Skip to content

How Do You Compete With WalMart?

February 27, 2008

So I’m trying to put my thoughts on cluetrain real estate together.  And while all those thoughts are swimming around my head, I read this fantastic interview of Alex Chang, CEO of, over at 4Realz.

Specifically, I read this section:

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

It’s a question of core competency. It took a long time for retailers to get good at building e-commerce sites which is one reason why Amazon has done so well. Clearly, forward thinking brokers get this and are investing in their own websites. But the bottom line is that building great customer experience online is hard, even if that’s all you focus on all day long. And it’s not cheap. Also, I think it takes a little while to start to be able to measure and see a return from a broker’s site in this industry. So you have to have the appetite to make longer term investments in technology. That can be a tough pill to swallow.

Then I read this:

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

It starts with your own Web presence. First, create a couple great websites and blogs that get across why you are the best at what you do in some specific ways. Ensure that there are all sorts of ways for consumers to contact you on these sites, and obviously make sure you have some excellent ways for consumers to search for homes on these sites (you knew we were going to say that). Second, get some tools that will help you actually see what return you’re getting from traffic to these sites. Where is the traffic coming from? What leads is it generating? When those are done, find targeted marketing vehicles that send traffic you can actually measure to these sites at budget levels you can afford.

Did you get that?

So on the one hand, the large brokerages like RE/Max and Coldwell Banker lack the core competency to build great customer experiences online.  On the other hand, Alex is recommending that agents create “a couple of great websites”.  Not just one, mind you, but a couple.

Alex’s parenthetical comment above, the “you knew we were going to say that” is actually illuminating.  Here’s my translation of what he is actually saying:

You need a couple of great websites if you’re going to be successful marketing yourself online.  Thing is, building good websites is very hard work, even if that’s all you do every hour of every day.  It’s also very expensive.  In fact, great big companies like Realogy and Re/Max can’t do this right.  Ergo, there’s no way that you, Ms. Agent, are going to be able to.  Thankfully, provides you with an excellent search solution and a great IDX-compliant website to you.  You only pay for the traffic you want.

I dig it.  It’s smart marketing on Alex’s part.

There’s a saying in the retail industry, of which my wife is part, that you don’t out-WalMart WalMart.  How do you compete with the behemoth that is WalMart?

If you try to compete on the same basis — price — then WalMart will kill you.  Their operational efficiency is many times greater than yours.  Having invested billions of dollars into their IT system, WalMart knows when a lightbulb in Aisle 4 of their store in Topeka is about to go out.  They know that Store #1422 will run out of Purina CatChow day after tomorrow, so they send the truck out with Purina CatChow with just the right number of units today, to ensure that Store #1422 never runs out, and the customer is never turned away with cash in her pockets.

You’ve got to compete on some different basis.  Target is doing it through designer labels, appealing to higher end customers.  Costco is doing it with more branded merchandise.  Neither competes with WalMart on price alone.  You can’t out-WalMart WalMart.

So here’s a thought for all you real estate agents out there.

Go over to, to Trulia, to Zillow, to whatever site you can think of.  Check out what they have.

Can you out-Roost Roost?  Out-Trulia Trulia?  Out-Zillow Zillow?

Those websites have great user interfaces, wonderful data, and trained professionals who spend all day thinking about user experience, information architecture, and human-centered design.  You have none of that.

At the same time… I have a secret to tell you.  Guess what Roost, Trulia, and Zillow don’t have?  That none of the great and powerful websites out there have?


A face.

Not one of these websites has a face.  Or eyes.  Or a smile.

You can’t out-Roost Roost.  But Roost can’t out-you You

Cluetrain claims that markets are conversations.  But it doesn’t say, nor do I think it needs to say, that markets are online conversations.  The Internet makes types of conversations possible that were not before.  But there are conversations that predate the Web, and will survive it.  Authentic, human, face-to-face engagement.

There is no substitute for it in business.

And you’ve got a face.  Roost, et. al., does not.

Think about that.


11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2008 2:28 am

    Why… thank you Stacey and Faina. 🙂 I owe Jay and Joseph both a drink next I see them (which will be the first time I meet them in person…).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: