Comment: From superhighway to supermarkets

Comment: From superhighway to supermarkets

Customer flows are the new battleground  ‘Build the roads and they will come,’ says Steve Endacott, owner of Endacott Enterprises and chairman of Teletext Holidays

I seem to have gained the habit of explaining my web concepts through a ‘supermarket’ analogy.

In my opinion, too many companies focus their attention on re-arranging shelves and placing special offers rather than worrying about building roads to their supermarket or where repeat customers might most-conveniently park.

The online travel agency (OTA) sector seems to have reached a slowdown in terms of site innovation, with most sites following the same booking flow and offering identical products.

The key battlefield now is about who can generate the most cost-effective customer flows or ‘roads’ to their site.

Brand remains the key differentiator, as this allows OTAs to avoid expensive Google advertising.

However, what other low-cost or high-converting traffic options are there?

Affiliate traffic from price comparison or review sites is undoubtedly the most reliable source of traffic outside of Google, in terms of cost and quality of leads.

Most OTAs work closely with sites like TripAdvisor, Travel Supermarket, Trivago and Cheapflights.

However, the recent move to mobile has raised question marks over the effectiveness of some of these ‘cost per click’ pass-through sites. This is because they charge the same rate for lower quality mobile leads as for higher quality desktop leads, even though the conversion is much lower.

The volumes of customers travelling the Facebook superhighway are massive, yet so far few players have effectively managed to divert traffic via the off ramps to their ‘supermarkets’.

The consensus seems to be that traditional advertising via social media channels is ineffective, with customers rarely interacting within a social environment with what they regard as ‘impersonal brands’.

I believe cruise site is leading the way in utilising Facebook by adopting an approach where its 109 home workers have become the ‘face’ of the brand.

These individuals, rather than a central marketing department, drive all activity under their own names.

They are the ‘social brand’, interacting with their personal customer bases via blogs, posts and Facebook pages, with the brand as a kite mark for quality.

Cleverly, each activity is linked back to the ‘mother ship’ website, with staff paid ‘social media revenue’ – on which they earn commission – for driving traffic.

In turn, this income is invested in Facebook ‘boosts’ to increase the prominence of posts or in traditional Google pay-per-click (PPC) or Facebook advertising of personal names and blog sites.

The move to mobile is also prompting a different approach to engaging with customers during the booking process.

The advent of ‘co-browsing’ technologies is allowing call-centre agents to drive the search process for customers and to make online recommendations.

It’s very early days for this type of technology, but the increase in conversion levels it promises could be significant.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my new focus on consulting is the ability to engage with a wide range of companies and bright people.

The rapid migration to mobile platforms presents many challenges, but as with every market disruption it also offers wonderful opportunities for innovation and game-changing new approaches.

The UK travel sector is again becoming a very interesting place to work.


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