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Travel comparison company lastminute.com has opted for a low key launch of its revamped website, giving users the chance to use the new version and give feedback.
The redesigned version of lastminute devotes more space to providing holiday ideas and showing the latest deals on offer, so the search box is less prominent than before. The old version is still running alongside the new one, which gives me a chance to compare the two.
The new lastminute.com homepage, and the site in general, has been designed for higher screen resolutions, and looks much better for it. This means that the site fits the whole of the screen and avoids leaving a big blank space on the page, as with the old site:
The majority of web users now have resolutions of 1024 x 768 or larger, so it makes sense to optimise for this, so the site will look better to most web users.
The other big change on the homepage is the decision to move the shrink the search box slightly and move it from the centre of the page to the right hand side. This means that it is no longer the most prominent thing on thepage, but this does leave room to put more of lastminute.com's special offers and promotions above the fold.
There are now a few more options for customers wanting to browse through the site by clicking on suggested destinations or latest offers, though much of the space above the fold is devoted to a Hilton Hotels offer and a box with other offers. If you want to browse by destination and find your holiday by clicking links rather than using the search box, this is more difficult to do.
Also, a number of the links for offers like '3* New York hotel from £83' aren't producing any results. Lastminute does at least ensure that the page isn't a dead end by providing a search box, though displaying similar flights to New York may have been a better idea, since the customer has already expressed a preference for that.
Most pages work better though, such as this for flights to the Americas, which lists flights by price. However, I got to this page by selecting flights to New York. I can understand why it would show me places like Boston and Washington, which are relatively close to New York, but flights to Toronto and Chicago are pretty irrelevant here:
Also, this list is all you get; there are no options to filter the flights listed and you need to use the search box underneath to get any more results for flights to the Americas.
Searching for flights
Given that browsing through the deals on the site will often lead to the search box in the end anyway, this is the best way to find a holiday on lastminute. The search box is clear enough to use, though there are one or two slight issues which make it a little harder to use.
For instance, you cannot simply type in the name of your destination, you need to select it from the drop-down list, which is not the easiest way to do this. Typing in the first letter of your destination will take you to that point in the list, but you are still left with some scrolling to do, and failing to click on that exact area of the menu will mean users will have to start over again, making it a potential source of frustration for customers.
Advanced search options are provided, which is useful for specifying must-haves like swimming pools, internet access, and so on. However, some useful features common on other travel sites are missing here.
The ability to search for hotels by reviewer rating, and giving users the option of being flexible by showing results 3 days either side of the date specified. This feature does appear on some search boxes on the site, but it should be on the main page where most users start their holiday search.
I criticised Thomas Cook for slow loading search results, and lastminute.com was just as slow at times, with results taking 20 seconds to appear at times. Users may be more forgiving of this kind of delay for a relatively complex holiday search, but people's patience can be stretched too far.
The search results are well presented and easy to understand, with the total package price clearly displayed for searches like flight and hotel combinations. A good summary of the travel product is provided, and the details provided are useful, as well as the images and maps. User reviews would be a good addition here though, and would help users make a decision there and then. As things stand, I suspect a few customers will end up leaving the site to look for reviews elsewhere.
Customers can mix and match flights and hotels on this page, but more options for manipulating the search results would also be useful, like showing hotels by proximity to the city centre / beach, or being able to order and filter results by star rating. At the moment, the only option is to search again, which means that some customers end up seeing this page too many times:
I was disappointed to see overlay ads appearing throughout the site as I spent time searching and browsing. This kind of online advertising is lame and intrusive for users, and something we advise strongly against on publishers' websites, but even more so on an e-commerce site:
Sure, some smokers might need Nicorette to get them through a trans-Atlantic flight, but sticking this ad right across the flight search results is pretty poor. People hate these ads, so why annoy people when you are trying to get them to buy on your site?
The look of the new lastminute.com is an improvement on the previous version, but some of the functionality could have been improved further. More flexible search options, better ways of sorting and filtering holiday search results, making the site more browsable for customers with no fixed date or destination in mind, and especially losing the lame ad format, would all improve the user experience.