What You Need to Know About the Traveler Buyer Journey

Wendy Kelly
Jan 22, 2016

You've got 50 milliseconds to make a first impression with your website.

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The way we shop and - in the end - buy things is changing, fast. 

Travel Buyer Journey 

You've probably bought something online, and you may even have the Starbucks app to let you buy your coffee with your phone. Perhaps you use Apple Pay or another similar mobile wallet.

In 2014, online sales surpassed the $300 billion mark. In ten years, from 2004 to 2014, sales increased from $72 billion to $300 billion.

It's not news that e-commerce is booming. But the rate of change and how it affects your business might be.

Travel Bookings Move to Mobile

Currently, according to eMarketer, 43.8% of US travel bookings are done online. By the end of 2016, over half of all online travel bookings in the US will be done via mobile phone.

Worldwide, the numbers are lower, with 55% of all retail browsing currently done via mobile but accounting for only 16% of total online sales.

When Users Don't Buy, There's a Simple Reason

The so-called "Buyer Journey" starts when a user becomes aware of your brand. Awareness leads to evaluation, which leads to shopping. This decision-making process occurs as the user interacts with you online and offline. Those experiences add up to either a choice to make a transaction and hopefully become a brand evangelist, or abandon their efforts and move on.

And, often buyers do abandon and move on. More so in the travel industry than elsewhere. In fact, the travel industry can expect an 81% cart abandonment rate, compared to a 68% rate overall.

When they abandon and move on, it overwhelmingly boils down to poor user experience.

And that poor user experience is often simply a slow website.In fact, 46% of users actually say that they won't return to a site that performs badly.

In a usability study performed by Radware in 2013, researchers found that a half second delay in connection speed resulted in a 26% increase in peak frustration and an 8% decrease in user engagement.

This frustration does not stay within the carefully construed bounds of the online experience, though. Sixty-five percent of users report that their opinion of a brand was affected by the online experience.

Anyone familiar with the Obama administration understands this intuitively. Remember "Healthcare.gov"? The poor performance of that site led to the perception of poor performance in the entire Obama administration.  

Feeling that a website is slow trickles into other areas of the experience and ultimately the brand itself. Users feel that the visual design of site is less good, that the navigation is less good, that, ultimately, they are not as safe and secure.

Fast and Primal

This is because much of the processing for these decisions happens fast, using the primal part of our brains that is subconscious. In fact, according to Dr. Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Business School, "95% of consumer decisions are made at the subconscious level."

We have approximately 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression with users coming to our website. That is about one 20th of a second.

This is not because we are raising a new generation of entitled, spoiled consumers who expect instant gratification and want ten of what you've got, yesterday.

It's About the Flow

The research into the flow we need for optimum human performance is decades old. It's not so much about impatience and more about our primitive ancestors and the expectations of how things ought to be as dictated by our primal brains. When things don't flow, we become subtly and unconsciously irritated, frustrated and upset. 

Conversely, when things do flow, we're happy and productive. We complete things.

If a user comes to your site and the experience seems instantaneous, they'll be able to perform all the cognitive processing needed to make good decisions (like booking a room in your hotel). In fact, Urs Holzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure at Google wants users to be able to go from one page to another as fast as they flick through pages in a book...something like 100 milliseconds. 

Now, that most likely seems impossibly fast from the point of view of trying to offer that to your visitors. But consider this scenario: You walk into a travel agency to book a room in a hotel. The agent picks up a catalogue of potential hotels and rooms to choose from and begins to flip through the catalogue for you...slowly. And not only slowly, but inconsistently. Honestly, try not to rip that catalogue out of their hands and smack them with it. Right?

Flow is a thing and it is important to your users.

It's a Buyers Market, Baby

Once you resolve to improve the flow of your site for your users, move on to the next step on the buyer's journey:

Travel purchases are price sensitive with larger than average price tags. This leads potential buyers to shop around and not buy on impulse. Sounds about right, doesn't it? 

It's not that travellers want the cheapest hotel, more that they want good value for money and are willing to shop around and use comparison sites to try to find the most up-to-date information available.

This means that the travel industry has definitively changed from a sellers market to a buyers market. To succeed from this point forward, you will need to get inside the mind of your guest and help them at each step along their journey as they move from awareness, to evaluation, to shopping, to the actual transaction to, finally, customer service and hopefully becoming brand evangelist.

Fragmentation, Frustration & Flow

The experience of What this means is that your ideal guest does not stay in one place, either offline or online, on their way to completing a booking with you at your hotel.

Users typically move between 2.6 devices on their journey to finally booking a hotel room. This doesn't even include the offline face-to-face time many buyers need before making a larger than usual purchase. 

If your brand can smooth out the edges of that typically fragmented experience, you can solve a few difficulties for the buyer: A less fragmented experience helps with flow, makes that buyer feel more secure online, lowers cart abandonment and eases frustration.

How can you achieve this? Through developing a sign-in strategy for your brand, across devices. Make sure, of course, to offer appropriate benefits along the way to encourage sign-ins, but by implementing this strategy, you'll go a long way to keeping the buyer on a straighter path to your checkout.

An added benefit is that your analytic data will be more complete. When the user "abandons the cart" on their phone while at work but then returns on a desktop device later that evening, there will be a seamless understanding that this was the same user making a single transaction.

Hidden Opportunity

Within this data about your buyers journey are a few hidden opportunities. First of all, most people are still more concerned with downtime than with slowtime. This is human nature. Think about how cavalierly we hop into our cars each morning and speed along highways, courting death. But travel by plane? Though safer by a large margin, many of us are afraid and will avoid if we can.

There's a similar dynamic with a slow versus down website. The statistics overwhelmingly show that if you focus on making your site fast and accept the inevitable (very occasional) downtime, you will save more money (or lose less money).  

Similarly, most brands still focus on telling everyone about themselves, without listening and talking to those who will ultimately buy from them. Learn that you are beholden to (and should be smitten by) your ideal guest, your end user, your buyer, and you have won a good part of the game.

In the end, focus on the user experience (i.e., not your experience) and you'll be well on your way to a better buyer journey. 

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