New Commerce and the Timeshare Buyer from The Resort Trades

The following article by Jason Tremblay is published here with the permission of The Resort Trades. Please visit their website to read more:

New Commerce and the Timeshare Buyer

The next timeshare buyer may never stop at an OPC kiosk. He or she may ignore the invitation that came in the mail offering a free weekend at a desirable resort, and is likely to let the sales calls from the developer go to voice mail … and stay there.

In a marketplace that is changing faster than most businesses can keep pace, the next wave of timeshare buyers will buy or rent in different ways, for different reasons, and via different transactional processes than any segment of shoppers – for any type of product – has done in the past. From shopping to reading books to selecting restaurants, consumers are making buying decisions in ways the business world has never before experienced. In the U.S. alone, some 80 percent of people have personal Internet access, with many others making use of an employer, friend or relative’s Internet service. But that barely scratches the surface of what new commerce means to timeshare. Just as the business world begins to get a handle on e-commerce, along comes “m-commerce” (buying on a mobile device) and “t-commerce” (buying on a tablet device). While at first glance these may all seem to be the same process, they are in fact, each a distinctly unique shopping and buying experience.

M-commerce, and to a lesser degree, t-commerce, gives consumers the capability to simultaneously interact with a business both in person and online. Buyers can use online coupons, tickets and discounts directly from their phone at an event, service location, or storefront. The potential to deliver targeted coupons and invitations to consumers because the consumer’s mobile phone has communicated that he or she is in the neighborhood of your resort is not futuristic stuff; it is already a reality.

Consider the dramatic consumer pattern changes that were evidenced in holiday shopping this past year, 2011. Where once the dawning of Christmas morning brought holiday shopping to a quiet pause, today’s connectivity has given rise to stores and businesses where the doors never close, the virtual sales staff never clocks out, and the transactions never stop. On Christmas Day alone, the dollar amount of purchases made over mobile devices was up nearly 173 percent over the sales transaction numbers for Christmas Day 2010. A total of 7 percent of all purchases made online on that day were t-commerce transactions, made specifically on iPads; 6.5 percent were m-commerce, made on iPhones. And these numbers only look at a portion of what was happening, with Android and other devices not accounted for in this research.

A website that offers an effective and enticing user experience is critical for most types of business. But almost overnight the visibility and usability of your site has become only a piece of the marketing paradigm. Some online businesses are reporting as much as 50 percent of their transactions occurring via a tablet or mobile device, a serious challenge when you consider that the functionality of many websites does not translate well, if at all, for mobile or tablet users.

And as much as the user experience is different from one type of Internet access device to another, so are the metrics for measuring their effectiveness. In the same way that page views and clicks must be measured for computer users, so must a consumer’s swipes and taps (what many refer to as “smudges and swipes”) be measured in t-commerce.

Yet the shifting sands of commerce involve more than the technology by which clients and prospective customers will reach us and we will reach them. Consumers do not use their phones and tablets in the same way they use desktop computers, nor do they access them under the same circumstances or for the same reasons. New commerce technology takes business into consumer’s lives at the most intimate of levels. Your next timeshare buyer may be curled up in bed surfing your inventory via a tablet. He or she may be accessing your mobile site while sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. Your opportunity to sell to this buyer may happen at midnight or on Christmas morning and the odds are high that neither you nor your sales team will have the opportunity to be personally involved with the transaction until it has reached its final stages, if then.

Business focus must be as much on creating a “personal” experience for consumers as on the technology behind the experience. Measuring clicks, taps, smudges and swipes is not enough. Business cannot lose sight of the human element. While the future of timeshare sales may lie in electronic exchanges in which the seller and buyer never make eye contact and never shake hands on their deal, this heightens the requisite that businesses find ways to make online engagement feel sincere, warm, personable and trustworthy.

As the technologies of new commerce evolve, timeshare sales, resales and rentals find themselves uniquely positioned. While there is strength and market depth in selling additional timeshare to those who already own the product, the vast breadth of the buying market for timeshares lies in consumers who have never owned a timeshare. In a world where there’s very little new for most consumers, timeshares are uncharted waters and a foreign, or at least misunderstood product in the eyes of most potential buyers.

As author and visionary Seth Godin recently blogged, “… teaching people to buy anything for the first time is a revolutionary concept. Campbell’s soup is almost never bought for the first time. It is a replacement purchase. No one switches to Campbell’s either. They buy it because their mom did.”

No can of soup, timeshares are much more a can of worms, and the timeshare industry has its work cut out for it. The industry’s future must be pinned on selling a reinvigorated timeshare product via an assortment of new commerce technologies to both the returning market and the revolutionary first time buyer.

(from Volume 26, No.2 February 5, 2012, The Resort Trades)