To misuse classic works like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a common subterfuge for bloggers and hacks, so I will admit to being one of those.
Recently there is a lot of discussion in the travel community about fragmentation and transparency of the web.
Fragmentation is a complete anathema to centrally controlled distribution systems. Indeed, the web undone a lot of central controlling players within industries that depended on them - insurance, real estate and, of course, travel are good examples.
I recall when some of my ex-colleagues at Expedia, Messrs Barton and Co, started Zillow they likened real estate to their prior experience in travel.
The web is almost by definition about the freedom of information to all. Yet there are still many who feel it is their god given right to attempt to control information and the access to it.
In becoming the gatekeeper to information, Google has done a pretty good job in exposing the access to all information - but only in their formats and especially on their terms.
I think we can all express some frustration that in doing any form of internet-based search it is a often thoroughly unhappy experience.
We have to fight to sift through the dross before we get to the nuggets. Not only that, we have to sift through the advertising and the “spun” information nuggets that so often leave us feeling unfulfilled - just like drinking a Lite beer.
Google does just enough to be useful but never quite enough to make search really work. I know they are trying and it is really a very hard thing to do – still I just wish I could get better results rather than just good enough.
And, yes, I do think Google should do a better job. I am convinced that they don’t just quite try hard enough, there are too many other bright and shiny objects for them to focus on than doing the core thing better.
Fragmentation in travel was a bête noir for those who like the simple, easy life.
The cries of foul that come from those who love the legacy GDSs seem to ring hollow when we examine that the GDSs have long failed to provide ubiquitous access to product.
In the arguments expressed in the recent Washington hearings, I didn’t hear anyone talk about summoning Ryanair to discuss why they don’t participate in anything other than direct distribution channels, nor was there any mention of why Southwest or other airlines withhold some of their content and make private arrangements as a matter of course.
Indeed, the footprint of the GDSs has slowly shrunk over time. There are now so many who want to put their products and services – note I didn’t use the word content here – into different places.
It comes with the overall requirement for some to make their pricing and services as opaque as possible.
There is really a myth that a true comparative shopping capability exists. It doesn’t!
There is the famous quote by a senior Sabre executive last year who blamed another vendor – Farelogix – for causing and indeed promoting fragmentation.
But in truth fragmentation has always been there. How long, for example, has Southwest been in business?
Interestingly, consumers are now amplifying their adoption of these fragmented distribution mechanisms.
The consumer has always taken his time to make a purchase decision and he feels it's his right to look shop and think in as many places as he wants.
The value of Britain’s Which and the Consumer Reports in the US are good cases in point. The classic example I use is of someone in New York who passes by a display of underwear at Bloomingdales (Bloomies Undies) and yet goes and purchases the aforesaid garments at Target or K-Mart.
Should the latter point of purchase then pay the former for marketing?
Yet in effect that is what some people espouse on the web. Today, consumers are taking different approaches to the various forms of communication from their suppliers/sellers.
An interesting study from ExactTarget and quoted by eMarketer illustrates the way consumers are using email, Twitter and Facebook.
In essence, there are several factors of how consumers feel about the channel based on their desires and age (I suspect).
Indeed, the study states that there is little cannibalization among the three channels - however, there is significant overlap. Email is still the channel of choice. According to the study, 94% of daily email users subscribed to marketing messages.
These days I am fighting to limit what I have, by disposing of some in order to allow new ones in is very hard.
Similarly about two-thirds of daily Facebook users were brand fans. I have always found that concept really a tough one to comprehend.
What constitutes a brand “fan” vs someone who admires a brand is hard. Usually there is an expectation that being a brand fan will get you a freebie.
Of the Twitter nutters, about four in ten daily Twitter users followed a company or brand. Twitter should be a great vehicle to push out promos but how do you selectively sign up?
You cannot do that – you have to probably use email. Even then its so hard to undo. Twitter appeals most to consumers who want to feel up to date and in the know.
This still makes me feel that Twitter is as much of a fad rather than a long term channel in its own right.
Yes, fragmentation is now a part of our daily life. Let’s just sit back and enjoy it. We can think of personal and central ways to cope with it. Perhaps one day a true shopping automated bot will do my hard work for me.
Until then, I will continue to use my experience and, of course, Google (begrudgingly) to get what I want. Besides its actually quite a lot of fun to beat the system!
NB: Grab from Pixar's short film Lifted.