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Guest Post: How mobile is fragmenting the OTA booking process

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Guest Post: How mobile is fragmenting the OTA booking process

Teletext Holidays chairman Steve Endacott explains how the need for speed in an increasingly mobile world is leading to the emergence of a two-stage online booking journey and what this means for user experience, data protection and payments

For most online players mobile represents more than 50% of their traffic but has a much lower conversion than its desktop cousin.

It’s no surprise therefore, that a ‘mobile first’ approach has become the key focus for most OTA’s with literally thousands of A/B tests constantly being applied to try to find the ultimate ‘user interface’ (UX) for mobile sites.

The original focus of the industry was on responsive sites that optimised the desktop journey to represent it better on mobile devices.

Quickly, the UX guys realised that the friction points on hand-held devices due to ‘big finger clumsiness’ required different solutions to mouse-driven desktop interfaces.

However, the real impact of mobile is the shorter but more frequent sessions during which mobile devices are used and the emergence of what the marketers call ‘mobile moments’. This means that the mobile journey must be much faster and, to achieve this, simpler.

The latest movement in UX is focusing on removing friction in the booking journey.

In laymen’s terms, this means understanding the users’ intent and ensuring that the experience provided is exactly what the user wanted and providing clear actions.

In some respects this could be perceived as dumbing down the booking journey by removing any possible distractions.

Just have a look at how different the Booking.com desktop and mobile sites are. On the mobile site, filters are hidden and once a customer is in the booking funnel, any distraction from the key goal of booking a hotel has been removed.

The result is that ancillary sales such as car hire, transfers and insurance, are being shunted to post-booking pitches via email or clever remarketing, using cookies that allow highly targeted post-booking advertising of ancillaries.

This two stage approach is facilitated by getting customers to download the mobile app, as even though many customers forget they have the app on the phone, it allows much more effective push marketing and links to a content-rich post-sale processes.

What is dressed up as customer service by companies like Booking.com and Airbnb, is highly profitable in-resort revenue, relating to local excursions, transport options or dining out.

These allow them to maximise revenues once a customer has been acquired, but in a two-stage booking process.

They would never interrupt their mobile booking flows with these options, but once they have the app downloaded they can easily become the customers in-pocket travel concierge and sell a whole range of ancillary products by using both geo location and time sensitive metrics.

Other companies have adopted similar processes, but may become unstuck due to their dependency on email as the secondary customer contract strategy.

As new GDPR EU data rules come into effect next year, travel companies will be able to email customers about their booking as part of legitimate interests, however it’s still unclear whether these emails can provide a marketing up-sell message in addition.

The line between allowable customer service follow up and the sale of new products looks blurred and grey to me. For example, is it customer service to offer a transfer to customers who have brought a flight or hotel from you or a new sale they have not opted into? I would argue it is fine, but I’m sure somebody may soon object.

Speed is also a key factor in a mobile moments environment and multiple layers of caching are a fundamental requirement of a mobile site.

Slimmed-down content pages driven by AMP or price caching to drive the speed of results pages are now common. Again, compromise is required and here it is the absorption of price increases during the jump from cache to live, because not absorbing those increases reduces conversion by up to 60%.

The ease of linking between mobile and desktop to allow a booking to be started in a moment, and then to be completed at the users’ leisure on a desktop is key.

Currently the only realistic method of doing this is to get the customer to log in, which is tough in the travel environment where customers are promiscuous and on average visit 23 sites before booking.

Easy log in tools using Facebook have helped, as do high levels of repeat booking customers, but this is a hard one to crack and will be a massive advantage to the travel company that gets this right.

OTA’s are also taking a good look at payment options and how these can be simplified, while at the same time pushing customers to the cheapest merchant clearing option.

From January 2018, the industry will no longer be able to charge the global 2% surcharge for booking with a credit card.

Logically, most customers will opt for the greater protection and better payment terms offered by booking via their credit cards.

Many OTA’s already have plans centering around flexible deposits and payment terms only available for customers paying via debit card, but these tend to be complex and conflict with the requirement to simplify the mobile booking journey.

Again, I think we may see a two-stage process with deposits being taken in the simplest way possible and any complexities being left to the balance payment process.

The key conclusion is that mobile is forcing not only a shift in booking flow but also a fundamental review of booking processes and the infrastructure supporting OTAs, with caching and two-stage booking process soon to become the norm.

Yes, more disruption and change but wouldn’t life be dull if the rules of the game didn’t keep changing?

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