Understanding AI in a Consumer’s Online Research Journey with Big-Ticket Buys

Artificial intelligence on a multifamily, auto or home furnishings industry website remembers every online shopper, what they searched for, and when they plan to buy. Better understanding AI will help you give today’s consumers what they demand: A more personalized, guided experience that simplifies their online research journey before making a big purchase.

Today’s buying consumer uses artificial intelligence in nearly every financial transaction, from the self-checkout at the grocery store to the new food-serving kiosks at McDonald’s. Even industries with big-purchase items, like buying a car, shopping for furniture, and leasing a new condo or apartment, all leverage AI.

Companies decide to replace grocery store cashiers, bank tellers and fast-food workers with automated machines when they don’t create enough value in the service they provide, says Elise Kephart, a trainer and consultant in the auto industry who’s nationally recognized as the “YouTube Diva” for her persuasive, personalized video greetings.

With places like Carvana trying to convince car buyers to purchase their next new vehicle from a vending machine and Tesla offering to sell vehicles directly to the consumer, Kephart thinks it’s time auto dealers start paying attention to how consumers want to buy.

“I don’t think it’s just around the block,” she says. “But, for right now, the automotive industry really needs to adapt to the way that this is going. I don’t want to see dealers replaced by full automation or buying a car completely online. But if it’s moving in that direction, we’re going to have to adapt.”

The same forecast holds true for the home furnishings and multifamily property industries as more consumers seek simplicity and transparency when conducting online research before buying. They want a more personalized online shopping experience, much like how Amazon or Google remembers what they searched for, without a pushy salesperson lurking nearby.

AI can help the auto, home furnishings and multifamily industries provide customers with a seamless transition from an online search to an in-store purchase.

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Give Customers Concierge Service with AI Technology

For multifamily properties, PERQ’s AI-driven software offers the kind of personalized, guided experience today’s digital consumers demand, says Christopher Beckwith-Taylor, vice president of marketing for The Franklin Johnston Group.

“We’re truly guiding consumers through the apartment search process,” he says. “It’s kind of like an AI concierge service. It’s asking what kind of apartment are you looking for, how would you describe yourself, are you someone who loves high-end, classy and luxurious? Or are you the type of person who just needs a place to lay your head?”

“We’re truly guiding consumers through the apartment search process. “It’s kind of like an AI concierge service.”

Instead of property management companies wasting money on extending office leasing hours or trying to provide a 24/7 concierge service, Beckwith-Taylor suggests adding interactive online tools that give customers the assistance they seek on a property website, like schedule a tour, view floor plans, and calculate average rental costs.

“Not only are you saving dollars on payroll, you’re providing such an efficient way for the customer to commit to scheduling an appointment, which totally eliminates the back and forth with the customer,” he says. “A seamless search tool benefits both the customer and the property management company.”

Understanding AI to Guide a Customer’s Buying Journey

Most consumers today conduct as much research online as possible, comparing prices and narrowing down which showrooms or properties they want to visit in person. While in the research phase, the majority of shoppers say they are not ready to buy, whereas those who do walk through your door are more likely to be armed with information they found online to get the best deal.

Interactive technology on your website enables consumers to conduct in-depth and personalized research, while serving up the next best step in their shopping process. Experiences can include auto trade-in comparison tools on auto dealer websites, mattress assessments on home furnishing websites, and rental expense calculators on multifamily housing websites.
Online guided shopping is all about helping the consumer, but also acknowledging consumer behavior, much like the Amazon business model. By leveraging AI and remembering shoppers when they return, never asking for the same information twice and personalizing messages for each customer, that shopper will begin seeing you as a trusted business, not a pushy salesperson.

“Everything is changing at a breakneck pace when it comes to AI,” says Quality Furniture Vice President Jordan Barrick. “Customers are getting more used to their choices tailored to them, or at least the perception of choice.”

Barrick, who previously ran a digital marketing company, says many competitors in the home furnishings industry are “behind the curve” when it comes to adopting AI and using it effectively to engage consumers in the online research journey.

Automate, but Keep the Online Research Journey Personal

Auto dealers also struggle to keep up with AI technology, Kephart says, by spending too much time, energy and resources to train salespeople on how to personally engage with customers. As founder of The Elise Kephart Experience, a company focused on helping auto dealerships improve sales processes, she knows firsthand that those efforts often fail, due to lack of buy-in or a sales staff unwilling to absorb the information.

“With AI, essentially, you can customize it to where the experience is one that customers want,” Kephart says. “It needs to be a positive experience for the customer and, ideally, the customer shouldn’t know that it’s AI on the other end.”

Kephart says she prefers using verbiage that sounds like a real person with personality, whether that point of contact with an online consumer comes through a chat box, a text or an email. “From an AI standpoint, a lot of dealers struggle with that process,” she says.

As the “YouTube Diva,” she’s also a huge advocate of sending personalized video messages to customers using something as simple (and not overproduced) as your smartphone. “Now, the consumer can hear you, see you, get a little glimpse of you as a genuine person, which helps to set you apart from what the typical car salesperson is envisioned to be,” she says.

Applying authentic personality in an AI-like format tends to streamline and improve customer engagement and the online research journey. “When it’s completely built out, it’s everything you want it to be if you had the ideal person on the other end responding to your internet requests, your chat box, or your text leads.”