Hidden charges costing £154m and barring way to personalised web

Hidden charges are costing UK travel firms £154 million in lost sales, new research from internet performance specialist QuBit has estimated.

The web analytics specialist says these charges, such as those for using credit or debit cards, have been found to be the fifth most important issue for web customers.

QuBit used its customer behaviour monitoring widget to discern why web users leave a website without purchasing.

It analysed the sentiment caught in feedback for positive and negative comments and found hidden charges accounted for 7.7% of feedback.

In travel this put them in fifth place behind price at number one, site functionality in second position, on-site product search in third and product description in fourth.

QuBit then looked at the total size and conversion rates of the travel market in the UK and globally to come up with its £154 million estimate for the loss of bookings suffered in the UK.

Globally that figure was £1.82 billion, said Ian McCaig, QuBit founder and chief marketing officer.

“There is an assumption that you are letting down the consumer with these charges, although it would be good to see the cost benefit analysis as to whether they are making more money from having the charges than not.

“The last five to ten years is has really been about aggressively acquiring customers and this has been a good way to do that, because you get people through to the point of purchase much quicker because of the price point.

“But today there is more choice and it’s easier to compare prices with all the virtual search engines and that means that website owners are having to up their game to meet customer demands.”

McCaig said unlike the other issues identified the problem of hidden charges was immediately actionable by travel websites.

Unhappiness with suspect tactics on card charges has led to new legislation in the UK that will outlaw charges for debit card transactions and compel retailers to be more upfront and reasonable with credit card charges.

McCaig said this was possibly doing travel retailers a favour by forcing them to address what he believes are a number of site-wide problems that are preventing firms moving to a much more personalised service.

“Users are getting more savvy, more and more people are transacting online and are more comfortable making bigger transactions. We are seeing the web move towards a more personalised place, websites getting rid of site-wide deficiencies. It’s now about how you serve different experiences to different consumers.

“Most businesses are still on the first stage of this. A lot of businesses have tried to get to a personalised web too quickly. If you do not have the data so all the site-wide deficiencies are sorted you are not in a place to start optimising for different market segments.”

McCaig said firms with legacy technology are losing ground to the likes of pure-play web firms such as booking.com which are moving more quickly towards the personalised web and realise the true lifetime value of the customer.

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