Bye bye cookie: Expedia releases new innovations geared toward a post-Web future

The changing nature of the Web has been a hot topic in 2013. Namely, the evolution of Web-based interfaces alongside the growing consumer preference for mobile experiences without traditional cookie-based monitoring possibilities.

In addition to the rise of mobile, the cross-device future has clearly planted itself in the present, as consumers seek out brands that are able to provide seamless experiences regardless of device. That means that a search started on one device will port itself to another, allowing for instant uptake of that search no matter where a consumer does it.

At the annual partner event in Las Vegas, Expedia, Inc. shared more about how their portfolio of brands will be addressing these trends in 2014. While the following is focused more on brand Expedia, these insights nonetheless have applications and implications across their brands.

The cookie crumbles

The cookie has long been the way that companies tracked behavior on the Internet. By placing a small file on the user’s computer, websites glean specific information about that particular user’s patterns online. The rise of mobile has challenged this method, as cookies are not very effective, reliable or desirable in a mobile interface.

This means that digital advertisers and product managers have had to rethink the way that they engage mobile consumers – and thankfully, this has led to actual innovation as far as allowing consumers more choice and determination of their mobile futures. Brands must think about offering true value to their users, while also developing an opt-in interface that gives users control – and also increases engagement, as users are only opting in to information of personal interest.

Given these consumer preferences, Expedia is creating a codebase that performs as a singular platform across devices. Rather than having to code something up for each specific platform, the idea is that this codebase will perform regardless of platform.

This singular codebase concept means that the company can deliver supply irrespective of interface. And as the arrival of wearables like Google Glass introduce new interfaces, with their own advantages and limitations, this strategy allows the company to quickly deploy supply into emerging technologies, rather than having to re-engineer everything each time.

The company talks about this as “revolutionizing travel through the power of technology,” and the leader of this charge is Expedia’s SVP of Global Products John Kim.

On the low-end, you have devices like this [displays Samsung watch] where the screen resolution is even more important that you get it right. It’s very blocky, there’s limited space. As you can see, this is my next flight, so you can already see that we’re already optimizing for travel.

On the other end of the spectrum, the web browser is becoming even more powerful. So the experience on the Web are going to look more like apps, so the question is, how do you get your developers, instead of building 15 teams, that you build one team that builds one code base that can operate across all platforms.

So that’s a big item for us in 2014: efficiency and building really compelling front-end experiencecs that operate off any particular interface. None of those interfaces are the same, and the input modes are different and the presentation’s different, and what you showcase is different.

Scratchpad, a result of this post-cookie thinking

One result of the evolution of Expedia’s product thinking has been Scratchpad, a save-it-all repository of everything a user has searched on any device. As long as they’re logged in, their search history is saved.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.45.06 AM

This history can then be used to re-search as needed – say if the research phase has transitioned into the purchase phase. The user can also ask Expedia to send “notes,” which keep the user appraised of price changes, promotions and other important information related to previous searches.

Expedia’s John Kim:

The second thing you’ll see from us is that our focus is all about live data. Can we give you the live data you need at the time you need it. Simple innovations, in terms of Scratchpad, in terms of intinerary sharing, in terms of recommendations, that’s all about making data the product. And our recommendations technology is all about taking all of that data nd simplifying it for you. So if I just understand, just for one moment what you want, it makes our algorithm better every time you use it. And if we make our algorithm smarter every time you use it, then that’s your competitive advantage.

That’s what your product is. And then you don’t care what the interface is, because the interface will change on you to be better and simpler.

We’ve launched a number of those things this year, and next year it’s about tuning those things.

Scratchpad also ties into a new supplier-facing product, Expedia Partner Central, which encourages partners to offer special promotions targeted to different demographics. The idea being that a bit of opacity is always preferred by suppliers who want to target specific demographics with specific deals.

By rolling this out alongside a traveler-facing feature like Scratchpad, Expedia is also angling to boost conversions of these new promotion tools. A potential customer who had viewed a hotel with Scratchpad enabled would then, if they have “notes” selected, would get a notification that that hotel now had a special promotion. So now, the value proposition becomes more differentiated in the minds of consumers selecting OTAs – search once, and let Expedia do the rest.

The future of travel is most definitely down this path. Travelers don’t necessarily want to search a dozen sites once they are ready to purchase; this wide net is a satisfying part of the overall travel research experience, and will no doubt continue. But when a traveler wants to buy, having a record of their research has immense value if they’re also notified of price changes and promotions.

Machine learning brings better user experience through live data

Kim also speaks religiously about how data is the product that they are actually selling – a shift in thinking that surely comes from Kim’s position as the lead of the tech innovation product arm. Granted, traditional thinking is that supply is the product – travel companies upload inventory, and the OTA sells said inventory.

The company says it is “moving from a marketing channel to a living marketplace,” where the company can target travel in a living, breathing way.

However, if the company begins to aggregate available user behavior patterns to prioritize and personalize search results, thus resulting in higher conversions and more revenue for partners, the data becomes an essential component of the product being sold to suppliers.

This is an essential development, as OTAs have two customers – the traveler and the supplier paying commission for sales to travelers – they must iterate products that are wins all around.

Expedia’s VP of Media Solutions Noah Tratt puts it this way: “Test and learn is pretty much behind everything we do these days.”

One of the products launched in 2013 that the company will be iterating is the Flight Recommendations product.

Any given flight search can have hundreds of potential combinations, so the company is working to solve that equation by using the data gleaned from past patterns to deliver a more targeted set of search results to each user – and then allowing them to search according to different conventional categories, like price.

