Last week’s BrightOn Travel half-day conference organised by CWT Digital looked at the changing dynamics in the online routes to the travel supermarket. Intent Media’s David Lewis was one of the speakers. Lee Hayhurst reports
A battle is being fought between the “walled gardens” of commerce sites and the more open search and metasearch players that is seeing a blurring of the boundaries.
The third annual BrightOn Travel conference heard last week from Intent Media, the US-based marketing platform that is helping retailers offer their customers a search service.
David Lewis, Intent’s EMEA business development director, said consumers themselves do not distinguish between commerce and search.
He said they are “task oriented” and expect to be able to do what they want to do when they want to do it so websites are having to find ways to meet their needs.
But he warned travel firms have to take an intelligent approach to offering search functionality, which entails essentially promoting rivals offers on their own sites.
“Commerce sites think about getting you through the transaction path as soon as possible without distracting you.
“They subtly drive you to buy things that are generally higher value. They think about conversions rates, traffic acquisition and the lifetime value of the customer.
“These types of businesses have generally tended to be walled gardens, they do not want to take your attention away from what you want to do.
“On the other side you have search businesses. The DNA of the search marketer is entirely the opposite of the commerce guy.
“They do not tend to merchandise and never push you towards high value products, they tend more towards openness.
“They do a lot of predictive analytics to make sure the results are relevant to you as a consumer and they do not edit results.
“This is a battleground because ultimately they are after the same customer. The two business types generally tend not to interact.”
Lewis said this divide was increasingly being bridged, pointing to data that shows Amazon was the starting point for 18% of shoppers searching for product in 2009. By 2011 that figure was 30%.
“As a consumer I do not know that his line between search and commerce actually exists. I’m very much task oriented.
“Ultimately I need both functions and I will continue to search until I have found what I need.”
Lewis said travel commerce sites tend to face the challenge of having to spend millions of pounds optimising their sites for the 5% of customers, or less, who actually make a booking.
However 95% of visitors may have arrived by left without creating any value for the site, or even costing the firm money if they had to be acquired through search.
“You should provide your customer with the option to perform what they want to do; help them search and extract some value out of those customers.”
Lewis illustrated this blurring of commerce and search by highlighting how TripAdvisor was now offering instant booking, merchandising and driving visitors to what it wants to sell.
“An OTA sits behind that, but the consumer is ambivalent about who they buy through. TripAdvisor would argue that the consumer gets a better experience.”
Lastminute, Laterooms and Budget Places were cited as examples of travel commerce sites that have moved to provide users with a search function potentially promoting direct rivals.
But Lewis warned firms must not drive this new media revenue at the cost of transaction revenue by showing rivals ads to their loyal customers, or visitors poised to book.
“The trick is working out who you should show ads to and who you should not. You need a whole tonne of data to be able to do that with any degree of accuracy.
“You should take a long term view on a concept like this. Focus on the bottom line, balance profit from both channels. This is not something for a short-term shot in the arm.”
Lewis said firms also had to make sure channels higher up the sales funnel like TV, social and display are building a strong brand as they grapple with the growing strategic challenge Google poses.
But the question is how sites can allow advertisers to reach online shoppers to as they have been able to with Google.
“You should diversify your paid search channels through businesses looking to blur the lines between search and commerce.
“Also, when diversifying away from Google, it allows you to tap in to an adjacent market.”