We are three months into the COVID-19 global pandemic and we all know firsthand just how quickly and dramatically everyday life and normal business routines were forced to change. Nearly overnight, restaurants adapted to carry-out service only and the once-booming travel industry ground to a standstill. Without a doubt, industries hit hardest — particularly travel, entertainment, and restaurants — by the pandemic will continue to face huge challenges, even as the world slowly steps out of isolation. 

While self storage was not expected to take a major hit due to COVID-19, a few important trends emerged through the crisis that could change the way operators do business. With COVID-19 accelerating the use of technology by consumers to make purchase decisions, generating and capturing demand online have never been more important. Businesses that can cater to their prospects’ needs have come out ahead of their competition through this crisis. From online search trends to online leasing, self storage operators can capitalize on key COVID-19 learnings to generate more qualified leads and leases.

Demand Remains Strong for Storage Units

Online demand for storage rentals was strong coming into 2020, with overall search queries outpacing the previous two years. This trend speaks to the fact that consumers have shifted their buying journeys online, with 60% of people starting with search. Storage customers have increasingly used Google search to find information about storage facilities. The total search volume for ‘storage rentals’ was up 11% YoY in Q1 2020.

According to Google search query data, COVID-19 was a blip on an otherwise strong start to the year for storage rental demand nationwide. There was a surge in online searches for storage rentals in the early days of COVID-19. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases grew and more cities went into lock-down, people just weren’t searching as much as they were at the start of the pandemic. There was a brief, minor impact in the month of April when search query volume fell just below 2019 levels. As states relaxed quarantine guidelines in early May, online demand for storage regained its previous strength, resuming projected 2020 levels, which are now above 2019. 

While the long term impact on the self storage industry is still unknown, business operations will have to be rethought. Operators will certainly have to adjust how they conduct business in the wake of COVID-19. The crisis has likely accelerated consumers’ expectations to find and connect with storage properties online. Now is the time to stand out from the competition, adapt to the needs of renters, and achieve your business goals, here’s where to start:

  • Display unit pricing and availability prominently on your website
  • Update your Google My Business (GMB) listing to include your current store hours, property photos, and contact information
  • Respond quickly to online reviews
  • Maintain a strong advertising budget to stay ahead of the competition

Customers Have Spoken: Online Leasing is Here to Stay

At the start of the crisis, universities were forced to shut their doors, sending students flocking to find self storage. Unlike their predecessors, this new generation of renters – Gen Z – has never known a time without online shopping – and that was a boon for businesses offering online leasing. G5 Uber Leasing customers saw a 39% increase in online leasing interactions in March 2020, as compared to the previous month. As the number of COVID-19 cases and closures across the country grew through April, both online search demand and online leasing interactions slowed slightly from the previous month. However, as online demand for storage rentals increased in May, interactions with online leasing increased by nearly 30%. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of online leasing. Even before the crisis, storage properties that offered online leasing saw more than 50% of leases coming in after business hours. The switch to online leasing offers future tenants the ability to shop on their own time, giving them an alternate, immediate path to securing a storage unit. Online leasing is here to stay and operators who provide this as an option will attract and close business faster than their competition. 

Get Ahead of Rising Advertising Costs 

The stronger demand online for storage rentals is not just indicated by the increase in search queries. With a larger number of people doing searches related to ‘storage rentals,’ more people are seeing and clicking on pay-per-click ads run by storage businesses. With this increase in demand comes more competition and higher ad costs. 

In the early weeks of COVID-19, many operators pulled digital ads or reduced their budgets to control costs. Meanwhile, the storage businesses that maintained their digital ad presence benefited from this brief slowdown in competition, gaining a larger share of impressions, clicks, and conversions from their competitors. Still, with demand regaining its momentum, competition and advertising costs are likely to grow with it. Having the right advertising solution in place will help optimize spend to generate better leads and control costs. 

G5 uses machine learning technology to consistently pinpoint a property’s most qualified leads. Armed with this insight, we automatically redirect ad dollars to the channels that have the greatest impact. The results speak for themselves. Our customers are already seeing up to 50% more qualified leads for the same cost each month. Now, more than ever, marketing matters. G5’s performance-first marketing solutions connect properties with in-market, ready-to-rent customers. 

Download our eBook, Generating Revenue With Digital Marketing and Online Leasing.