Delivering certainty

Marc and I were driving north on I-5 back to Portland from a day out of the office when we saw this:

On first pass, I dismissed it as a basic attempt at branding. A car wrap? Goes right along with all the terrible headshots, cheesy slogans, bus benches and ads on supermarket carts. But something about that little SmartCar made me stop and think, and it provoked a great conversation about the future of the industry.

It went something like this…

I think The Brokerage House, the company behind the car, might be onto something.

When buying shoes

Like many of you, I love Zappos. I love their app, the little moments of delight in their user experience, their customer service.

Put aside the hook of free two-day delivery or the nearly limitless inventory and you see that the real driver of Zappos’ success is the hassle-free returns. They’ve made it virtually risk-free to buy shoes online, removing all the doubt and indecision that causes shoppers to stand still.

With Zappos, we know that if it doesn’t fit or we don’t like the style, we can just return the shoes — no questions asked, with free shipping and plenty of time to make a final decision.

This touches on what many consumers want, even more than a good price: certainty in the outcome of their decisions. Safety is the most basic of human instincts, and Zappos delivers. When the company was acquired by Amazon in 2009, many of those policies filtered into the larger corporate culture there, no doubt helping make them the world’s largest retailer.

To this day, Zappos/Amazon is not the cheapest place online to buy shoes. But it is where many of us choose to go first because there is safety in the outcome.

When buying computers

Longtime readers know that I am hardcore Apple devotee. But I haven’t always been. For many years I was a passionate PC disciple and built and maintained my own computers throughout college. So what changed?

My first Mac was a polycarbonate white Macbook that I bought when I first moved to the U.S. in 2005. There were lots of reasons it appealed to me: the industrial design and build quality, OS X and the user interface. By the time I bought my first iPod, and then the first iPhone, and the first iPad, I was hooked.

When I stop to think about the reason I bought those products, it was not a rational decision.

It was much deeper. It was the certainty Apple gave me that everything would “just work”. As our digital worlds multiplied, and we added more and more devices to them, everything grew increasingly complex, moving past even my technical skill set. However, it was the surety that only Apple could deliver which turned my allegiance.

Apple offered an implicit guarantee that removed the barriers that come with any new technology. They empowered us with the confidence that comes from removing anxiety. That’s the real secret behind Apple’s growth — that emotional awareness.

Apple devices are not the most affordable. But there’s a reason Apple stores are often packed with people.

When selling real estate

So to steer this conversation back to what’s happening in real estate today, this is what I believe iBuyers and this small brokerage in Oregon are really tapping into — certainty.

Confidence and clarity in the outcome of the home sale are what iBuyers deliver. It is a powerful value proposition that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Those who dismiss iBuyers as being too expensive or presenting financially imprudent choices are missing this larger point.

The real estate transaction has resisted significant change to date precisely because of the complexity, uncertainty and anxiety that surrounds it. iBuyers and those that emulate them are, like Zappos and Apple, removing it.

And while they may not be the most affordable or the cheapest — just like Zappos and Apple — I believe the iBuying option is going to be immensely attractive to consumers.

As an agent or broker, you may not be in a position to counter this. It may not make the most strategic sense to even try to chase that trend. I would even go as far as to say that the good agents and brokers are going to be immune from them.

But what I would ask you is this: quite simply, what can you guarantee in your business? What steps are you taking to remove uncertainty from your own offering? What promises are you prepared to make in your marketing that you can deliver on?

A guarantee is a powerful proposition to consumers who have grown accustomed to it in many other areas of their lives.

What’s yours?