Ecommerce is “Taking Off” in Travel and Entertainment

Posted by Taylor Haney on Tue, Jul 16, 2013

We continue with our e-Commerce blog series with a post from Hilary Dionne, Senior Manager, Customer Insights & Analytics at Zmags. Hilary takes a look at the service/travel side of e-Commerce and important best practices for this space to pay attention to. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please e-mail me at taylor [at] mitx [dot] org. Also, if you are interested in data, analytics, and marketing, find out what’s next on August 1st at #MITXData.

Hilary D headshotHilary (@hildionne) has a passion for leveraging data to understand customer and consumer behavior, and applies this at Zmags help clients make the most of their experience.  Prior to joining Zmags, she was an Associate at MaPS, a best-in-class market research and strategy consulting firm based in Waltham, MA, where she teamed with the research groups at several Fortune 100 companies.  Hilary holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and English from Dartmouth College.

Ecommerce is “Taking Off” in Travel and Entertainment:
Where do your digital marketing campaigns and website “land”?

When the topic of ecommerce arises, most people (myself included) immediately think of online shopping for retail items like clothing, shoes, accessories, home décor, electronics… products that will arrive on your doorstep in a few days.   But what about online transactions for things like services, travel and entertainment (movie tickets, flights, etc.)?  While these also fall into the broader ecommerce definition, the overall experience and key drivers of purchasing a plane ticket online can be very different from ordering a new sweater. 

Free shipping and flexible return policies are of course top priorities for online retail shoppers, but how about non-retail industries?  With the number of comparison shopping engines available today, especially in the travel industry, price is indisputably important – but needs to be coupled with a website that is easy to use, works well on mobile devices, and provides enough detailed information to gain consumers’ confidence in their purchase decision. Recognizable brand names and certifications or signs that websites are secure can help push the shopper all the way through the funnel.

Q1 2013 online travel spending was up 8% year-over-year in the US according to comScore’s State of the US Online Retail Economy Q1 2013, with e-commerce sales exceeding $28B. This trend represents a ripe opportunity for travel and hospitality brands to strategically and creatively grow their customer base and revenue via digital channels. 

Booking a trip is a bigger commitment than a new pair of jeans, with many aspiring travelers booking 3 weeks – 5 months in advance (source: a great infographic from Monetate), and more than 1 in 4 take 2-6 days to plan the trip. For travel ecommerce sites, that can mean starting to promote Spring Break offers in November or December (or even earlier).  And for Marketers, it means recognizing that a campaign might not have an immediate impact, for those who deliberate longer or are last-minute planners.  

Taking a quick scan of top travel sites (Expedia.com, Kayak.com, TripAdvisor.com, etc.), most still seem to rely on the traditional search method of online shopping:  meaning, you know what you want, where and when you want to go and narrow it down from there. Some at least have featured deals and allow you to browse by continent or country. But what if I am not even remotely sure where I want to take my next vacation?

Some companies are starting to use online magazines and brochures to broaden the reach and increase the relevancy of their marketing efforts, using digital content such as pre-travel inspiration books, trip planners and take-with-you vacation guides. Readers of these travel and hospitality online magazines and brochures (powered by Zmags) spent an average of 4 min 10 sec interacting with the content in Q1 2013. This means more exposure for and engagement with your brand. (Travel is a featured spotlight industry in the Zmags Q1 Digital Catalog/Magazine Benchmark Report; those interested can download here.)

zmags blog

Consumers who take 6 or more trips per year are a bit more likely to use mobile devices to plan travel than those who jet set less frequently. eMarketer predicts that 40% of online travel researchers will plan using a tablet or smartphone this year, with over 25% going on to make a purchase. The implications for responsive design and/or mobile versions of websites are major and can’t be ignored. Search functionality is critical for smartphones in particular, if travelers are trying to book the next leg of their journeys or tomorrow night’s stay while on-the-go. If the website takes too long to load or order forms can’t easily be filled out on a small screen, most likely this will result in a lost opportunity to convert a sale.  

I had a frustrating experience a few years ago at the Detroit airport that pushed me over the edge to buy an iPhone to replace my clunky BlackBerry. My arrival flight got in late, but the connecting flight was cancelled due to storms; there were business travelers from at least 10 other derailed flights all trying to make it back to the East coast on a Thursday night. The phone reservation line was consistently busy, and my BB took so long for a webpage to load, and then was too small to even read, that I was the last one in my group to find an available return flight. 

Trying to booking a bus ticket home from a friend’s apartment in New York was another recent headache. Greyhound forced me to enter in all of my information before revealing that a specific departure time was already full. 45 minutes later, I gave up and booked with another company. That kind of encounter with your brand can be an irreversible turn off for a hurried traveler.

Many of the top travel sites have since optimized for mobile web browsers and/or created smartphone and tablet apps. TripAdvisor’s “Near Me Now” feature on its mobile website is a cool way for travelers to quickly act on impulse or find that cup of coffee they desperately seek. Still, I think we’re just at the beginning of seeing what added value and conveniences travel brands can offer for online browsers and shoppers.

What other trends have you seen in travel ecommerce? What are your predictions?