After the Wall Street Journal reported on Orbitz's hotel ranking algorithm showing higher-priced hotels to Mac users when compared to PC users, Orbitz CEO Barney Harford was not pleased. In fact, Tnooz wrote that he was on the "warpath against the Wall Street Journal" about the article.
Today, the CEO is still addressing questions about the company's hotel rankings by journalists such as myself who are mostly just interested in discussing how the algorithm determines what hotels rise to the top.
"Let's be crystal clear here," Harford said. "All customers see the same price for the same hotel, independent of customer. There is no price discrimination."
Mobile device differentiation
Device differentiation, the practice to deliver a different set of results for different devices, is nothing new or really that controversial. The WSJ article aside, the majority of journalists - and consumers - understand that the myriad factors that go into any listing of results.
21% of standalone traffic to Orbitz is coming through mobile, making it a significant and growing driver of business. Mobile also presents a different challenge, as Orbitz finds that 70% of this mobile traffic is for same-day bookings.
By taking device differentiation into account, Orbitz can more effectively parse inventory and deliver the customer the results they want for a given situation.
On a platform such as mobile, Orbitz can also deliver more price sensitive deals, such as the Orbitz Mobile Steals offering, that deliver the right product at the right time.
The necessity of delivering the best results is even more important as users tackle an overwhelming amount of travel information in their decision-making processes.
"900 hotels [for a given city] is overwhelming, and we believe that identifying the the more relevant hotels is most important. We make it easy to find."
Consumers are also either increasingly lazy or satisfied with Orbitz's algorithmic delivery: 25% of users book the very first hotel result, 50% book one of the top 5 hotels, and 90% book one of the hotels on the first page of listings.
By using the roughly 1.5 petabytes of data tracking consumer behavior, Orbitz can sift and target accordingly.
"For example if you're searching for a hotel room with kids, we're able to factor that in. We have a bunch of data of what other people with kids have chosen, and we can compare their expressed preferences" with other consumers.
Rather than relying only on behavioral tracking, Harford is also bullish on how opt-in personalization can impact their business.
"Give us some hints - tell us I don't want to see Embassy Suites, for example, or super-modern hotels" where the bathroom faucet doesn't stick out enough for wet hands to turn.
This discussion about opt-in personalization is framed by recent Atmos Research Group research that shows 4 out of 10 travelers are willing to share personal data in the interest of personalization and better-performing products. Given this information, companies like Orbitz are certainly on track - ask for opt-in, personalize results, and build loyalty as users increase trust in one central warehouse for their travel preferences.