Online Marketing Aggregators: Consumers Should Be Aware

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Brent Binions, President & Chief Executive Officer, Chartwell Retirement Residences

Brent Binions ǀ President & Chief Executive Officer, Chartwell Retirement Residences

As anyone who has supported an aging parent or spouse in choosing the right retirement living setting knows, often the most difficult decision is how to get started. To anyone unfamiliar with seniors housing, the process can seem overwhelming and it can be challenging to understand the right level of care required, what services and programs are most beneficial and, as importantly, how to know if a retirement home is reputable and trustworthy.

One of the first steps many people take is to search for information and locations online. Internet search engines will direct these inquiries to the best website for the search term, offering both paid per click advertising (generally ads at the top and right of the page) and organic results (those that naturally best fit the search); however, many consumers in Canada may have noticed that paid search results for supporting seniors are increasingly being directed to online marketing aggregators.

What is an aggregator? An aggregator is essentially a website or organization that promotes a group of companies as part of a sales relationship in return for a fee. In seniors housing these aggregators generally make themselves out to be placement agencies that offer impartial advice; however, in practice, these agencies will only recommend retirement homes to you that pay these agencies a fee for such referrals. As a result, if you only use an aggregator when searching for a retirement home, you will not receive information about all of the choices available to you. You will only receive information for the retirement homes that are paying fees to the referral agency. Although some aggregators, when asked why they don’t provide information on all choices available to you, may tell you that it is because they have not visited that location, it is actually because that retirement home has not agreed to pay the aggregator to refer their home.

In addition, the agency call centre staff providing advice do not work for the retirement residences they are providing information about. As a consumer, this may not be evident or necessarily disclosed to you at the time of referral. What is most confusing is the marketing language used by aggregators to imply that they are offering “free support and advice” when they are, in fact, a pooled marketing tool only for their paying clients.

Despite being the largest seniors home operator in Canada, Chartwell does not generally engage in the use of external aggregators and I’d like to explain why.  First, we respect that customers in retirement living are self-funding their costs.  Any increase in marketing costs to pay for aggregator referrals, which in some cases is as much as the value of one month’s rent, must be passed on in some way to consumers and results in higher rates to residents. Secondly, we prefer to deal directly with our customers and their loved ones, providing authentic advice about our services and helping seniors and their families come to the best decision for themselves and their loved ones. Chartwell has a call-centre staffed by Chartwell employees that know our residences and have been carefully trained to support you in your decision making process.

Ultimately, consumers have choice and while many local and community based referral agencies offer reputable and unbiased services, consumers should be careful and cautious to understand who they are dealing with and what the motivation is behind why they may be receiving a referral to only certain homes.

As someone who has been in the senior living business for over 30 years, I would recommend the following steps to finding the right residence:

1) Do your own homework and research and make a list of your priorities and preferences to narrow down choices
2) Ask for referrals from friends, loved ones and community sources you know and trust
3) Visit several residences, enjoy a meal and participate in activities. Take the time to ask other residents and loved ones questions about their experience
4) Watch for interactions in the residence as a tell-tale sign of customer service and resident satisfaction

The decision to choose a retirement residence can be the first step to improving the daily living environment for a senior looking for support, an active lifestyle and peace of mind.  If, at any time, we can help with this transition, please do not hesitate to contact us at Chartwell’s Contact Centre directly at 1-855-461-0685 or visit us at chartwell.com.

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