Making a big move and pulling the plug
Realtor.com will be announcing later today that they plan to pull the plug on internet portals to focus on their own portfolio of online and offline channels, representing the first of the Big Three (Realtor.com, Zillow, and Trulia) to make such a move, effectively ending their agreements with all portals, including MSN, so you’ll no longer see Realtor.com-powered listings on various sites across the internets.
The strategy shift means that the company will be focusing on their own mobile and desktop products to drive traffic, which sheds light on their finally agreeing with our long-held assertion that the best proof in the pudding is if consumers actually visit your native website rather than counting traffic as people who saw your listings somewhere floating around the web, even without knowing the source.
A shift in tone and wording
Realtor.com operator, Move, Inc. is using phrases like “the most accurate U.S. residential listings,” which saves consumers from the “anguish wasting time with listings that are off the market or priced incorrectly,” and they assert that their marketing is the effectively attracting “transaction-ready consumers” to their services.
Sources inside Move tell us that they’ve been in research mode for some time, and Move, Inc. CMO, Barbara O’Connor tells us, “In my role as CMO, I’m responsible for driving brand, audience growth and engagement. This strategic shift in our marketing acquisition strategy has been taking place for well over the past 12 months. My recommendation to shift our strategy was based on key metrics, new channel performance testing, and optimization driven by the results.”
We take this to mean that this is not a knee-jerk reaction to any staff changes, and done regardless of former staff potentially knowing their shifting strategy. Also regarding timing, because of the confidentiality of agreements with portals like MSN, Move cannot comment as to who initiated the severing of ties, so this could either be a bold move by Realtor.com to focus internally, a reaction to a major portal initiating the end of the relationship, or it could always be mutual.
The world is going mobile and the race is on
The truth is that consumers are shifting to mobile search through apps, and as for Realtor.com, residential listings viewed on mobile devices overtook the number of views on the desktop site by January 2013, just three years after the launch of their first mobile app. In a statement, the company emphasizes the shift toward mobile, with nearly 60 percent of all Realtor.com residential listings being viewed on mobile apps, citing that mobile consumers spend more time reviewing listings and photos in a single session, “which is a strong indication they are more ready to buy or sell than desktop computer users.”
The world is going mobile. Guess who’s winning the mobile race by an insanely wide margin? Zillow. The race isn’t even close, and while there is a behind-the-scenes race between Trulia and Realtor.com for the number two spot, when it comes to mobile, it’s going to take big moves like this to narrow the gap between Zillow that the competitors they’re leaving in the mobile dust.
What Realtor.com plans to do
Instead of sitting on their hands, Realtor.com will be focused exclusively on their own apps and sites and will “regularly enhance native applications for Android, iPad and iPhone as well as create native mobile applications for new platforms.” They will also invest more time and resources into marketing, particularly with their co-branded venture with the National Association of Realtors.
“Integrated marketing across all devices coupled with brand awareness not only builds a larger audience, it also creates brand advocates,” said Barbara O’Connor, chief marketing officer of Move, Inc. “Creating an ongoing emotional connection with our brand’s unique ability to deliver accurate, real-time listings is key to growing and retaining our audience. Our advocates reward us with referrals and keep coming back to realtor.com® for services and information.”
Will others pull the plug?
If the focus is now on marketing and mobile and the value of internet portals is diminishing, will the others follow suit or will they slide into Realtor.com’s old spots in hopes of branding or driving traffic? Zillow wasn’t always number one in traffic, and as the ebb and flow of business goes, they may not always be in that spot, but unless Realtor.com and Trulia make more moves of this nature (instead of assuming the tide will change), the gap is going to widen, maybe even at an accelerated pace.
Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?
The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.
While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.
When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).
In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.
However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.
Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.
RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy
(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.
It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.
Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.
The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.
Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.
In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.
Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.
Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?
2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold
(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.
Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.
Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”
Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.
It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.
Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.
The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”
Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
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