that photo into a usable state, the views on the listing would skyrocket.”
The photo came back within 90 minutes, completely transformed. The glare was gone; the bubble was taken out and even the agent’s reflection had been removed. “The property had been on the market for five weeks with no interest. When we switched the photo to the one enhanced by PropertyBOX, it sold within three days.”
But of course, that’s just one instance of better visual aids acting as a second salesperson.
Rightmove weighs in
Since the advent of online property portals like Rightmove, the estate agency industry has revolutionised its approach to marketing. It has data where there wasn’t data before, and it knows what makes buyers click.
Sarah Brown, Consumer Marketing Manager at Rightmove, writes: “One of the simplest pieces of advice we give to both property owners and agents is to always ensure the images you add to a Rightmove listing are of the highest possible quality, taken in the best possible conditions and at the most flattering angles.”
With access to an unparalleled bank of property decision-making data, Rightmove is pulling out all the stops to encourage agents to treat their photography in a similar way to Amazon.
For instance, agents who frequent the Rightmove Hub will know about its twice-monthly Property Presentation Masterclass. The 30-minute training session hones in on the data-proven ways agents can get properties sold faster and for the best price.
The Rightmove trainers echo Alastair: improving photography has a profound effect on the house-selling process.
In a recent experiment, they compared the same home marketed on two separate listings. The one with more care taken in its photos (such as home staging and photo enhancements) had 300% more views.
Ultimately, it was a better marketed property; one that resonated with an audience that had already been conditioned to expect beautiful images online.
While ecommerce behemoths like Amazon can seem worlds away from estate agencies, the path of marketing influence can be neatly traced right back to your buyers and sellers.
The Amazon approach – treating visual content, like photos and floor plans, as a virtual sales associate – has formed a habit that goes so much further than the solitary act of purchasing one next-day-delivery item. If their shampoo is important enough to warrant professional-grade photography, their current or next home has a lot to live up to.