Consumers want Amazon to be a travel booking site – what can hotels learn?
By Steffan Berelowitz, VP of Digital Platforms at Travel Tripper and Pegasus Solutions
Amazon dominates the world of e-commerce. Could it do the same in online travel bookings? Consumers would happily use the platform to book their travel plans if given the chance, according to a recent survey by flight travel intelligence company OAG.
This result is particularly impressive considering that the second most favored option was Facebook, which only received 14% of the vote. Pinterest (2%), Twitter (3%), and Instagram (4%) all lagged way behind, gaining minimal interest.
Why was Amazon considered so much more appealing as a travel booking platform? In the following post, we'll address that point while analyzing some of the specific lessons hotels can learn from Amazon's way of doing business.
The mass appeal of Amazon
While social platforms are heavily used for trip planning and inspiration, the OAG survey indicates that travelers are far less keen to use them as booking platforms. Arguably, concerns over data security are an issue. In light of Facebook's data-harvesting scandal, it's fair to assume that consumers would have concerns about handing over their credit card details.
In contrast, millions of consumers see Amazon as a place to buy with confidence. In fact, a new survey by NPR/Marist found a huge 67% of US online shoppers had "quite a lot" or "a great deal" of trust in Amazon to protect their privacy and personal information. This figure was significantly higher compared with the level of trust towards online retailers in general.
Alongside its rock-steady credibility, Amazon makes shopping easy and gives customers unrivaled levels of choice and convenience. These qualities readily translate to the travel booking sphere, so perhaps it's no coincidence that Amazon was seen as an appealing alternate provider in this space.
All of this leads to an important question: what specific strategies underpin Amazon's success, and what can hotels learn from its customer service and core e-commerce principles?
1. Personalized shopping
Amazon has mastered the ability to anticipate customer needs and personalize the shopping experience. The company's recommendation system now runs on a totally new machine-learning infrastructure that allows it to learn the unique preferences of each customer with even greater precision.
Based on customer data such as previous browsing history and spending habits, Amazon integrates tailored content into virtually every aspect of its purchase process. Recommendations are neatly bundled into lists, including "Inspired by your browsing history", "Related to items you viewed", and "Frequently bought together".
These bundled suggestions encourage additional purchases, serving as an easy-to-digest shopping list among Amazon's vast product range. This helps to simplify and speed up the shopping process, ultimately leading to more conversions.
Takeaway for hotels:
Most hotels feature the same content on their website to all of their visitors. This means that every potential guest gets an identical experience, regardless of their unique needs and preferences. Yet without the need for huge investment, hotels can personalize their own websites to offer a tailored user experience.
Website personalization technology allows hotels to intelligently customize their website messaging based on criteria such as a user's previous online interactions, buying intent, and stage in the booking journey. With context-aware integrations, visitors are more likely to convert because the online experience is no longer rigid but designed around them.
Just like Amazon, hotels can also smooth the path to purchase by minimizing choice to make the decision-making process easier. For instance, rather than showing all available rooms, rates and added extras in one page, these options can be staggered across separate pages on the hotel website to prevent customers feeling overwhelmed.
2. Buying made simple
Amazon make shopping fast and frictionless. Consumers can easily find the products they love, and buy them with minimal fuss. This is underpinned by the company's friction-killing tactics that are designed to reduce cognitive overload and increase conversion rates.
These tactics include removing avoidable steps between browsing and buying, pre-selecting options to help consumers with choices, and allowing customers to carry on where they left off during a previous session.
Amazon's 1-click purchase system also helps to reduce the odds of shopping cart abandonment by allowing customers to buy with just one click. This instant purchasing removes the hassle of entering billing details, thus eliminating another potential barrier in the buying process.
Takeaway for hotels:
Hotels need to make the checkout process fast and simple. Think about things from the perspective of your guest: if they're used to 1-click purchasing from companies such as Amazon, they'll likely balk at having to fill out long-winded booking forms. Keep the amount of information you ask for to a minimum.
In addition, try to reduce the amount of pages and clicks needed to go from browsing to booking. Unnecessary extra steps represent an invitation to abandon a purchase. It's also worth setting the most popular room/rate options as the default to simplify the booking process.
3. Exceptional customer service
Amazon prides itself on offering exceptional customer service. In fact, it's embedded in the company culture—not just as a method to solve problems, but to anticipate customer needs and evolve its range of services.
In a 2016 letter to Amazon shareholders, the company's founder and CEO Jeff Bezos talked about having a "customer-obsessed culture" and that happy customers are "always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied".
