by William Meek
“81.1% of visitors to travel booking websites left without completing a booking” in the first quarter of this year. Dave Cruickshank, chief executive of ATCORE Group, shared this startling statistic in a post for travolution.com. He adds, “Travel sites have the highest abandonment rates of any industry–and for over 50% of these visitors, it was problems with the booking process or website that led them to abandon.”
In writing for Phocuswire, Max Starkov of HEBS Digital notes “the average hotel website conversion rate is typically below 2%.” As he explains, only two people out of 100 who visit a site will book, and the other “98 will look around before leaving to make a booking elsewhere–either with your competitors or with the OTAs.”
That’s a lot of business walking out the virtual door, and hospitality could take a cue from other online experiences. AZDS Interactive Group works with luxury hospitality brands, and its founder and CEO Adam Deflorian recognizes Amazon for raising the online shopping bar, and “the rest of us have no choice but to follow suit.”
He acknowledges what not meeting this high standard can mean. “If consumers are accustomed to making a purchase in 10 clicks or less, it’s only natural to hold other brands to a similar standard. Force your customers through an arduous purchasing process, and chances are you’ll become part of an unwelcome statistic (brands lost $236 billion due to checkout process friction in Q1 2018 alone).”
Switchfly addressed this in an August skift.com article: “Today’s travel consumer faces a needlessly complex online shopping experience. There are too many choices, and offers are not customized to address buyers’ unique needs. To solve this problem, travel brands must use what they already know about their customers to simplify, streamline and personalize the purchase process.”
Reasons consumers leave without buying
There are many reasons a potential customer may visit a site and not book. But, there are three that top the list (and are easily remedied):
If it’s challenging to navigate, visitors will click elsewhere
If it’s more than two years old, it likely doesn’t use the latest best practices, which leads to lower conversions
If a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load, 53% of visits are abandoned.
Getting past these more obvious issues, what else can lead to high dissatisfaction and high abandonment rates? HEBS’ Starkov lists several booking platform hurdles, including no real-time availability, inflexibility (particularly in terms of number of travelers), and results that don’t meet the customer’s criteria.
McKinsey & Co. took a look at travel distribution and customer experience last year, and they found an area travel companies may not be addressing–unique customer behavior on mobile. Robert Carey, Del Ross and Nathan Seitzman write about five specific behaviors that can impact conversions. They found that mobile users:
- Keep sessions short
They “engage with content for less than half the time of desktop web users.”
- Move on
Users “rarely return to a previous browsing session, so a click away to another site is an exit, not a detour.”
Visitors are “often doing something else, such as standing in line, commuting, riding in an elevator, or sitting in a meeting.”
They “don’t browse travel sites randomly.”
- Expect speed & accuracy
Most will abandon a site or app if it doesn’t “load quickly, respond accurately, or answer the query thoroughly.”
Give them a better booking experience
It’s not always about the best price or the freebies you might throw in. Today, travelers are looking for a new booking experience that offers accurate, personalized content as part of a streamlined process. That may seem like a tall order, but it’s really not. Travel companies, like other online companies, need to take a step back and remember that because we can add something to a site, an app or a process doesn’t mean we should.
For example, in his forbes.com article, AZDS’ Deflorian lists steps companies can take to improve their customers’ online experience. He recommends:
- Allowing customers to save their orders to revisit later. And companies benefit from having a reason to reach out and remind customers what they left behind.
- Helping guests make adjustments with an edit function that offers an easy way to review and change an order.
- Limiting booking steps to reduce annoyance. Deflorian notes that an AZDS case study found “a 60% drop-off rate on every additional page of a booking engine.” He suggests that hotels reduce their booking process into “three easy steps: picking dates, selecting accommodations and filling out guest and credit card information.”
- Simplifying checkout by using auto-completion when possible and “only collect the information you actually need for your operation.”
The McKinsey & Co. team stresses mobile sites “should provide a quick and easy booking and fact-finding experience, especially for infrequent customers,” while apps, which are more likely to be used by loyal travelers, “should always be functional both on- and offline, but should be developed specifically with offline utility.”
Technology is available to help travel companies reduce frustrations for their potential customers—whether it’s real-time availability, offering personalized options (over and above the original criteria) or including flexibility to accommodate families and single travelers.
Having the right back-end solution is critical to meet or exceed the expectations of today’s online booker, particularly in terms of accurate availability and pricing. For organizations that work with multiple global suppliers, partnering with a payments provider like WEX simplifies the process because solutions are easily integrated with any system.
In addition to technology solutions, the all-important improvement in personalization will take data. Switchfly and Skift suggest “creating a carefully curated variety of options – informed by customer data, when possible – opens up opportunities for customers to find exactly what they want while still leaving room for them to explore, discover, and come back again.”
Solutions to improve the booking experience and reduce the abandonment rate aren’t out of reach, especially when it comes to data. As the Switchfly and Skift writers note, “Travel executives can deliver better buying experiences simply by leveraging the data they already have to ultimately deliver a more relevant, and personalized, e-commerce experience that inspires conversions and leads to more direct bookings.”