Expedia’s John Kim once again, on the transformative power of machine learning:

Instead of making more noise, we only send out the most relevant data so that the user is more likely to act on the data.

So Flight Recommendations will get better because we have machine learning technology behind it so that when the next user uses it, it improves. Scratchpad is all about collecting that data server side, and then presenting it to you when you give me permission. When you’re in shopping mode, you don’t want to come back to the website and shop every day. I should just push you what you find interesting. And you don’t even need to give it to me because the algorithms figure it out for you.

All regional information is implied. For example, I can tell with 85% certainty that if you search for hotels from Seattle I know the three destinations more than likely that you’re searching for: Portland, Vancouver, or within Seattle. 85% certainty on any given day. So why wouldn’t I use that to my advantage?

Of course, we use all of that information to our advantage to be able to present to you the simplest results that are highly predictive and anticipate your needs.

But then what we have to do is give ourselves room to be wrong. If for whatever reason we are wrong, we have to give four other ways to correct it. So you’ll see in our interface that we’ll keep changing and anticipate what we think is your next move. And even when you leave the site, how do we connect with you and give you the right thing – even later in the day.

Perhaps the most revealing statement from Expedia’s product guy is that these products are all geared towards a post-web future: “You have to think about the future of Expedia as having no website at all.”

NB: Author was a guest of Expedia, Inc for their annual partner event in Las Vegas.

NB2: Cookie image courtesy Shutterstock.

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick helps brands blog better at Ghost Works, a boutique blog management service. Nick was previously the Director of Content for tnooz, where he oversaw the editorial and commercial content as well as producing/hosting tnoozLIVE.



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  1. Eric Steckel

    Thanks for sharing this, and for the great insights in the comments section. My takeaway might be rather elementary: Sites like Expedia and the end user both benefit when a very valuable “agreement” is made by the two parties. Expedia will provide the end user with a better, individually tailored product IF the end user agrees to participate and provide them with the data necessary to make that product. As I’ve discussed this issue in another forum, it’s interesting to see how willing most of us are to participate in the agreement for the benefit of an improved online and mobile experience.

    It’s interesting to read the discussion below about Facebook versus Google as a universal login. It does indeed seem to be a battle royal. I’m curious about the last bit, though, on a post-web future: “You have to think about the future of Expedia as having no website at all.” I’m not entirely sure I make that leap of thought. Anyone care to offer up an explanation?

  2. Fernando Rodriguez Merino

    Daniel, I agree that there is an obvious competitive advantage for Google on the evolving multi-screen arena that would be very difficult to beat even by Facebook, but what I think that Mark and CKdesign are refeering to is the opportunity that third party websites to use it with Google+ Sign-in api, used now for services like Opentable or non travel like Soundcloud. Google is already cross-platform but they need to evolve in visibility and engagement, a matter of time i think

  3. Ajay Arora

    As we all no there is no loyalty in Travel, this is a big “if” for this no cookie tech to work… Google has achieved to do it as it provides an email service which Expedia doesn’t offer…. All the best Expedia!

  4. JC

    F off. Why do you have the “NEED” at all to track what I’m doing or thinking other than some continual lame attempt at marking up a product that can be bought for less? Eliminate the OTA’s. Sell it directly. Works for Apple. Works for anybody who is willing to truly compete.

  5. Alex Bainbridge

    What was
    Shop. Login. Book
    Is now
    Login. Shop. Book.
    Ideal if you want to start promoting NDC powered flight bookings as you need the login prior to shopping for that to work, I think.

    • Mark Lenahan

      IATA have resolved that NDC will include anonymous shopping, and will continue to work if you are logged in or not. I think the carrot to log in is that if the airline happens to know you get certain benefits (e.g. a free bag because of your tier), clearly you’d like any comparative pricing to reflect that fact.

  6. Daniele Beccari (@danbec)

    Using a logged-in user session is one of the alternatives to multi-device and no-cookie world, and guess who already nailed it years ago? Google, with Gmail, maps, Android and Chrome. If you use a Google account, all of the above is already happening.

    The other company who tried – hard, and is still trying, is Facebook.

    Robert Scoble defined this “the technology battle of the century. The battle to own our digital identities”.

    • Mark Lenahan

      Totally agree – and I think things like the device OS and chrome browser help Google achieve this effect. But it is still surprising to me how many online retailers and other B2C apps / tools / sites, have a “Login with Facebook” button (or Twitter) but no “Login with Google+”. I’m not sure why. Is the API more difficult or are there commercial reasons for companies not to do it or is it just a matter of priority of FB active users vs G+?

      • ckdesign

        The reason some sites don’t use G+ is two fold.

        The fist is cost to maintain – API’s are usually cheap and getting started is fairly simple, but if a company has invested time into building a fallowing on FB and twitter and made investments in top tier API access, any user who prefers G+ is going to be offended if the company doesn’t invest the same amount of effort in maintaing a G+ page.

        Second reason, which also impacts the first- G+ uptake has been slow. Google has been begging people to use it for years, which has soured peoples view of the service. Recently Google attempted to force people to use it which created even more resistance.

        So if your a company that cares about social media presence, you probably would need to take the two above reasons into account when calculating potential sales v.s. cost of investment when choosing to support G+.

        • Daniele Beccari

          @Mark & ckdesign
          This is not about G+. Forget G+.
          This is about all your other touch points with Google. And there are plenty: from Gmail to Chrome, to Gmaps, Calendar, Android, and of course Search, not forgetting Analytics and AdSense.


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