Travel operator Thomas Cook introduced a number of improvements before Christmas, including an improved holiday search function, and the addition of more multimedia content.
Since I had written a post last year listing ten different problems with the Thomas Cook website which were affecting the user experience, it seems only fair to give credit for some of the improvements that have been made since then.
These are the ten criticisms I made of the Thomas Cook website last year; some have now been fixed, and some haven't:
Returning no results
Last time, I encountered a number of 'amend search' messages advising that there were no holidays matching my search criteria, which can get annoying after a while. Now, when there are no results that exactly fit my original departure date I get a different message, informing me that there are no holidays on that day, but offering similar holidays a few days later. A big improvement:
Lack of user reviews
Thomas Cook recently added over 300,000 reviews to the site, giving ratings for destinations and hotels. Hotels and resorts always sound good from the travel agent's description, but customers would be much more confident in booking a holiday having seen recommendations from other holiday makers.
A reviews section allows users to search for reviews by destination, so they can find the hotels and resorts with the best scores. Average ratings are also displayed on holiday search results, though some more detail beyond just a mark out of five may be more useful.
Slow loading search results
This is still a bit of a problem at times; it can take 10-20 for search results to load, which isn't great for impatient web users like me. When searching and comparing a number of holidays this can become frustrating.
Still an issue, and this is something that annoys web users and makes it difficult for them to compare prices. For instance, when I search for a flight to and hotel in Milan for two people, I'm quoted a price of £612.88:
However, once I select 'add to cart' the price changes to £865.96:
At least this time a reason is given; the extra is a £250 charge for a private transfer from the airport to the hotel, which is a staggering sum for a 15km journey. Hidden charges irritate customers, especially when they are as steep as this one.
Not saving searches for return visits
Many web shoppers will take their time to decide on a holiday purchase, and will want to do some research before they buy, looking at a number of different websites before booking. Saving previous searches and results (though these may be subject to change) will help customers to continue their searches and eventually buy a holiday.
Thomas Cook has now added 'My Thomas Cook', which allow you to shortlist holidays for later visits. Also, forms on the site are pre-populated with the address details you added when signing up, speeding up the checkout process.
Providing a contact number during the search / booking process
Booking a holiday can be a relatively complex transaction, and some users may feel the need to talk to a customer service representative to answer some questions about their booking. Providing this reassurance to customers can make the difference and encourage the customer to buy a holiday.
Ideally, a clear contact number should be available during the search and booking process, but this is not the case. There is a contact number on the site, but customers have to first find the tiny 'customer support' link at the top of the page, then find the answer in one of the FAQs. This is making it far too difficult.
Displaying unavailable flights
I found a few examples of this last time I looked at Thomas Cook, but didn't come across any unavailable flights this time around.
Providing information on airports and destinations
People need to know some background information beyond just the hotel description and flight times, such as the proximity of local facilities, beaches, tourist attractions and so on. This is what they have come to expect from sites like TripAdvisor, and background detail helps reassure customers about the holiday they are thinking of booking.
More information is now provided via an interactive map or a drop down menu:
This is fine, but joining everything up by linking to the relevant information when customers are looking at holidays from the a particular country or resort would be more useful. Also, a number of the videos I selected were unavailable to view.
The calendar function, rather than opening in a pop-up window as before, now appears just next to the booking form and is now both easier to use and quicker to load.
Flexible search options
For people without a fixed date in mind, having the option of searching for holidays three days either side of the date entered is a good option, and can avoid the need for entering different dates again and again.
Holidays for the following week are displayed as an alternative when none are available on the selected date, which is an improvement, but people may want to see holidays either side of the date entered. This kind of flexible search is a feature of other travel sites, and Thomas Cook should consider adding this function.