Thomas Cook ecommerce overhaul to push into 2009

Thomas Cook has detailed its ecommerce strategy for 2009 after revealing its online user review service has captured 300,000 comments from customers.

Thomas Cook’s e-commerce director Russell Gould has said that the launch earlier this month of its new e-commerce platform was the first stage in a twelve-month roll-out of its across all its sales channels.

Last week, Thomas Cook Group revealed that the platform, known as Starfish, had led to a 300% increase in conversions in its first three weeks since it launched on thomascook.com.

Gould explained that the website was used for the first stage of the roll-out for a business-wide platform “because you need to get your direct contact with the consumer right first”, said Gould.

It undertook usability and feedback studies to enhance the search functions on the site, with customer reviews one area of focus.

More than 300,000 of its customers have posted reviews onto thomascook.com over the past year. Gould said this helped conversion rates by engaging customers more in the decision process. “There’s nothing more powerful than endorsements from other customers,” he said.

As the Starfish roll-out continues over the next twelve months, the reviews channel will be fine-tuned, with Gould hinting that visitors to the site will be able to search reviews to pull out feedback from a similar demographic.

There are also plans to introduce a video onto the site to advise customers on how to get the most of the search functions.

Customers are encouraged to post their experiences via a welcome home email with a link through to the reviews page. Thomas Cook is looking at “incentives and competitions” to generate interest.

The reviews will also help with natural search, although Gould acknowledged that paid search was an important part of the marketing mix.

“For all our distribution channels – paid search, affiliates, display – there’s a revenue number we look at, and as long as the percentage return is okay, we’ll keep spending.”

The website functionality is currently being piloted “in a few shops”, with shop staff using the same interface and inventory as its consumer site. Gould is hoping to use feedback from the high street agents to improve the platform before it is rolled out to its entire retail estate by the end of next year.

As well as the technology enhancements, thomascook.com has added new content, including Eurostar, both ticket only and as part of a dynamic package. It is also selling package holidays from rivals such as Thomson. “We are the only true retailer in the space,” he said.

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