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Contactless Technology: Why You Need It for Your Self-Storage Business, Even if You Have Staff

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We’ve been hearing a lot about contactless technology since the start of the pandemic, but do you truly understand how it works and what it could mean for your self-storage business? Get a synopsis of benefits for facility operators and customers, and why it has a place at staffed as well as unmanned sites

Some self-storage operators think contactless technology was developed to help them weather the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, or that it’s only intended for unmanned facilities and has no place in a “traditional” business model. The fact is, though, it was here well before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, and it’s become a staple in staffed as well as automated storage facilities worldwide.

Contactless technology is a combination of tools and practices intended to streamline self-storage operation while eliminating unnecessary or redundant touchpoints. I like to compare it to a modern-day “smart home,” in which multiple components form a cohesive system focused on two main goals: safety and convenience. You don’t need every piece of technology ever developed. You just need a few key devices that are relevant to your specific situation. You choose what’s most applicable to your business needs, with a goal of simplifying the self-storage experience for you and your tenants.

Online Rentals

Contactless technology can be used to elevate the buyer journey for your self-storage customers while giving employees more time to focus on other tasks. Generally, the first thing that pops into operators’ minds when they think about this technology is online rentals, which are easily offered these days through facility-management software and a customer-facing tool like a website, mobile app or kiosk.

Many self-storage software programs now allow for online rentals. If you want to offer them as part of your business, you can build an application programming interface directly into your website or link out to an independent rental portal. Both solutions will allow customers to view inventory in real time and rent without the help of a human. Users can choose a unit, complete and sign the rental agreement, pay, and move in.

For facility operators, the benefits of online rentals are significant. First, they allow you to rent units 24/7. They also mean:

  • Less office foot traffic
  • Faster tenant conversions
  • An expanded geographical reach
  • More freedom/time for staff
  • Less paper (eco-friendly)
  • Less exposure to potential illness

From the customer perspective, they allow for faster, easier rentals at any time of day with less health risk. They also provide price transparency.

Payments

Contactless technology allows self-storage customers to pay without the need to touch any physical devices. Of course, there are online and recurring payments, which have been available in this business for many years, but there are also EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa) payments, in which a chip embedded within the payment card allows for secure, contact-free transactions. In addition, there are mobile payment methods tied to digital wallets.

Both contactless methods use near-field communication, which allows the exchange of information between two electronic devices. As part of the process, payment methods are authenticated, which protects against fraudulent transactions.

Contactless payments are safter from a health and security perspective. They’re also fast and easy, reducing liability, physical interaction, paperwork and wait times while increasing convenience and customer satisfaction. Finally, they show the world that the self-storage industry is learning and improving. COVID pushed many facility operators to adopt new practices, but the benefits go far beyond physical health. Technology is helping us shape a new path of convenience and effectiveness for customers.

Making the Transition

Contactless technology has had an amazing impact on self-storage revenue. The rental process is now streamlined and available at any time of day or night, leading to much higher customer-conversion rates. But if you aren’t ready to embrace an automated business model, go for something in between.

For example, if you aren’t comfortable with online rentals, consider at least taking online reservations, which will allow a customer to choose their unit and rate online, though they still must sign the lease and complete the move-in process in the office. Personally, I don’t recommend this approach. If you’re taking customer preferences into consideration, online rentals is the way to go. It’s faster, easier and safer for everyone. That said, if you’re using online reservations as a starting point, they could segue into more modern technology solutions later.

I’d like to believe most self-storage operators have already started using technology to improve the way they operate, even if incrementally. Our “traditional” way of doing things has been uprooted and change is necessary. You may be nervous about jumping on the contactless bandwagon, but your customers will appreciate it. Plus, you’ll soon wonder how you ever did business without these marvelous new tools!

Kevin Kerr is the marketing manager for Storage Commander Software, a Temecula, Calif.-based supplier of cloud-based management software and pay merchant services for self-storage operations. To reach him, email [email protected].

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