This desire to constantly improve the customer experience is integral to the way Amazon innovates, leading to new services such as Amazon Prime, their unlimited One-Day Delivery option, Amazon Fresh, and the Dash ordering button—all of which ensure that customers get the products they want with convenience and speed.
Amazon's customer service team also has a track record of going beyond the call of duty to surprise and delight. In an interview last year, Amazon's former long-time executive Jeff Holden explained how one Christmas, a customer traveling to Russia contacted Amazon's customer service team "worried sick" her presents weren't going to arrive there on time.
As Holden recalls, "We spent probably $500 or $600 to overnight her $1,000 worth of gifts, and she was so completely blown away that she couldn't stop saying,'Oh my god, you saved my Christmas!'"
Takeaway for hotels:
Great customer service doesn't require endless financial resources. One of the most important things hotels can focus on is having better communication with guests. Contact guests with pre-arrival emails or questionnaires to find out the reason for their stay, and discover if they have any specific requirements.
Simple things such as remembering a guest by name, periodically checking they're happy during their stay, and responding to complaints with an effective service recovery policy can all help your hotel maintain brand credibility, build rapport and earn their repeat business.
4. Social proof is crucial
Social proof is baked into the Amazon shopping experience. Every product is accompanied by prominent customer reviews and star ratings so consumers are given the confidence to buy without needing to validate their decision elsewhere online.
Amazon also uses the highly effective "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" call to action to incentivize additional purchases. This messaging is based on something called market basket analysis (MBA), which analyzes relationships between the combinations of products people buy in a transaction.
This serves to prompt additional purchases based on the actions of like-minded others—yet another great conversion-driving tactic.
Takeaway for hotels:
Amazon's relentless focus on social proof is one that all hotels can adopt. And there are no end of ways to use social proof on your hotel website.
Feature guest reviews throughout your website to add booking confidence. Include testimonials, review site widgets, and star ratings to add additional validation from past guests. If your hotel is working with influencers, you could also feature their content on your hotel website to raise your profile as visitors move closer to a booking decision.
5. Endless testing
Test, test, and test again. Amazon carries out thousands of usability experiments on its website each year through its "Weblab" experimentation system. Even though it has an incredibly refined user experience, the company understands that standing still is not an option.
This dedication has led Amazon to make some invaluable changes. For instance, it increased its annual profits by tens of millions of dollars after moving credit card offers from its home page to its shopping cart page. The Amazon mindset is that there is always room to refine and improve, and it's this granular approach that helps it stay ahead in a hyper-competitive online shopping space.
Takeaway for hotels:
While you might not have the resources to test every element of your hotel's website, you can make major improvements by focusing on the elements likely to drive the most conversions.
Start by checking out your Google Analytics reports (particularly the User Flow analysis) to see which pages have the highest bounce rates. Next, run A/B tests on different variations of a given page to see which changes lead to improvements. This might involve simplifying the design by adding a progress bar, testing different images, or adding a more prominent call-to-action button.
The point is to keep making incremental changes until you've found the conversion sweet spot.
Amazon as a travel player?
Amazon has been here before. Back in 2015, it launched, and then swiftly shut down, its travel booking site, Amazon Destinations! It also decided to stop selling hotel rooms through the now defunct Amazon Local. While there are no obvious signs it wants to reignite its interest in travel bookings, it would be foolish to imagine it might not try again.
Amazon's popularity in the OAG survey is perhaps most useful as a guide to other travel brands — a hint at the kind of experience consumers want when they book trips and accommodation. By working with the right technology partner, your hotel can use the latest techniques and tools to create a website based on some of Amazon's key principles, helping you to inspire your guests, anticipate their needs, and provide a great online experience that makes it easy for them to browse and buy.
Steffan is the VP of Digital Platforms at Travel Tripper and Pegasus Solutions where he oversees the website and digital marketing services for hotel customers. A pioneer in all things web and mobile, Steffan has spent more than 20 years in online services and technology. He was formerly founder of Bluetrain.More from Steffan Berelowitz
The new Pegasus is a game changer for hotels, combining innovative technology with five-star support to give hoteliers more control over their revenue and distribution strategy than ever before. Following a recent merger with Travel Tripper, Pegasus now enables hoteliers to better connect with their guests through an innovative and flexible platform of Reservations, E-commerce, Global Sales, and Business Intelligence solutions that help hotels drive demand and maximize revenue and profitability. With more than 30 years of experience in global distribution, Pegasus serves hotels across 120 countries from eight offices worldwide in New York, Scottsdale, Las Vegas, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Hyderabad. For more information, visit pegs.com or follow them on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.