How is a ‘rich user experience’ a winner?

Award Winning Application (Image: RealEstate.com.au)

Award Winning Application (Image: RealEstate.com.au)

The new iPhone & iPod application for RealEstate.com.au  turned out a real winner for the ASX-listed REA Group with their award for ‘Best mobile expanded service or application’ at the 2012 Australian Mobile Awards.

This joins their suite of mobile applications providing access to their property services for users looking to buy, rent or find share accommodation. It also offers users a wide range of complementary products from loan calculators, renovation tips, property reports, virtual tours and map functions.

This award is a bonus for their business but what they have achieved is worth analysing by other business’ who want to capitalise on the thriving mobile application space and develop a ‘rich internet application (RIA)‘.  This success can be explained by their ‘rich user experience (RUE)‘, a pattern which says Web 2.0 success comes from giving users a high-function experience that is ideally suited to their needs and delivered in a high-performance format.

Best Practice strategies

Function rich (Image: RealEstate.com.au)

Function rich (Image: RealEstate.com.au)

RealEstate.com.au strongly delivers in all best practice areas of their mobile applications:

* Delivers a function-rich application with good performance like a desktop application combined with platform independence and multiple interfaces to complementary applications,

* Targets the users-needs and offers complementary functions like advice, calculators and maps in an easy-to-use and integrated service,

* Offers both comprehensive  searches based on property attributes as well as site structure to highlight functions for buying, selling, sharing and advertising,

* Allows content addressability to link to properties, connect with agents, and use functions like email and virtual tours,

* Remembers users preferences and offers features like saved searches and email alerts giving users an adaptive and personalised experience.

Range of services (Image: RealEstate.com.au)

Range of services (Image: RealEstate.com.au)

User Interface issues

While RealEstate.com.au delivers a rich user experience, they seem to hit some common interface issues:

* the sheer volume of features can clutter the user interface but this doesn’t seem to cause performance issues,

* the useful map functions occur at a number of layers of the application but they don’t seem to flow seamlessly.

Benefits to the business

Their online and mobile applications offer RealEstate.com.au some real business benefits:

* higher user satisfaction equates to increased visits, improved sales and enhanced satisfaction and creates true business value,

* extensive functions and complementary services attracts a broad range of users and encourages regular, repeat and extended visits,

* wide range of product offerings can sustain visits even when parts of the business experience downturns.

Their impressive February 2013 statistics are a testament to their success:

  • “had 18,914,431 total visits, which was 11,225,360 more visits than the closest competitor
  • generated 103 page views per person, which was 53 more page views per person than the number two competitor
  • visitors stayed on realestate.com.au for an average of 9 minutes and 27 seconds, which is 3:30 minutes longer than they stayed on the closest competitor’s property site”

Their parent company, REA Group, attributes their recent success to the strong uptake in mobile applications. Any business that wants to achieve that level of success in social media applications should aim to offer their customers a ‘rich user experience’ and maybe learn from others experiences.

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21 thoughts on “How is a ‘rich user experience’ a winner?

  1. I find the Inspection and Auctions search function very useful because I can look through a list of available properties within an area I’ve chosen. I often use “Save to Calendar”, download the iCalendar File, save it into my Microsoft Outlook Calendar as an appointment and set reminder alert in case I forget. One area they can improve on is the message section of this file. At the moment, it only includes limited basic information (Property Price, Type, web links of property web profile and map). They should have some photos, real estate agent contact details and list of property features. The suggestion I want to make is that information should be structured in a way users can go through the main features quickly without having to read the full description.

    • Another happy user – thanks for commenting on RealEstate.com.au Jeffrey. I think your comments about usability are confirmation of their ‘rich user experience.

      I think your suggestion is very interesting. I just checked and they have a “Feedback” section at the bottom of their web page.

      It would be intersting to see if they are ‘harnessing the collective intelligence’ or using the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and taking on board suggestions from users.

  2. Hi Bronwyn

    I have used RealEstate.com.au before and I really like the richness they offer me. It easy to locate the place you want with your conditions. You can also take a peek in many places before real inspection. However, what I like most is that they incorporate Google map which help me a lot in pinpointing estate location and near by place such as QUT. I get enough information to know which place is the best for me as distance and transportation also play the important role apart from rent.

    Prapat W.

    • Good points, Prapat, about maps and spatial information. It is an important part of the user experience. They also have features for ‘distance to xxx schools, shop etc’ which is useful if you want to get your bearings.

      • You’re right that why I use RealEstate.com.au when I look for my current apartment! Also with Google map, you can also have a street view which is an important part for me since I’m not originally from here. I can get a look at my surrounding, not just the place I’m going to live. It might not be the best idea to live in a perfect apartment with bad surrounding.

        Prapat W.

  3. Thanks for Posting this, Bronwyn, RealEstate is really useful application for me. And I totally agree with Eve when she mentioned that she prefer their mobile version to the desktop version!! Maybe we are a mobile apps addicted!!
    Never mind…
    Do you think that their mobile version is as powerful as their desktop one?

