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Airbnb triumphs, Thomas Cook comes last in tech firm’s study of travel sites

August 29, 2014

(Published in TTG – 18.06.14)

A recent Webcredible report has rated travel brands based on user experience. Matthew Parsons studies the results

A new report from Webcredible has shed light on those travel sellers giving users a decent experience – and those who are not.

User experience, Webcredible claims, is no longer restricted to the desktop – it must now cover aspects including branding, communications, recommendations and even the research process, as an ever-demanding public insists on websites helping them to find the perfect holiday as easily as possible.

It recently surveyed 500 holidaymakers, and found that 85% booked their last holiday online. Of those 85%, 60% said they would give up and abandon their purchase if faced with any challenges in the “booking journey,” and 79% would switch to a different provider.

Webcredible, whose clients include Avios, Fly.com, Heathrow Express, P&O Cruises, Virgin Holidays and Visit Orlando, assessed nine travel companies on eight criteria: research; reviews and recommendations; social channels; travel information and product detail; email marketing; consistent brand experience; site usability (when booking); and booking process.

Overall, Airbnb topped the survey, while Thomas Cook came last out of the nine, with TripAdvisor close behind at seventh, with easyJet and Kuoni sharing joint sixth.

RANK SITE SCORE (OUT OF 50)
1 Airbnb 41.5
2 Hotels.com 40.5
3 Expedia 40
4 Lastminute.com 33.5
5 Virgin Atlantic 33
=6 EasyJet 32
=6 Kuoni 32
7 TripAdvisor 31.5
8 Thomas Cook 30

 

The report states Airbnb offers “exceptional website usability, simple booking processes and research options”, compared with Cook which appears to have a “lack of brand interaction, poor use of email marketing and confusing booking processes” across digital devices.

The report criticises Cook primarily on three areas: research, site usability and booking process.

When it came to research, it cites Cook inconsistently portraying the “wish list and recently viewed functions across its website”, while along with Kuoni and Lastminute.com, navigation is deemed “confusing” and search functionality poor.

Cook also scores low on the booking process because “attempts to book through its iOS app either timed out or the checkout button returned the user to the home screen”.

A Thomas Cook spokesperson told TTG: “As part of our high-tech, high-touch strategy, we are dedicated to ensuring a great customer experience across all our channels, nowhere more so than online.”

So what, according to the report, makes an ideal user experience?

Research

When it comes to research, Webcredible says websites should not only provide a clear search function and inspiration, but offer easy access to previous searches, the ability to share search results and itineraries via email, social websites or a shareable link – and move between devices when researching travel by remembering searches, viewed content and saved searches.

The report argues that holiday researches can span weeks, with users keen to compare and share ideas with friends and family.

However, it says Cook does provide both a wishlist function and recently viewed option, but it was “inconsistent across its website, appearing to only work on certain parts of the site and not retaining recently viewed items”.

Thomas Cook screengrab - Wish List functionality

Thomas Cook offers a wishlist, but Webcredible felt it was inconsistently implemented

Decision making

Following the research process comes decision making, and Webcredible believes that sites should give customers as much information as they need, when they need it, as well as effectively promoting their brand and ensure complete brand consistency across different devices and media.

Expedia’s welcome email to subscribers was praised for having an easy sign-up, engaging content and reiterating the benefits of being a subscriber, with clear links to current promotions, while lastminute.com cleverly asks new subscribers to pinpoint preferred destinations in a map, to receive relevant communication in the future.

EasyJet, meanwhile, is criticised for failing to send new subscribers a confirmation email.

Branding

When it comes to branding, TripAdvisor scores best with its consistent branding across a range of devices – and offline too, with its stickers sent to participating properties.

During Webcredible’s study into the booking part of the journey, Cook’s results section is praised for its “clearly separated” display of properties and use of filters to help customers narrow their shortlist.

Booking

In its look at the last piece of the puzzle – the actual booking process – it notes Kuoni’s booking form has numerous layout issues, some caused by “technical bugs, such as labels overlaying text fields”, as well as problems with “multiple text fields on a single line, but with excess spacing between them”.

The report adds that travel firms must ensure they support their customers throughout the booking process by clearly presenting the final price and breakdown of its components, including a phone number if possible, indicating how many steps are involved and displaying cancellation or change rules.

“Loyalty from consumers requires smooth, joined up and persuasive customer experiences,” the report concludes. “In studying brand experiences including email marketing and social media, we can see how consistent and connected some of the major players are.”

Webcredible founder and chief executive Trenton Moss adds: “The travel industry needs to capitalise on the vast opportunities available to interact and guide the consumer at every digital touchpoint and stage of their journey when booking a holiday.”

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