Think your Site is Good? Think Again...
By Timothy O Neil-Dunne ~ T2Impact.com
Monday, 2nd February 2009
There is one thing that has bugged me for ages about online travel and it is the booking and purchasing experience.

There are others who are far better at describing the customer acquisition process and additional processes that put the consumer into the booking and buying path(s). But the same basic processes still exist that have been there since day one. And I think its time for a change.

Despite the wide adoption of so-called Web 2.0 applications most if not all of them do not improve the basic experience of a travel purchase. The booking process remains perhaps one of the weakest links in the chain of the online experience for travel in my humble opinion. It is somewhat our industry's dirty little secret that after 14 years of online travel we still haven't improved the basic process and no one seems willing to get out there and do something about it.

RightNow who power Travelocity's CRM did a study in the UK I believe and found some interesting but perhaps not so surprising results. It was done online so you have to factor in that these people are online savvy and therefore more likely to be able to get through some of the inadequacies of the booking process.

Here are some highlights:

Many find booking online frustrating, with not being easily able to find information on hidden costs (53%), not finding specific information about holidays (47%), not being able to ask questions about holidays (45%) and finding the actual buying process too complicated (35%) the most common complaints.

A lack of clarity is the main reason customers end up having to call or email the company, with 51% citing unclear pricing and details about costs and 50% unclear descriptions about holidays and flights.

When asked what could be improved, 60% said they would like more transparency on travel costs, 44% wanted better provision of destination and flight details, 43% wanted easier website search capabilities to find information, while the same percentage wanted easier and clearer booking processes.

In addition, the survey found that the impact of a negative experience may not just be contained to just one individual, as 72% of consumers have told others about a past negative online booking experience.

By contrast, just 54% of consumers have told others about a good online booking experience.

I would suspect that a more generic poll amongst all user types would magnify the last good vs bad result. If you were to ask the question such as is this experience better or worse than a human agent - that would be an interesting question.

But this doesn't help improve the process. So I am trying to look at better experiences for the online purchasing process. In previous posts I have discussed the better versions of Airline Websites such as AC vs WN and F9's new site. I think that the merchandising part has become too much of a seller's drug to make it valuable to the consumer. However we all recognize the importance of merchandising to the consumer. The problem is that the inherent conflict of holding out your hand for money at every touchpoint eventually causes the user to become inured to your wiles.

One thing is for certain - simplifying does improve the response rate from the users.

Transparency improves trust. Trust actually appears to be the biggest factor that is missing from all the online sites. I have asked countless users and non-users alike about Travel purchasing experience online. Admittedly this is a bar stool research but I believe it is a good proxy for the rest of the world. Frictionless purchasing experience should be the goal. The all say the same when asked - do you really trust this site... answer not as much as someone I know.

Why not combine those factors? I have always thought that the usual consumer trust propositions work as well online as they do offline. However they have to be adapted to an audience with a much shorter attention span and ease of walking away. And they must be kept fresh.

So from now on - I am going to be the advocate for what I am going to call the Crystal Engine. the Crystal Engine is the one that delivers the 4 basic propositions


Transactions..... oh yes and it has to work too.

What do you think?
Thanks for reading - private comments please to administrator@t2impact.com

T2Impact is a business development, technology and strategic consulting group focused on helping firms to accelerate their growth either in new geographies or with new products and services. Our name derives from the companys focus; accelerating time and getting from idea to impact quickly for its clients.

We provide a full line of strategic planning services, including marketing plan development, joint venture opportunity evaluation, market and competitive research, process re-engineering, business plan validation and execution.

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