    • Hi Eman, appreciate your comments. I think the mobile needs a different screen design and approach (as do all mobile apps) and they might need to prune some functions but it would be better if they hid them so they are avaiable if you want them but they don’t clutter everyones experience.

  4. First of all Brownwyn, Fantastic choice on the theme for your wordpress account ;)

    Secondly, great post!

    It is not hard to see why the apps you have chosen won the prestigious awards they won. Real estate sites are among the most visited on the internet and the spike over the last year especially in users accessing the internet via mobile devices means that real estate applications that target the iOS and Android markets are responding to user demand with quality and at the right time. The features offered in these real estate applications such as the virtual tours remind me of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Total Recall” way back in the day. I remember watching an being amazed when he took a virtual tour of his old house aided by a virtual real estate agent. With the tools and features you mention in your blog in 2013 I am thinking a “Total Recall” like house viewing may not be that far down the track.

    As you point out I think one of the most important aspects of real estate application development is tailoring users searches based on past searches, their interests, their price ranges and providing custom tailored user search return on the fly. I don’t think it would be that far a reach to say if done correctly a user could be presented with their future house in an on the fly search return. I mean this is an industry where the user actually wants to see as many properties as possible that are in their price range, are their style and in the location they desire. It becomes numbers game to a certain extent for serious buyers and it is clear that the app developers realise this.

    Look forward to reading you next week Bronwyn, I am now following your blog :D

    • Thanks for commenting, Adam.

      I think RealEstate.com.au is currently leading the pack and worth watching for what they have done to succeed. The only problem is you can’t stay in front doing the same thing, as the saying goes “Nothing fails like success”. What worked before won’t hold off the new competition. I am interested to see what they do next.

      And, yes, I am having some fun trying out new themes on WordPress – and looks you and I landed on the the same one on the same week! Congrats on a great choice ;-)

  5. Hi , you have chosen a great website to demonstrate the concept of rich user experience ,
    I agree with sukhshans about their messy interface especially mixing information with Ads , This may affect the concept of simplicity , great post

    • Thanks, Faisal. It shows how challenging it can be to get it right. They have ticked all the boxes but now ended up with too much clutter! User Interface Design is certainly an art – but getting it right is worth the effort.

  6. Hi,
    RealEstate.com.au is a great site and provides a rich user experience when searching. I really like the search by map feature found on the website. However, one issue that I have with RealEstate.com.au is that the site is very messy. I feel that a lot of things are happening at once in one page and it can be hard to focus on what or where you have to navigate to. However, the experience in searching and loading location is very fluid and easy to use.

    -Sukshan

    • Thanks, Sukshan, for your comments. It seems I’m not the only user noticing their messy/crowded interface. As Eve commented, their mobile app seems easier to use. Maybe they can take what they know from mobile and put it onto desktop? It will be interesting to see how quickly they can respond.

  7. I’m glad I’m following your blog as it really sets a good standard for how to write! When we bought our home we used realestate.com.au. I found the application really good perhaps a little small when your really trying to view a home however more than enough to short list want you want to view in person. They have developed an application that sets the benchmark for how many businesses should develop. I see a number of applications that fail to develop a truly RUE. Thank you for providing an easy to read informative blog.

    • Thanks for the thumbs up, Matt. I’m using my MIT degree to move into blogging – so there’s a personal incentive to make my posts polished!

      I agree that RealEstate.com.au has done a good RUE. The challenge for them and othes is to stay in front of the game otherwise the competition catches you. And social media moves very quickly!

  8. I actually prefer their mobile version to the desktop version! Does anyone else agree with me? I find that I can narrow my search more easily with the mobile version. It all just feels a lot more compact. Usually, mobile apps are not as good as their website counterparts – Real Estate.com.au is doing a great job.

    • I have a similar experience with the mobile NAB banking app. Since they have less screen space, they seem to key focus on the important stuff and it is a less cluttered more focused experience.

      OK for a bank – they don’t run adverts (yet?). I wonder how others running an advertising model will cope with less screen space.

  9. Hi there,

    You seem to have used this application before as you are familiar with the issues that they face! And I like the way you showcase the statistics on the business and how you mention that with an increase of visits, it represents a great amount of customer/user satisfaction! Is there any improvement opportunity when it comes to setting a higher target for achieving greater customer/user satisfaction?

    • Yes – I have used this app for a while and now gone mobile with them. I think their issue at the moment is a result of their success – screen clutter. I think the solution is to personalise for their users – especially with less screen space on mobile.

      Some users want renovation tips, some open house lists, maybe a ‘save my interests’ a bit like a book wish list but for property…or integrate to services in the areas they are looking like restaurants or events; something that keeps the users coming back but also extends them out from their current interests.

      Basically, once you’ve found the share, rental or buy property..what next?

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