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According to a recent survey, 81% of people abandon online travel bookings, with 'just looking' the biggest reason for this.
53% abandon when they see the full price, though 87% said they would consider returning to the booking.
So what, if anything, can travel websites do about this?
Why do people abandon?
SaleCycle used a mixture of abandonment data from its clients in 2014 and a survey of 1,000 consumers asking why they abandoned travel purchases.
These were the reasons given for abandoning purchases:
- 39% were just looking and had more research to do.
- 37% abandoned due to high prices and wanted to compare prices elsewhere.
- 21% needed to check with other travellers before booking.
- 13% felt the booking process was too long or the checkout too complicated.
- 9% experienced technical issues.
- 7% had issues with payments or the option they wanted was unavailable.
For some of these reasons, there is relatively little that online travel sites can do to reduce abandonment.
A holiday is one of the biggest purchases of the year for most people, so they will spend time researching and visiting multiple sites before making a decision.
According to Millward Brown stats, users booking holidays take up to 45 days and visit as many as 38 travel sites.
There are a lot of similar studies around with different numbers, but the central point is that people take time over travel purchases and like to compare sites.
So, for 'just looking' consumers, sites will find it hard to prevent abandonment as they just want to see what's available and are unlikely to commit before shopping around.
However, there's plenty sites can do about the other reasons, which we'll explore later in this article.
Where do customers abandon?
53% duck out when shown the total price. This suggests a fair amount of comparison shopping, but also a realisation amongst consumers that travel sites have a nasty habit of adding fees and charges during the booking process.
They may be heading far enough down the funnel to find the 'real' price, or some could be deterred by extra charges being applied along the way.
The other two reasons - being asked for personal or payment details - may just be the logical point to exit for comparison shoppers, but may also indicate problems with form design, or a lack of preferred payment options.
What can sites do to reduce abandonment?
Given that customers like to spend time visiting different sites and researching purchases, travel sites can't deal with all these abandonment reasons.
However, there's much they can do to deal with the obvious reasons, help customers research more effectively, and encourage them to return to book in the end.
Here are some suggestions...
Provide greater clarity on pricing and charges
Travel sites have a challenge here, as the final price can depend on many variables - time of flight chosen, extras like insurance and baggage allowance, and so on.
So, the price displayed here for a week in Italy will not be the final one.
However, Thomas Cook expects people to invest time and effort entering the details of everyone travelling without confirming the total price.
It still says 'from £2727.03', suggesting that more charges may follow. As it turned out, that was the total price, but the language used is confusing for customers.
There may be no hidden charges, but customers have grown used to them, and will therefore be suspicious if sites aren't clear about this.
Ryanair has improved from the time when pre-ticked boxes with extra fees were the norm when booking online, but there's still room for improvement.
Here, I can't move forward in the booking process without making a decision over insurance by actively selecting either my country or 'don't insure me' from a drop-down.
Now, a radio button or tick box would be easier for users, as would the assumption that, unless they select it, users don't need insurance.
This suggests that Ryanair doesn't mind if users select insurance accidentally.
After all, if it wanted to make it easy for customers to opt out, why use a drop down and place the option down the list between Denmark and Finland?
In this example, easyJet is clear about its pricing throughout the customer journey.
The use of the phrase 'final price' is a great way to reassure customers.
Aid the research process
People are going to research, so make it easy for them. This means things like more flexible search options, content which supports the research process, and options which help customers to save preferences.
Search tools on travel sites can help this. Options like searching across a flexible date range, all airports within a chosen country, or not making customers narrow options like departure airports too early can help.
Not everyone has a clear idea of dates and destinations when they begin to search for holidays, and these customers should be catered for.
Search results can help too. The 'month view' from Jet2.com is very useful if you're flexible on dates and just want the cheapest option.
At a glance you can see which days offer the cheapest flights. There's a fair bit of variation and therefore savings to be made.
Content can support the research process too. Give them information about their destinations, maps to show them the proximity of the hotel to the beach, things to do, and so on.
AirBnB provides a great example, with city and neighbourhood guides.
Take this overview of New York. The locals' pros and cons, and the 'known for' information gives people a quick idea of what the city is about, before exploring and finding which neighbourhood will suit them.
Reviews provide valuable context too, and can be very persuasive for potential bookers.
Booking and payment processes
There's a lot that can go wrong here, so sites need to make form filling and payment as painless as possible.
Of course, it has to be complicated to a certain extent. There may be multiple passenger details to enter, hotels and flight times to choose, and so on.
This means optimising web forms is even more important. Little details, like this mobile optimised calendar from Kayak, can make the difference,
It's also important to avoid barriers to booking. Here, Ryanair's registration screen seems even more of an interruption since it's presented as a pop up, blacking out the rest of the screen.
This is unneccesary, as users are busy filling in details anyway, so why not just add registration as an extra optional field rather then interrupting the flow?
The AirBnB checkout provides a better example. It displays the total price early in the process and provides a constant reminder for customers.
The form is well designed overall, and data entry is easy enough. No unnecessary form fields or conventions on things like postcode formats make it more likely that people will complete the process.
Make it mobile
A quick point, but as more people use mobile for travel bookings, the sites need to adapt and make it as easy as possible for customers to research and book on mobile.
It's a hygeine factor as much as anything. This optimised site from lastminute.com tells users that they can search easily.
This, from fly.co.uk, will deter customers straight away.
Mobile optimisation is the first step, but travel sites also need to understand how customers use mobile in the context of researching and buying travel products and cater for this behaviour.
Make it easy for customers to return
Travel sites need to accept that they are part of the research process, and that customers will use their site for price and product comparison on a regular basis.
The key is to tempt them back when they are further along the purchase process.
Now, if someone wants the cheapest possible option, not every site can compete with Ryanair and Jet2.
However, they can make it easy for customers to research, provide content that complements the products, features like reviews, and generally provide an excellent customer experience that leaves a favourable impression.
Also, they can remember customers' previous selections and preferences for future visits to make it easier, as well as prompting users with abandoned basket emails.
What do you think? How can travel websites reduce abandonment? Or is this a natural part of the research process? Let me know below...