With the busiest period in travel drawing to an end, our travel sector clients are all beginning to think about 2017 and what opportunities lie before them. At the close of 2016 KMP carried out some user testing across a range of luxury travel websites to identify key areas of focus for the coming year. The following are findings from the luxury sector, but I'm sure that these apply just as readily to the vast majority of travel industry websites - and don't worry we won't name any names of the sites we tested, but if you think you might be on the list then get in touch and we can share some further insight with you.
We tested 3 travel sites with a group of 5 users using what users do to give us a good picture of how users were interacting with the sites, the motivations for their decision making and to help us identify some opportunities. We set our users the following task:The Task
You’re interested in a Safari with luxury accommodation and transfers. The main purpose of the holiday is to get up close with the animals with expert guides, whilst relaxing in the evenings with spectacular views. Kenya is your first choice, but you’re open to inspiration. You have a budget of £25k for around 10 days and dates are flexible.
The task is to go to each site and find a holiday that meets your needs and looks right to you. Then tell us which site you would choose to book with and why. Also please make sure you let us know what your first impressions of the sites are, and let us know what you're thinking at each step? Here is what we found:
Some of the sites we tested featured large images, video and in some cases intrusive pop-ups with promotional messages that impacted on page speed. The sites that were slow to respond frustrated users with one of the sites being so slow and intrusive that the testers suggested that if this wasn't a test they would not have persevered with the site.
It is apparent that users are becoming less forgiving to sites that are placing barriers in their way (echoed by google's increasing focus on site speed as a performance metric), with a time poor, tech-savvy customer a user experience designed to help them through whatever journey they are on there is an opportunity for smart digital marketers to deliver something much more delightful and create competitive advantage.
Search is a starting point
60% of our users went straight for the site search, with the rest using the navigation to find what they were looking for. This one sounds obvious, but when your site has a lot of content or users are looking for something specific and your offsite search strategy is not landing users at the relevant content from their initial search then your site search becomes incredibly important.
The same is true when your content is complex or covers a range of areas. Considering the wider customer journey and how this fits is key to delivering a search that suits your audience, a one size search will not fit all.
No results frustrates
This may sound like an obvious one, but 2 out of the 3 sites we tested served up no results pages as a result of our users' searches. This is frustrating for users, and on sites that promote a tailor-made approach to holidays there may be other solutions to simply saying that you have nothing.
Think about it this way, if the same customer had called your call centre would one of your advisers say something along the lines of "I'm sorry we don't have anything for you," I'll wager not and that you would work with the potential customer to find a holiday for them. We always like to imagine a website as an extension of your team, working alongside you trying to do the same thing you do offline online.
The sites that evoked some kind of feeling had a strong impact on our user testers. One of the sites we tested was particularly strong at this, using image and video content to do what one user described as "making me feel like I'm on holiday." This feeling encouraged users to engage more with the site and have a much more positive overall feeling about the brand.
I've been doing a great around emotional responses lately (if you fancy these three are excellent books: Emotional Intelligence, The Chimp Paradox and Emotional Agility), and as our emotions are effectively the first response to any given situation they can shape the way we act before our rational mind kicks in - it may be that making a user feel positive will make them more engaged with your site (and potentially more forgiving of it if things go wrong).
Content is key
Having said all of that, the biggest factor that swayed our users into making a purchase decision was content. The site that performed worse across all the factors above had the best breadth and depth of content and persuaded 60% of users to say they would purchase from them.
That to me is a pretty big argument for investing time and effort into your content, and that isn't content for content sake, that is taking a more strategic approach to your content, considering how it fits in the overall customer journey and where it can help differentiate you. And taking this to the next level, starting to consider how you take your content and move to a more one to one relationship with your customers through personalisation and context.
This one is the eternal struggle for our luxury travel clients, how do you show a price for what is potentially a completely bespoke holiday? The fact is though, to a user the price matters, but at this end of the luxury market, it matters to reassure a user that they are looking at the right type of holiday - it looks about the right price.
There are no easy solutions to this but with deeper systems integration and a stronger link to the wider team it is possible that your site could become a space for collaboration with your customers with guide prices being refined to actual prices as the holiday becomes more specific. And if you can take it this far, the next small step is digital transactions, imagine that.
Clarity of message
Linking back to the fact that price matters, these are people that know what a tailor made holiday is, and understand that the price might not be precise. putting some clarity around this on site really helps users feel confident about moving to the next step on their journey, they have seen a price and you have helped them understand that you'll design a holiday for them. If you can clearly get across your expertise at that point a user is likely to become a customer.
All these things are great and will make sense to you - chances are your considering these things already, so what now? what to do next? Well, the answers are as unique to you as they are to the next person. It is vital that you take time to understand your customers and their journeys (not user journeys, but customer journeys) so that you can take advantage of some of the opportunities presented by our findings. If you already have that insight then great, if not then give KMP's discovery process a try and we'll help you get there. I'll leave you with some ideas for 2017 based on the above:
- Deeper richer content - what about 360 degree hotel views, things you have done that are completely bespoke, insights you may have that will set you apart and drive emotion.
- Digital Collaboration - creating a space where users can collaborate with you on designing their perfect trip
- Don't forget your customers - Test, refine and re-look at your journeys, because once you change things your customer journeys will change, your competitors will notice and you should never assume that things remain they way they were from your original snapshot.
- Try stuff - we've had some real success trying things using google sprints to get to rapid prototypes (look out for some case studies on this coming soon) there are such a great range of tools at our disposal that results can be quick and decisive.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, hopefully you've found it useful. If you'd like to discuss this in more detail or see how KMP can apply our user centred thinking to deliver results with real ROI for you then don't hesitate to get in touch.