There was a time not too long ago when 98% of airline tickets were booked through a travel agent, who would call an airline and purchase a customer’s ticket, acting as the go-between between the traveler and the company. I’m not sure what the exact number is now, but suffice it to say that a lion’s share of today’s travel purchases occur when shoppers buy tickets themselves – after scouring different sites for the best fare or most convenient schedule.
For as much as the web and mobile have influenced retail, they have revolutionized the travel industry. And today’s opening keynote at NRFtech had a front-row seat during the transformation. Terry Jones, who spent years as a travel agent before founding travelocity.com, shared an overview of how today’s customers have changed and discussed how retailers are using technology, new channels, and basic common sense to create better customer experiences.
Here are three tips:
Ask first, “What do your customers want?” When creating search terms or building web content, it’s important to think like a customer, Jones said. He used an example of walking into a store to buy supplies for a home improvement project. The retailer might approach this situation as a customer wanting to buy a drill. But the customer doesn’t want a drill – they want a hole. They need a drill to help them get what they want. Whittle down your customers’ desires to the most basic level, Jones said, and then you can better understand how to cater to them.
For the same reason, the website www.mosquitoes.com redirects to SC Johnson’s website for its OFF pest repellant. (They have also sponsored ads for the search words “West Nile Virus” and “Lyme Disease.”) This is a classic case of a company thinking like its customers, Jones said. “It’s not that you want OFF,” he said. “It’s that you don’t want Lyme Disease.”
Some savvy retailers understand this concept, too. At REI, for example, shoppers can search by sport. Search for “ice climbing” and you’ll get a laundry list of products that help connect customers with their passion.
Keep it simple. Today’s shoppers are the world’s best multi-taskers. They’re often doing many things at once and can get easily distracted. When they actually get to your website, help them through the process by keeping it simple. (This point was also addressed well in a Shop.org session by marketer Amy Africa, who suggested retailers leverage buttons and make the biggest button “what you want your customers to do next.”)
Jones illustrated the differences between the current Travelocity.com website, which he used to spearhead, and the Kayak.com homepage, where he is now Chairman. While Kayak’s page is clean and search-focused, Travelocity’s page gives browsers a plethora of options – which could get overwhelming and cause customers to split. As Jones put it, “When I look at this page I don’t understand – what does Travelocity want me to do?”
Need another example? Here’s one. Think about what Google could do with their homepage. But what’s featured when you visit the website? No promotions, no ads, no distracting links. Just a search box.
Make it easy to keep them coming back for more. We’ve talked a lot lately about shoppers’ move to value from price – when people factor in other parts of the equation like quality, service and convenience when choosing where and what to buy. In order to attract today’s time-strapped shopper, Jones said, make it easy for them. Some consumers – including yours truly – don’t shop exclusively based on price.
As one example, Jones highlighted Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program, which lets customers sign up and schedule future purchases of frequently-used items. Is it cheaper? Maybe. Subscribe & save customers usually get a discount, but convenience is also undoubtedly a factor here. If you can save me a midnight store run for diapers – and instead, just have my monthly shipment waiting on my doorstep when I get home from work – I’ll gladly pay an extra few bucks for the convenience. And then you’ll have a customer for life.