NB: This is a guest article by Kieron Branagan, CEO of OpenJaw Technologies.
Order a book on AmazonÂ that you already own. What happens? Amazon reminds you politely that the book is in your possession and asks if really want to buy it again.
As you tut and berate your bad memory, the online retailing giant has just lost out on a sale.
Yet, using stored data about you and your purchasing habits, the store has acquired something much more valuable in the long term â€“ your trust.
In the face of some of the serious sales challenges presented in the 21st century, we believe that the travel industry needs to emulate this regard for customer relationships.
Using this insight, industry companies should inspired by online retailers like Amazon to develop a new concept, t-Retailing.
t-Retailing is a blueprint for effective travel retailing, focussing on each customerâ€™s complete travel needs — not least the need to trust their retailer –resulting in a greater share of their travel spend.
What is the first step to becoming a successful t-Retailer? Well, as a travel supplier, you should deem it unacceptable to offer your product with tacked-on ancillary offerings provided by white-label services.
If not, you risk your customer wandering off into cyberspace and never coming back. By using a white label provider for your ancillary selling, you are missing an important opportunity to gain the insight to address your customers individually.
Instead you need to own the relationships with your customers to mutually reap the benefits.
Key to this is to provide a complete, compelling and seamless online shopping experience via your website and other devices, such as mobile phones and tablets. Follow that up by adopting expert retailing strategies and successful outcomes will not be far away.
t-Retailing consists of the following four principles: inspiration, personalisation, differentiation and conversion.
Inspiration is all about increasing market awareness of your brand and product. To drive traffic to your site, foster a desire to travel, and stimulate shopping, you must create, curate and present compelling content.
To achieve this, you can use powerful tools such as dynamic calendar-based displays of product pricing and availability, plus location-based search and browsing capabilities.
This area is set to grow in importance. PhoCusWright research has shown that roughly half of discretionary travellers in developed markets do not have a set destination in mind when planning trips.
In fact, travellers show more interest in searching by budget, price and interest/activities than using the standard city pair/travel date search box.
Techniques like employing intelligent and searchable promotions can make a significant impact to inspiration by increasing the discoverability of relevant offers.
In the past, travel companies have been hindered by difficulties in featuring real-time pricing and availability in effective promotions. Now that these issues have been overcome, travel companies can make use of this powerful retailing technique.
Social networks and online communities provide significant opportunity for inspiring customers. Travel retailers must go where their customers are – for many Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are important channels.
Authentic recommendations made by friends and trusted people can impact whether a person selects your product or service, so travel retailers must embrace this channel by making it easy for people to hear and share reliable opinion.
The closer you get to communicating with a customer on an individual level, the more likely it is that person will make a purchase.
Understanding an individual buyerâ€™s behaviour and having insight into what and why that person buys helps convert lookers into bookers.
Travel companies are sitting on mountains of valuable customer data, such as saved preferences, past buying history and Loyalty Program membership.
This can be used to deliver improved personalised services. With appropriate analytical tools, this information can help predict current and future buyer behaviour.
Technology should also be context-aware and able to modify what is offered to an individual depending on how that individual is currently behaving online.
Everyone is a multi-faceted individual with myriad needs: for example, a regular business traveller can also be an avid skier and a parent with a young family. Customers exercise these different personas while shopping, as any long history of past interactions will show.
Understanding this better will help us make more relevant offers which will increase conversion rates and boost customer satisfaction.
What separates your offering from that of your competitors? This is a question all travel retailers should ask themselves regularly. To create and leverage your USPs (unique selling points), it is useful to consider:
- Offering a unique combination of supply from a collection of different suppliers.
- Sorting and biasing products (hotels, packages, tours) in a way that benefits your customers. Do not rely on the biasing algorithms of suppliers that have been written for their own business benefit or a different market segment.
- Exclusively contracting selected products, such as hotel properties. You should aim to provide some content which is unique or best value in the market.
- Real-time control of price, promotions and margins. This will enable you to pursue effective inventory management strategies, such as selling your premium inventory last at the highest price, in order to improve margins and increase profits.
Conversion refers to retailing strategies that increase booking volumes, as well as the value of each booking. Strategies include post-booking cross-sell, compelling cross-sell, up-sell, switch-sell and dynamic packaging.
We can learn much from our friends in the cruise industry, who have long been masters of the post-booking cross-sell.
They know well that there are many more customer touchpoints than simply the one where the customer made the booking.
Even after a person has already booked, there are still three or four possible customer touchpoints prior to travel, presenting opportunities for further compelling cross-sell.
For example, a customer who has booked a trip to Paris for the weekend is going to appreciate finding out about Seine river trips, just as much as an Amazon customer who bought a Dan Brown book will appreciate Amazon letting them know about the availability of his latest blockbuster.
To be a successful t-Retailer, it is crucial to keep in touch with the customer across their entire travel journey and maintain control of the booking path.
This way, you will maximise the commercial benefits from selling travel products online and satisfy your customers 21st Century needs.
t-Retailing provides a blueprint for thinking like a retailer and putting you on the road to travel retailing success.
NB:Â This is a guest article by Kieron Branagan, CEO ofÂ OpenJaw Technologies.
NB2: Laptop shopping basket image via Shutterstock.