Thanks to the increasing influence of online media, the ways through which consumers discover, consider, and purchase goods and services are moving more and more into online channels. According to GE Capital, 81% of consumers research a purchase online before making a decision. This vast proliferation of digital paths to purchase is even impacting the way prospective tenants find and lease Self Storage units. Not only is it becoming increasingly important for operators to engage prospects online during the search process, but also to offer them the opportunity to lease online — fully converting the new tenant before he or she has an opportunity to leave the website.

So what key factors are propelling the popularity of online leasing? Here we will examine the most important elements driving the online conversion of a prospect to a paying tenant.

The Zero Moment of Truth

Consumer shopping behavior has changed forever. With constant and unhindered access to the internet at any time thanks to smartphones, tablets, and laptop or desktop computers, we are now able to find information about anything we want in an instant. When it comes to searching for new products or services, Google has coined this term the “Zero Moment of Truth,” or ZMOT, to mean the precise moment when a consumer has a need, intent, or question they want answered online.

According to Google, these moments are happening at every second of the day, with increased frequency in mobile.

“Search and ZMOT continue to grow in importance and scale. In the span of a single month, Google answers over 100 billion searches, according to internal data,” says Jim Lecinski, Google’s VP of America’s Customer Solutions. “So, in the few minutes it takes you to read this, there will be over 7.5 million searches on Google. Each of these searches presents a new opportunity to reach consumers when they’re most engaged.”

As consumers move to the internet to discover products and services around them and gather feedback from the online community, there’s no doubt it’s becoming increasingly important for multi-location businesses to put their best foot forward and offer a holistic experience in the digital space.

Purchasing is Moving Online

Today, having an online purchase experience available for prospective tenants is not only important, it is critical to keep up with changing consumer demands. Once a prospective tenant has moved through the discovery phase at the Zero Moment of Truth, more and more prospects are expecting to be able to execute a sale quickly and easily. According toeMarketer, in 2015 alone nearly 75% of all internet users will become digital buyers. This number will jump to just under 80% by 2018. In North America, the percent of sales dedicated to eCommerce will continue to grow at double-digit rates for the next several years.

The Self Storage industry is anything but exempt from this growing digital paradigm. “I believe online leasing is a huge step for a ‘no friction’ customer interaction,” says John Wharton, Director of Marketing for American Classic Self Storage of Virginia Beach, VA. “We aim to make the process smooth, and want to explore new technology through the Internet, applications, or online reservations and leases. As Self Storage operators, we want to be part of the solution.”

Mobile Commerce is Catching Up to eCommerce

At the center of the connected web is rapid smartphone adoption. As mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, become an increasingly valuable element of our daily lives, the way we conduct business on those devices will continue to grow as well.

Another study from eMarketer found that in 2015 alone, mobile commerce, or mCommerce, grew +32.2% to account for $76.4 billion dollars in sales, accounting for over 22% of all online retail sales. By 2017, mCommerce will account for almost $115 billion dollars. This means that over the next two years, one in four US retail dollars spent online will come from a smartphone. As dollars and attention shift to mobile purchasing, Self Storage operators must position themselves to execute leasing and conversions alongside this trend.

Operational Efficiency and Improved Net Operating Income

Online leasing will also help Self Storage operators reduce overhead and better understand the path to purchase of their new tenants. By integrating an online leasing option, operators are able to increase conversion rates because prospects are more likely to choose the company that has the easiest and quickest path to fulfillment. This also reduces the reliance on human resources at the front office while simultaneously making lead-to-lease attribution and cost-per-lease easier to map.

As eCommerce adoption rises, so too will the consumer expectation that a Self Storage operator should offer an online leasing option. A process that enables prospective tenants to execute a lease online will win out over the process that requires prospective tenants to come into the office during business hours to stand in a long line and complete paperwork. This process will also more accurately reflect inventory at any given moment, enabling maximum occupancy and a more holistic view of lead-to-lease attribution and cost-per-lease as the purchase funnel is tracked online.

Consumers Are Using Multiple Devices in their Digital Path to Purchase

The shift towards digital commerce is impacting which devices consumers rely on and how they use them, making it increasingly important for operators to offer a user-friendly leasing experience that is consistent across all digital platforms, from desktop to mobile to tablet. According to an annual mobile path to purchase study by xAd/Telemetrics in association with Nielsen, over 40% of consumers consider mobile the most important resource for a purchase decision, with over 65% of mobile shoppers planning to make a purchase the same day of their search. However, having an easy to use and action-oriented online leasing application across all devices is increasingly important, as desktop still commands retail’s highest average revenue per site visit at $4.11 per visit, well ahead of tablet ($2.58 average revenue per visit) and mobile ($0.87 average revenue per visit). So although mobile commerce is a rising phenomenon, offering an online leasing option that works seamlessly across multiple devices and platforms is incredibly important.

An additional benefit of leasing to tenants on any device is allowing operators to capture data about attribution, which can help define site content and performance down the road. In an interview with VentureBeat, Google’s VP of Performance Media Jason Spero shared that the more data you capture about the consumer’s consideration of a product, “the more you can build attribution models for a multi-touch world,” he said, referring the attribution of purchases to mobile marketing content.” These types of insights help operators understand how their tenants are interacting with their sites and how to deliver a better experience for future prospects.

Introducing G5 Uber Leasing

All of these considerations and more went into the development of G5’s most recent addition to the G5 DXM Marketing Cloud. G5 Uber Leasing is an innovative application that enables G5’s Self Storage clients to lease to tenants anytime through a simple and intuitive interface optimized for any device. G5 Uber Leasing provides G5 customers with a competitive advantage, increased conversion rates, reduced overhead, and maximum net operating income by eliminating the traditional barriers to entry for signing a lease online.