Heavily relied upon by consumer brands and political parties, focus groups are a useful method to gauge – albeit unscientifically – how members of the public feel about society and different products. We gathered four people from each age group (16-24, 25-34, 35-55 and 55+) over the course of two evenings in August as part of the Travolution Generations project.
The sessions explored how the participants felt and behaved while using the Internet, as well as when they are researching trips and booking holidays. Each group was also asked to list the main frustrations they have when interacting with travel brands on the web. They were also tasked with cataloguing the elements and functionality they would like to have on the ‘Perfect Travel Website”.
Immersed as most of us are every day with the finer details of the web and online travel, meeting the British consumer can be an enlightening experience.
It is easy to presume consumers know the difference between natural search and sponsored listings, an online travel agency and a meta search engine. But this is not the case in many respects.
This is not to say that consumers are daft – why SHOULD they know? – but such has been the random nature of the web’s development in the past decade or so, that they should be forgiven for not understanding the subtle nuances we take for granted.
Factor in the reality that age groups have adapted to using the Internet in different ways and at different times, and the picture changes yet again.
Search is a perfect barometer of understanding how age groups can differ in their behaviour on the web.
Younger users have a very simple method to how they use search engines to find travel products, typing in brand names, destinations, types of products (such as beach or island). They let the search engine, in the words of a participant, “do the work” for them.
As consumers age they add detail to their search queries, using long strings of words to encompass dates or requirements.
What could be worrying for the search engines and advertisers is an acute lack of interest from all age groups for sponsored listings provided by travel brands.
However, once again there are subtle differences between the groups: people in both of the younger categories may click on a pay-per-click generated advert as a last resort or “if the price is right”.
Older users are certainly more dismissive of advertising – both in the form of sponsored links and display advertising.
Interestingly, almost every participant across the study was unaware of how sponsored links are generated. Indeed, the PPC model remains a confusing and rather suspicious art form.
In contrast, many recalled an occasion when offline marketing such as billboards and large press ads had led them to check special offers online (in particular from the low-cost carriers).
Search, however, does not dominate how people are researching their holidays or looking for particular products.
Brand names are important. The marketing campaigns of the big online travel agencies (Expedia and Lastminute.com) in the early years – “I’ve used them for years” – appear to have left an indelible mark in the minds of the older generations.
The more senior age groups will often start looking for a holiday on their trusted websites before moving to Google to what seems to be an attempt to widen their search – although they admit that the sheer number of results returned often leaves them frustrated.
Although these consumers say they would like a facility to be able to narrow their preferences they are far less aware of the concept of meta search engines or vertical search, despite admitting they have tried TravelSupermarket.
The younger age groups are much keener to try less-known sites, especially those they believe will return more useful results (eg Skyscanner).
The younger age groups, 25-35 in particular, also understand how that they can use online travel agencies to search for products and then visit the supplier site to make a booking.
There is, however, a tendency to see high-street travel agencies as businesses that operate in a completely different way to their online counterparts.
This is not exclusive to younger age groups. Indeed, there is a degree of suspicion across the generations about commission-based selling, online or offline.
But despite price understandably being a key determining factor for all age groups, almost all the participants stated that travel was their single highest transaction for any consumer product on the web.
Surprisingly, pre-conceived ideas that older people are likely to be more nervous with spending large amounts of money online appear to be unfounded.
Most would happily pay for expensive flights over the web without calling a representative of the airline or a third party.
Accommodation is a different matter – with all generations wary about spending high amounts of money without certain checks being made before.
And while almost all participants check online review sites such as TripAdvisor, the strength of a hotel brand – once again – is stronger for older users. Younger consumers would trust the opinions of other travellers to determine the quality of a hotel, the over-55s would gladly check, trust and rely on a hotel website to gauge the quality of products.
Two key areas stood out during the discussions. The over-55s like travel websites to furnish them with as much information as possible, although the home page and search process should be as simple. (NB: A dislike of clutter is universal across the generations). In fact the information should benefit both their online and in-resort experience.
