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May 13, 2014

Thinking of your e-commerce strategy as a bit like a fashionable hairdo may sound offbeat but it may not be a bad idea, writes Ritesh Gupta

A hairstyle worthy of the catwalks may look great in February but be so last-month by the end of May. So it is in the rapidly changing world of e-commerce, where you need to regularly revisit the look-and-feel of your digital assets to ensure customers stay engaged and relevant. In the travel industry this means responding quickly to new developments and opportunities like data-driven analytical intelligence.

But while regular monitoring, spotting areas for improvement and execution of new ideas are all fine, collaboration delivers the best results. As Barbara Pezzi, director analytics and search optimisation at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, points out, it is important for travel companies to embrace a culture that supports testing and authorises the testing team to make decisions. Marketers, she says, tend to detest new propositions from the analytics/optimisation team that contradict the chosen creative strategy, but this can prove to be a damp-squib in the quest to improve product offerings.

Instead all departments should be working together closely.

It's important for travel companies to embrace a culture that supports testing and authorises the testing team to make decisions

The good news, says Matthew Harris, executive general manager for Europe, Middle East and the Americas at Wotif.com, is that being 100% online gives OTA's an advantage. One of the big merits is the real-time availability of data, which can really help to define future product development. What's more, a cloud-based infrastructure allows for a speedier testing and release strategy which, says Harris, "gives OTAs the ability to test new theories and features to an exact percentage of users in beta, so as not to risk any anomalies in numbers".

Now let's take a look at some of the approaches being taken and where there is still room for improvement: 

1. Evaluating every digital interaction

Travel e-commerce sites proactively monitor issues like site visits and revenue generation. They also look at in-page analytics to assess levels of abandonment and where and why that is happening. Once chinks are identified, then new tactics are worked out. A/B or multivariate testing helps to make regular comparisons of different site layouts, and finalise the right combination of content and graphics to drive revenue. So assessment of different internet browsers, device compatibility, usability and navigation testing, performance testing and so on all contribute to evaluating what impacts the conversion rate and average order booking value. 

"We try to gauge and understand what the user commonly looks for on our website or across our five apps [downloaded 2.5 million times]," says Saurabh Srivastava, VP marketing and product strategy, ixigo. "Whether it is through use of heatmaps or through click interactions we capture all possible interactions of users."

The aim is to optimise the customer experience, helping a user to take a decision as quickly as possible. 

2. Embracing popular web trends

It is important for the travel industry to keep tabs on how content is being consumed on the web or via mobile apps. Top social networking sites and mobile apps often light the way and online travel companies adapt their offerings accordingly.

For instance, the team at ixigo is working on an intelligent model whereby the most searched information by a particular user will be used to customise the content of the site to suit his or her needs.

The aim here is to ensure that relevant topics/services/products naturally surface when the user next visits the website, a bit like how Facebook suggests pages and friends.

3. Developing exciting new products 

OTAs are looking to be more flexible during various stages of a user's journey. Dynamic packages may have been around a while but there is room for improvement. According to Harris, packages are even more dynamic now. Users are being given highly customised options; it's no longer simply an option of three-to-five-to-seven nights at this hotel with this flight. "We have a package engine as do most now, where you can design your own combination exactly as you like and the price adjusts accordingly," he says. 

Expedia is another travel intemerdiary that hasn't been shy to experiment with new ideas and to embrace a 'fail-fast' culture. In fact, it has been working on improving its technology to understand the intent of the users as they type keywords into search. Indeed, the days of simple text matching with the travel database and presenting straightforward travel options are over. Today search technology needs to understand relatively complex sentences that may not involve proper nouns.

To hear more from Barbara Pezzi, director analytics and search optimisation at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, join us in Miami for EyeforTravel's Online Marketing Strategies for Travel 2014 (June 2-3)

About EyeforTravel

EyeforTravel is a leading travel news, conferences, exhibitions and reports company, running since 1997. Our shows attract between 200-1000 attendees respectively and are held across the globe in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Our conferences have been focused on all aspects of online travel since the word go: distribution, revenue management, marketing, mobile, social media, CRM, analytics and more. We know the industry inside out, and we spend months researching each project. Take a look at our agenda and see what topics came up in our research.

This is why we are certain that The Smart Travel Analytics Show will be your 1-stop shop to gain all the intelligence, practical know-how and profitable contacts and deals you need to storm ahead of your rivals and reap record profits in 2013 and beyond.

Contact: Corry Gibson

corry@eyefortravel.com / +44 (0)207 375 7163

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