Although not a user experience expert I have the benefit of having built many different ecommerce businesses.
In my view the front end is as critical as the back end functionality but it is always a very delicate and difficult balance to get right.
My attention was again drawn to the topic by Delta Airlines new website. Here is one of the most frequently used sites in travel ecommerce anywhere, but being kind to them it is a work in progress.
So what about just the user interface portion of travel websites? A few months ago I wrote another piece about the same idea… Are consumers getting tired of travel websites?
For travel, serving up the right mix of functionality for an ecommerce (as opposed to a pure content, although the rules apply to all) site can best be described as describing an iceberg from the surface in the dark wearing dark glasses.
The user experience always ends up in a battle with different people in the organization fighting to drive their point of view as the dominant one.
Keeping it relevant and interesting is actually a pretty hard thing to do. And everyone has an opinion…
One of the leading exponents of good design is Gerry McGovern.
He is also one of the few people who approach the issues from a holistic view which covers not just the screen interaction but also the other supporting parts of the experience such as the customer service via email, chat and call center.
If you go to the Wayback machine you can watch the evolution of most websites. I often do this when I am speaking to groups who are responsible for managing the interface to a user.
For example, Google’s search page is simplistic and clean, it has changed little over the years.
However, its iGoogle pages are the usual dog’s dinner of eye-straining attention-seeking elements.
Since I was there at the beginning, I look at the evolution of Expedia and each time they do a refresh I am happy to see they have clean up the clutter.
I love how the team in Bellevue cut corners and reuse content – sometimes inappropriately.
Until he last refresh they were re-using images of a small group of models as a call center person.
They didn’t always get the right ethnicity for the website. It was a tad tacky. I see that has essentially disappeared in the latest round of refreshes.
But with mobile now becoming a necessity not a luxury, there is the need to allow for the device to be from anywhere, using a plethora of different devices and browsers.
It is getting REALLY hard to deliver a consistent and working experience to the different users.
One tool I use to illustrate this is the Google Browser window sizer - it shows clearly what your community is missing.
Lately I have stopped using my regular browser (Firefox seems to not like me any more) and begun using four different platforms – Safari, Chrome, Opera and good old Internet Explorer.
So, yes, I do have favorites. I like the way search/meta search companies present their information – my favorite is Skyscanner. But I do wish they would go back to the original design. I loved that one.
I have more I dislike. I am not really a fan of Kayak’s interface, for example.
Among the online travel agencies, I still think that Orbitz does the best job. I love SeatGuru but have been disappointed since Expedia-owned TripAdvisor took over.
I hate the British Airways site. It is a pile of broken links and spaghetti. How they get customers to navigate is beyond me?
I dislike intensely Delta’s results server. They have no clue what I am about. I used to have airline favorites, but since they all went for further complication I find them actually harder to navigate.
I often have a horrible feeling that they are out to both confuse me. That lowers my trust in them.
My favorite OTA for the input screen is Cleartrip, and they are by no means perfect.
I hope that people will start re-thinking their whole approach and start thinking about what I call natural search as the driving force behind their designs.
We can now do this - the technology behind the scenes and access to the content easily allow for it.
So here are some suggestions for UX people when contemplating the user experience for travel websites.
1. Remember what your mission is for the site. To make a booking, for example
2. Stop throwing unnecessary and complex stuff at me. It does little other than to lower trust and annoy me.
3. Clarity. Make things clear please. Don’t make the monkey work hard for getting the treats.
4. Remember that time is money. If I have to spend lots of time using the site to save a few dollars then in real terms it is actually cheaper for me to call a travel agent and they do the work for me.
5. Tell me what is going on. Don’t assume I know. I love sites with breadcrumbing that tell me where I am in the process
6. Oh yes, finally, PLEASE KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Simple? Just ask the BBC. They removed many useless and unnecessary links and their new site is faster, more appropriate and, well, it just feels nicer (highly technical term, I know…)