Meanwhile, the younger groups, perhaps demonstrating their early-adopter status with the Internet more than the older groups, are clear in what they consider to be a good user experience and website quality.
Both the younger groups talk of “knowing” when they are on a “dodgy site”. It appears this is gleaned from experience and familiarity with the online world (typically they are all online both at work and at home every day).
These age groups want travel websites to speak to them in a manner they understand, such as its design, language and layout. This is certainly not so important for older people, who put credibility against content and the “value” of products.
In their own words
- Usage: “It’s all about connections. I could be in a white room with nothing else in it apart from a computer and I would still be connected to the world.”
- Airline fares: “Every single day the prices change – they go up, they go down. You have to catch them on a good day. You don’t know if it’s a good day – you just have to take a chance.”
- Sponsored links: “You’re not going to click on one of those stupid links, saying you’ve won a thousand pounds, but if it’s at the top of Google and it matches your search criteria then why not?”
- Researching offline: “I’ve got to admit: about a month ago I did go into a travel agency but just to get some brochures.”
- Deals: “If I’m not happy with the price on Lastminute.com, Expedia or Opodo…I will then start Googling.”
- Reviews: “The only people that review are those are very aggrieved about something. Who’s got the time to do that when they get back?”
- Sponsored links: “If for some reason I really can’t find what I’m looking for, then I might click on one of them – just for a laugh.”
- Usage: “I’m tempted to say it’s my life! But the Internet is probably my first port of call nowadays for information.”
- Sponsored links: “Sometimes I click on them because the search items are not of interest to me. I’ll click on the side just to make sure I don’t miss out on something.”
- Search results: “A lot of search results are coming from recognisable brands, which is making my life easier.”
- Usage: “The Internet really is the most amazing thing: I buy online, sell online, everything. It settles disputes! It’s a mine of information.”
- Social networking: “I am not convinced about Facebook. I’m on it but I won’t put a photo up! It spooks the life out of me.”
- Search engines: “If you’re not finding what you want in those first two pages of Google then you’re not looking properly.”
- Hotel reviews: “If you go to a hotel’s own website you know the review is going to be good as it’s their opinion, but at least you can usually see an example of the rooms and lounge.”
Frustrations and the Perfect Site
- Length of time needed for a booking to be completed
- Sites often forget personal information when the user makes changes
- Thinking they might have got a better price elsewhere
- Hidden costs (taxes, baggage)
- Website search is sometimes confusing
- Not all payment methods included (eg Solo)
- Shows fares and availability from other sites
- Videos, pictures, 360-degree views of products
- Simple navigation and home page (Google-style)
- User reviews and ratings
- Personalisation (‘My…’)
- Prominent special offers
- Confirmation e-mails
- Memorable web address
- Misleading prices and availability
- Lack of general information about products
- Inappropriate search results
- Pop-up adverts and special offers
- Technical glitches
- Live prices and availability
- Clutter-free design and easy navigation
- Product and destination search
- Personalisation (‘My…’).
- Recommendations from other users
- Interactive maps
- User reviews
- Multi-media content
- Easy-to-use feedback and contact information
- Constantly needing to add personal information
- Basic information is difficult to find
- Irrelevant search results
- Hidden costs (taxes, baggage)
- Lack of assistance when things go wrong
- Live chat
- Search results and products reflect personal preferences
- Short booking process
- Mobile compatible
- User reviews
- Images and video
- Offer alternative products based on browsing behaviour
- Editorial content for products
- Destination products (attractions, tours)
- Bad customer service and inadequate contact information
- Inaccurate links
- Irrelevant information about products
- Confirmation e-mails not sent
- Credit card issues
- Requests for irrelevant personal information
- Instant messaging with company
- Magazine style
- Easy navigation and simple home page
- Online check-in
- Confirmation e-mails
- Travel information pages (visas, health)
- Destination information (excursions, attractions)
- Contained on one site