As technology permeates every aspect of consumers’ lives, the ability of self-storage operators to rent units online has become an absolute must. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce had blossomed and even become status quo within numerous industries. The convenience of ordering anything we want from our handheld devices has put a damper on in-person shopping methods. People now want contactless ways to do business, and companies that deliver are reaping the rewards.
On top of this, self-storage demographics are shifting to a younger, more technologically capable population. More and more operators are moving to an online rental experience simply to meet the expectations of this customer base. If you want to be able to compete going forward, it’s imperative that you adapt to this new business paradigm.
In short, touchless technology and contactless customer service have forever changed the self-storage business. Though some operators are still hesitant to embrace new tools, you shouldn’t let fear of the unfamiliar prevent you from improving your customer experience, particularly your online rental process. E-commerce not only provides greater customer convenience, it opens the door to more revenue.
Many Useful Features
There are a ton of handy features that can be offered as part of an online rental experience, and they all help you increase control and efficiency at your self-storage operation. For example, the right platform will allow you to more easily track which units have been rented or abandoned. In fact, all your administrative data can be conveniently compiled into a single management system, allowing you to better support customers, track inventory, capture leads and more. Here are some of the primary features an online-rental suite should include:
Space calculator with 3D modeling. Online customers should have the ability to determine which size self-storage unit is appropriate for their needs. A calculator with 3D modeling provides a slick visual aid to assist in planning. Whatever a person chooses to store, this tool allows them to accurately visualize how much space is needed.
Unit options. Once they’ve determined how much space they need, customers should be able select units by type. This means choosing between standard and premium spaces like those that are climate-controlled or come with an alarm system. If a user changes their mind about unit features, they should be able to edit the contents of their shopping cart to upgrade or downgrade. The possibilities for this are endless.
Reserve units or be added to a waiting list. Accurate inventory means users should be able to reserve whichever and however many spaces they need. If a desired unit isn’t available, they should be able to add themselves to a wait list and receive notification when the space becomes available.
Read and sign the lease. The full self-storage rental agreement outlining all your site rules and regulations, fees, etc., should be viewable online. Customers should also be able to electronically sign this document, so there’s no further paperwork needed.
Purchase add-ons. The ability to buy ancillary products like tenant insurance or moving supplies should also be part of your online rental process. In the case of the former, users should be able to easily pick a plan and add the fee to their monthly rent. You can also make this mandatory upon checkout, as a customizable rental experience allows you to tack addendums onto the lease. If your facility offers other fee-based products and services, talk to your technology provider about adding them to your online options.
Pay bills and set up autopay. Self-storage tenants should have the option to easily pay their rent online, and that includes paying for multiple units in a single transaction. For those who need to rent for longer than a month or two, the ability to set up autopay is a real time-saver. You can even make this a mandatory part of the rental process, so you never have to chase down payments! Just be sure the customer has the ability to cancel at any time.
Keep in mind that all online payments should go through a system of checks and balances to ensure they’re secure. In addition to collecting each customer’s name, address and Social Security number, biometric identification is recommended for online self-storage rentals. Tenants should be able to connect their driver’s license or state identification to their account, which not only assists with information security but streamlines future transactions.
Managing Downside Risk
There’s always going to be some risk when you rent a physical item like a self-storage unit online. However, providing your customers with the right information and tools can help prevent potential problems.
One thing you want to avoid is allowing a customer to complete their online transaction before they’ve signed the lease. Make sure they must opt into your terms and conditions before they can finalize their rental. Only then can they receive essential information such as their gate code for facility entry. Discuss this with your technology provider to ensure they have a solution that guarantees the lease is accepted before payment is received.
Finally, there will be some costs associated with implementing an online rental process. Some technology providers charge by the rental while others charge a monthly flat fee. In general, though, these expenses tend to be low and should be offset by your return on investment.
As the world changes, so should your self-storage business model. Consumers and competitors are increasingly embracing e-commerce and online technology tools, and so should you. Though there can be challenges when you alter the way your business operates and growing pains may be inevitable, the benefits you’ll gain will more than remedy any downsides. With the pros heavily outweighing the cons, investing in technology to add or enhance an online rental experience will pay off in the long run.
Lincoln Hawks is a content writer for The Storage Group, a digital-marketing and technology-development firm that specializes in website development, search engine optimization, reputation management and more. A graduate of the University of Memphis, she writes articles, blog posts and other digital content for web pages. For more information, call 407.374.0689; email [email protected].