By Arthur Moan, Vice President of Customer Success, EU, at UserZoom
One of the contradictions of the digital world is that, historically, the process of researching and booking a holiday has been one of the most stressful things you can do online. Before you can even begin to think about relaxing in the sun, you have to navigate through a huge choice of options that all begin to look the same and hope that you get through the long booking process without making a crucial mistake.
As a result, one of the major challenges facing the online travel industry is high rates of booking abandonment. More often than not, making a booking is not an easy or pleasant experience and that is having a direct impact on revenues.
A high degree of frustration among travellers about their online experience is a major factor for the rates of booking abandonment found on travel websites. According to a recent survey, 81% of people abandon online travel bookings. Although this is partly due to users window shopping, poor user experience is a significant influence and this is borne out by more recent research which reveals less than 50% of booking sites are providing the functionality holidaymakers want.
The scale of the challenge for travel companies is apparent because not only are they trying to keep up with customer demands they also have to keep pace with developments in technology. Mobile internet browsing has overtaken desktop but the usability of many mobile websites and applications is still well behind the usability of desktop websites.
Another study found that the travel industry is losing billions due to its failure to address the mobile challenge. It revealed that almost two out of five mobile shoppers have abandoned a travel booking on a mobile device due to poor mobile user experience, and estimates that in the UK alone some £2.7 billion was lost last year to travel companies after consumers scrapped a booking.
Despite this, bookings on mobile devices are growing and it is predicted that mobile will represent more than half of all online travel bookings in 2016. Last year, Abta reported there had been a significant increase in the use of tablets to book holidays online. One in four (24%) of online bookers said they secured at least one getaway via a tablet compared to 18% in 2014.
There are a lot of similar studies around with slightly different numbers, but the central point is that people take time over travel purchases, like to compare sites and value good user experience (UX) as a way of differentiating between service providers.
Always getting better
The travel industry has undergone huge changes over recent years, and there are some companies in the sector that are responding to changing customer demands effectively by recognising the importance of UX.
In particular, the rise of remote usability testing, which enables organisations to conduct UX research in a faster, more agile and cost-effective way by sourcing respondents through third party platforms, is allowing companies within the travel sector to put the customer at the heart of the design process.
One such company is Ryanair, which has transformed its online customer experience through a customer-central approach to improving its digital assets. One of the most recognisable airlines in Europe, the company set about changing the perception of its services to one being driven by price to that of a business aimed at improving the customer experience.
The ‘Always Getting Better’ programme for change included the development and launch of a brand new Ryanair website, which attracts 50 million hits a month, in late 2015.
Remote user testing became the bedrock of the rapid, agile development cycle for the new site. Design research was seen as an important part of keeping the user at the centre of everything Ryanair was doing by providing actionable insight to improve the experience of the customer.
Using UserZoom’s unmoderated testing software to generate a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, the company was also able to conduct tests in more phases than before. For example, task-based research assessed specific user scenarios such as how to select the cheapest fare or book certain travel dates. Users were timed and recorded as they navigated the Ryanair test site on multiple devices to complete these set objectives. Task-based remote testing gives Ryanair the scale and reach to test hundreds of users at a time, whereas in the past testing was time intensive with one user sitting in a usability lab performing a task while their screen interaction were filmed.
Tests were also created to measure first impressions, discoverability and the ‘look and feel’ of the website. Importantly, testing was carried out across all channels – mobile, tablet and PC – and on different platforms (Android, iOS, Windows) because one of the main requirements of the new Ryanair website was that it would be mobile responsive. The research was designed to test and validate a smooth, seamless experience for users on all devices and on every platform.
The website was launched in November 2015 with a range of enhancements including drastically reducing the number of steps required to book a flight, an enhanced account section, allowing regular travellers to store information about their travel documents and payment card and delivering a better, more consistent experience across mobile devices and channels.
By putting users at the front of centre of every design decision, companies such as Ryanair are making great progress in addressing the frustrations many people feel when booking online travel.
Brands need to ensure that they are optimised for mobile and that they meet customer demands for more personalised experiences across multiple platforms and devices. Companies in the sector that don’t can expect to lose out as customers gravitate towards brands which deliver a more user-centric approach.