For much of its existence, the self-storage industry could rely on a trusty strategy to keep a steady flow of new customers coming through their doors: highly visible locations on busy main roads.
Seemingly overnight, COVID-19 changed that. As essential businesses storage facilities were able to remain open from the onset of the pandemic. But many operators had to scramble to adopt new contactless models, both due to local regulations and widespread fear of a deadly virus.
Walk-in traffic slowed significantly at this time, and having a prominent physical location seemed less important than having a strong online presence. Those facilities that had already implemented some degree of automation and digital engagement, such as offering online rentals or software-based access control, found themselves with a strong advantage in the market.
The changing consumer landscape
Overall walk-in traffic in the industry has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, and it likely never will. According to Storable data, walk-ins accounted for just over 50% of new storage customers throughout the industry at the beginning of 2019. Following the national emergency declaration in March 2020, walk-ins traffic dropped off to make up only about 48% of all leads through the rest of the year. In 2021, the drop continued with walk-ins making up 42% of all reservations.
Meanwhile, leads generated from phones, facility websites and online marketplaces now make up the majority of all self-storage leads. Leads from facility websites have grown the most since the onset of the pandemic, increasing from about 15% of all leads to more than 20% today.
Notably, the increase in online leads isn’t only coming from younger generations of digital natives. An analysis of reservations made using online storage rental platform SpareFoot, found a more than 40% increase in customers aged 65 years and older between 2019 and 2020. Use by customers aged 55-64 increased by around 8%.
“Over the last year we’ve seen that these trends are basically staying flat,” said Matthew Beal, senior market product manager at Storable, during a recent webinar on the topic.
“We’re continuing to see that group of folks that were forced to use these digital forms of engagement, they are continuing to do so. They are not reverting back to the traditional walk-in traffic or phone-based traffic,” Beal said.
The industry adapts
Before the pandemic started, more and more facilities were making the switch from spreadsheets to facility management software programs, utilizing online tools such as Google My Business and having websites that show rental availability. However, this shift was slow and many rural and small facilities were still avoiding the shift to digital.
The COVID crisis rapidly accelerated the embrace of these emerging technologies. Those who were previously slow to adopt had to quickly pivot and incorporate new digital tools out of necessity. While the urgent need for contactless operations has waned, consumers of all ages have come to expect these features. That means it is essential for operators to continue to make use of platforms in order to be found—even if they have a great location on Main Street.
Today’s consumers value the convenience of online shopping, where they can save time, price check and read reviews, all from their mobile devices. It is now possible to digitally purchase almost anything, from medication to pet food and even vehicles. Self-storage has been a late bloomer in this regard, but that has now changed.
Now self-storage operators of today are steadily exploring new territory with self-storage technology and enjoying some of the best returns that the industry has ever seen. From full-service websites where customers can manage their account to smart access control systems that can send a text to a locked out tenant a link to pay their past due bill, new technologies make it possible for storage operators to engage customers in ways never before possible.
Ready to upgrade your operation’s digital capabilities? Take a look at everything Storable can do for you and stay ahead of the competition.
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