When you think of “e-commerce,” online retail sites like Amazon, eBay and Etsy probably first come to mind. But have you ever thought of your property’s website as an e-commerce site too?
E-commerce refers to commercial transactions that are conducted electronically over the internet, so if your hotel website processes bookings through an online booking engine then, technically, you should think of it as an e-commerce site, especially if your goal is to drive direct bookings.
Retailers have shaped consumer expectations of the online shopping experience. Today’s consumers are used to simple, seamless and secure shopping experiences online and hotel websites need to provide a similar booking experience to maximize conversions in an increasingly competitive hospitality industry.
Hotel websites must go beyond compelling visual design and great photos; a frictionless user experience is key to the success of any e-commerce site. So, start thinking about your property’s website from an e-commerce perspective and follow best e-commerce practices to ensure your website provides a simple, seamless, credible and supportive online shopping experience that turns lookers into bookers.
The most successful e-commerce sites keep things simple. Even online retail giants like Amazon that sell hundreds of thousands of products across a multitude of categories offer a straightforward and intuitive shopping experience.
Consumers prefer websites that are visually uncluttered and easy to navigate and understand. For hotel websites that means a clean, modern visual design, a clear USP (unique selling proposition), well-organized content (one topic per page), images that specifically support page content, prominent and relevant calls to action (CTAs) like “book now” and “view deals” buttons, and familiar menu formats for intuitive navigation.
The online booking engine must also offer a simple, intuitive user experience that guides users effortlessly through the booking process. Avoid overwhelming users with too many options and reduce the steps to complete a booking as much as possible by only asking for the minimum amount of information required to make a booking. Personalization is important here too; your online booking engine should recognize repeat customers and auto-complete information as appropriate to simplify the reservation process.
An uncomplicated path to booking is key to converting website visitors into paying guests.
A seamless user experience goes hand in hand with simplicity. It’s important to eliminate any obstacles to booking—you don’t want to give customers any excuse to bail. As mentioned above, simplicity helps pave the way to booking via an easily understandable and navigable website and online booking process.
As well, look at your website from a more technical perspective to ensure a seamless user experience that eliminates friction.
Ensure pages load quickly; approximately half of website visitors abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load. You can run your website through a page speed test (like Google’s PageSpeed Insights) to find out how your website performs and what you can do to make it faster—because every second really does count.
Today’s online consumers frequently switch between desktop and mobile devices (and browsers), so a website that functions optimally across devices is key to a seamless online user experience. A responsive website and booking engine automatically detects and adapts itself to the screen it is being viewed on, adjusting layout, content and functionality accordingly to present an optimal and consistent user experience on all screens.
In addition to being mobile friendly, your online booking engine should offer a branded experience with a similar look and feel to your website to create a seamless booking experience and gain customers’ trust. Even basic customization of your booking engine with your logo and background colour helps support credibility of your business (which brings us to the next point)…
Successful online retailers earn consumers’ trust by establishing credibility. Professional product images, customer reviews, contact information, payment and shipping policies, affiliation badges and secure URLs are all important elements of an e-commerce website that help gain customer confidence.
Make sure your hotel website demonstrates your property’s authenticity and reassures prospective guests that it’s safe to book direct online.
Do this by investing in a quality website design and professional, high-res images of your property (avoid stock photos) that accurately portray the stay experience. Include guest reviews throughout your site or on a dedicated page, and add social media icons to your header or footer that link to your social channels, to provide your customers with the social proof that will convince them to book with you. Most review sites and social media channels provide widgets that display a live feed of your reviews, ratings and posts directly on your website.
Display trust symbols like a TripAdvisor badge (if your property is doing well on TripAdvisor), and affiliation badges for any relevant memberships you have, for example, with your local Chamber of Commerce, lodging association or eco-friendly certification, to show you take your business seriously.
Make sure you’re providing your customers with a safe shopping experience with secure URLs (secure URLs begin with https rather than http), and that goes for your online booking engine too. Display a Best Rate Guarantee and make booking and cancellation policies readily available for customers.
Without easy and instant access to customer support, online shoppers are more inclined to abandon their shopping carts if they have a question about the purchase. The same goes for travelers booking accommodation online.
Live chat is a common element of e-commerce websites, allowing an agent to help customers via real-time messaging as they are shopping. Now, AI-based chatbots, which can handle basic queries well, are replacing live chat. An increasing amount of hotel websites successfully employ live chat or a chatbot to answer prospective guests’ questions and guide them down the purchase funnel.
Whether or not you use live chat or a chatbot on your property’s website, it’s crucial to display contact information—especially a phone number and email address—on every page of your website (ideally in the header) so that customers can reach out at any point. Including social media icons in your header too will catch those millennial customers who prefer to communicate with businesses through their social channels.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once a customer completes a booking through your website, continue to offer excellent customer support via booking confirmation and pre-arrival messaging that invites them to upgrade their stay, informs them of useful property information, or asks if they have any special requests. They’ll feel reassured about their choice to book with you, and you’ll have laid the foundation for a loyal customer relationship.
Much more than a pretty digital brochure, hotel websites today are highly functional e-commerce sites designed to drive direct online bookings. Make sure your hotel website engages proven e-commerce practices to maximize conversions.