Originally published on The Drum, August 2nd 2019
When the internet came along and changed… well, pretty much everything… one of the most explosive and dramatic transformations was the realm of commerce and sales. All of our traditional paradigms for buying things were challenged, and the world wide web became host to a digital high street which was virtually unmatched. With more flexible pricing and carefully crafted journeys, online stores, in competition with each other, became increasingly adept at selling in this brave new world.
And that’s a trend which has continued and still continues to this day – incremental, small performances in user-experience design and performance can be very big business to some of the major players in the e-commerce space.
And while the online shopping model was being gradually refined and became extremely competitive… In some ways the idea of bookings always seemed to lag behind.
Which is strange, when you really think about it. Depending on the nature of your business, your bookings are your sales. And while we’ve come a long way, from needing to send a messenger in person or going to a venue physically in advance, on to telephone lines and requesting bookings that way, and finally now into the connected world of the Internet… It still feels like there’s some way left to go, for most businesses.
It’s evident how far there still is to go, in the way that some start-ups are able to capitalise on a good booking experience as a unique selling point. Among it’s attributes, the popularity of Uber can be partially attributed to how easy it is to book something. Airbnb is a huge challenge to the traditional bed-and-breakfast model not just because of the core conceit – staying in people’s homes – but because it allows you to book those homes so smoothly. The same basic idea with a weaker booking process would not be anywhere near as successful, and people have tried.
In the hotel space, which is something Etch are very familiar with, we’re only just now starting to see hotels focusing on great booking journeys. Mostly in response to companies like Airbnb, but also big players like booking.com who are mainly trading on being easier to use than going direct to a hotel. Losing those direct sales can be a pretty big difference in terms of commission, and also gives your customers a chance to potentially choose a hotel which isn’t yours at all.
Where online bookings exist for hotel brands, if they exist at all, they can often be a poor experience for users. They can be confusing – whether because you’re jumping from one domain to another, or there’s a jarring lack of design parity between your website and a widget you’ve embedded. That confusion breeds doubt, especially around security, which is something users are increasingly conscious of. What’s more, these “off the shelf” solutions which you can embed directly are often based on generic, lowest-common-denominator behaviour. Which is to say, they do the basics adequately, but can’t then be customised enough. So where’s the room for what makes your offering unique?
Using best-in-breed solutions to various challenges, we integrate with a number of third parties to make bespoke, truly-integrated booking systems. We’ve got experience doing that with a number of hotels, and the results speak for themselves.
And I’m not just talking about hotels – restaurants use bookings. Event venues use bookings. Cinemas use bookings. And we’ve all probably got horror stories about trying to get tickets or a seat at the most popular things in town. We book appointments, exams, transport, collections, and meetings. I even booked myself some time to write this blog.
All of these areas (and more) are ripe for improvement, evolution and refinement.
Maybe that’s something you’re interested in – an untapped source of higher conversions and better revenue for your business, as well as an opportunity to delight and engage your customers and leave them with a positive impression of your business.
Well, then how? How do you get from here, to there?
Our goal as an agency is always to push what might be possible, in terms of output. We call it, getting further, faster. We’re always available to talk about this ideology and how it might manifest as seriously impressive results for you, so if that’s something of interest, please get in touch. But whether you partner with Etch or not, here are the key ingredients you’ll need to succeed.
1. Talent & Experience: Firstly, there’s just no substitute for it – having an astute, experienced team is a must. We’ve got some very knowledgeable people on our team, who have years of real world experience delivering booking systems for top brands. If you’re going to transform your booking journey, you need a team. Competent developers, user-focused designers, and people who can wrangle it all and keep it organised!
2. Specialise in integrations: In addition to being good, your team will also need to be keenly focused on integrations. The way we make this work at Etch is to have an entire team dedicated to complex integration work, and it pays dividends. When we talk about bespoke booking systems, we’re not usually talking about re-inventing any wheels – it’s about bringing together the best available systems for your needs and making them all talk to each other, in synergy, along with the bespoke interface that we’ve built. For a hotel client for example, it’s typical that we would combine a suitable room booking platform, with a table booking system, and a booking system for spa treatments. No need to make customers do three separate journeys – it can all be seamless, and displayed on your domain, in your brand, with our UX thinking to help maximise your sales.
3. Be in it for the long term: It’s all well and good having a plan for how to “get there”, but it’s actually the wrong mindset to have in the long term. The mindset you need to have is about staying there. This means continuously working on your booking solution – reviewing user feedback, analytics, and your competitors in order to ensure that your offering is the most delightful, usable and efficient. And of course, making sure it’s working – systems with lots of moving parts need maintenance, they need upgrades and the peace of mind that comes from having a support team on hand. At Etch, our approach to this is again, a focused team who’s remit is based around not just getting you further, faster – but keeping up the pace.
Where will you go?
Whether you’re a restaurant, a cinema, or a hotel – the gauntlet is being thrown down. The web is an ever-changing, highly competitive landscape, and you (along with your competitors) are going to be taken on a journey as it continues to change. If you want to have some control over where you end up, online bookings are your best weapon.
Make sure you know how to wield it.
Thanks for reading today’s blog! If you’d like to chat about any of these concepts further, please do get in touch. We’re always happy to find time to chat about our work in this space, and proud to talk about our accomplishments.