Guest Post: How to keep your data fresh to win customers online

David Maitland, general manager, EMEA at Couchbase explains why only the freshest data is good enough for those in the travel sector
As any greengrocer worth their salt will tell you, in the world of retail it’s important to have the freshest stock available.

After all, a selection of vegetables that have been freshly harvested will always sell better than those that have been sitting out in a shop for more than a week.

You might not think it, but the same principles are also particularly applicable for those involved in the retail arm of the travel industry, where having access to the newest and freshest possible information can play a critical role.

The difference is that whereas vegetables can take days or even weeks to go past their sell-by date, accurate data relating to travel prices has a much more limited lifespan, making the emphasis placed on freshness all the more significant.

To find the reason for this, it’s worth considering what the primary motivator is for almost every end-user looking to book travel.

Can you remember the last time you booked a holiday online? What was the one thing that motivated you to commit to your booking?

Sure, the white, sandy beaches of some distant, tropical clime may have had some role to play in your decision, as might the standard of accommodation available.

The likelihood, however, is that the primary motivator for you selecting one holiday over another was price.

After all, where two travel websites have the same holiday on offer for different prices, you can guess which one proves more popular.

For this reason, the importance of having the freshest, most up-to-date pricing information cannot be underestimated for online travel companies.

It’s a fast-paced world, and a fraction of a second is only long enough for a price to change completely, but it can also be the difference between success and failure.

What’s more, having data that’s past its sell-by date can have an additional knock-on effect, as ISPs tend to prioritise traffic to the most popular websites.

Online travel firms can, as a result, quickly find themselves caught in a vicious circle, where outdated prices lead to fewer visitors, less traffic, and, as a consequence, a damaged brand.

So what’s the best way to prevent this? In short, it’s to reduce the amount of complexity involved and simplify the process.

When any online travel retail provides a price search for one of its users, a number of things happen.

Each individual search, let’s not forget, involves queries to a number of different providers, which means that a lot of data comes back that needs to be temporarily cached, in case another user runs a similar query.

With the sheer volume of data involved, this can cause problems, with traditional SQL databases struggling to keep pace with the flow of data, and delays occurring as a direct result.

The way round this is to take a different approach.

Instead of continuously storing cached data in memory, NoSQL, document-orientated databases can help to scale this data out horizontally, reducing the strain on memory, and allowing for faster, real-time speeds.

This is made possible by layer consolidation, which means that both the memory and the database are made available within the same layer, reducing latency considerably in the process.

It’s even more important, to provide this, of course, as the online travel retail industry continues to grow, and an even greater emphasis is placed on being able to scale this level of performance upwards to deal with increased levels of traffic.

Skyscanner is a good example of a firm in this sector that has used NoSQL solutions to scale from a situation where it was dealing with searches from over 100,000 a day to three million – all of whom are looking for the most up-to-date pricing information that they can get their hands on.

The bottom line is that data freshness for any fast-paced, data-intensive industry is critical.

Again, to return to our earlier example of a greengrocer, they would quickly see that selling fruit and vegetables that was stale or past its sell-by date would result in customers going elsewhere.

The same is also true for the online travel retail sector, where having stale pricing data isn’t an option, and only the freshest data will do.

So, remember this the next time you book a holiday online, and ask yourself: how fresh is my data?

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