January is a pretty dismal month, rubbish weather, festive season well and truly over and summer sunshine still a long way off – so I thought I’d cheer myself up by booking a weekend away in the capital.
I decided to check out PCA Customer, GLH Group who describe themselves as ‘an exclusive collection of deluxe and unique London hotels’. For most of us, myself included, staying in a luxury hotel in England’s capital is a real treat and expense, so from the moment you choose to book, a luxury user experience is a must.
In a recent survey PCA Predict polled online consumers on what they expected to see when making a direct hotel booking online. The top five results are below, no surprises, but it’s scary how these basics can still be missed even by the leading hotel brands.
- Professional photographs
- Hotel facilities clearly listed
- Simple booking forms
- Secure online payment
- Access to customer reviews
For the sake of this review, I’ve focused on the top four user expectations: professional photography, facilities listed, simple booking forms and secure online payment.
A warm welcome
The web design itself might not be the most exciting in the world, however sometimes beautiful basics is all you need. From the minute you arrive on the Guoman website you are presented with large and professional shots – all designed to give you a sense of the luxury that awaits. A good start for ticking off the first on the survey list. However I would say that more could be done to bring out the facilities – you have to click through a few layers to see the detail, good practice is not to make the user work too hard else they could easily lose interest.
A good user journey starts here…
The type of stay you might consider is clearly sign posted and the main call to action is positioned where you would expect it, top right, on the homepage, shouting ‘Start here!’.
As well as the standard hotel list, check in and checkout search function, a nice additional feature is the ability to search via destination or postcode – great for business bookers who may want to find a hotel nearest the conference they are attending. The ability to serve up the most the most relevant content based on the current location of your potential guest improves user experience, especially for on the go mobile bookers.
Remembering not one hotel guest is the same goes a long way – especially for customers not familiar with the area. With this in mind the Guoman allows you to choose to search by specific hotel or across the city, the results can then be viewed in a list-view or by map. My personal preference is to view by map – I like to know where I am in the world, and how far from travel hubs/tourist attractions I’ll be based – especially for a city break.
The international user has been well considered too, hotel results can also be filtered by currency as well as price – for big city hotels this is essential.
For each hotel result the level of detail can’t be faulted. There are large quality images, videos, room descriptions, fact sheets, food and drink, offers, maps and directions, even local tourist attractions – they’ve really thought of it all. Some would say this level of detail can be distracting from the main call to action, however, Guoman have set the link to this information to open in a new tab so original search results aren’t lost.
Are we nearly there yet?
Any good web designer will know that once in the ‘checkout’ process the user wants it over quickly. Steps to completion should be clearly labeled and kept to a minimum, three or four at the most, any longer and you risk frustrating your potential customer.
Once you’ve selected your hotel, step two of the process takes the visitor to room choice which can be filtered by rates or packages, there’s even the option to view the dinner menu’s. Just like the home page, the user journey and call to action is clear with ‘Book Now’ appearing immediately next to the selection. The Guoman have done a really good job of taking the user down a clear path to conversion, whilst at the same time displaying how far along the booking process they are.
Be our guest
Although not on the survey list of top UX features expected on a hotel booking website, I was really impressed that account registration isn’t forced. It is requested via gentle persuasion with the promise of speeding up future bookings – the right kind of incentive, especially if the potential guest is a business traveler who is likely to visit again. Just like retail ecommerce, hotel websites can’t afford to force a potential guest into creating an account as this one of the biggest blockers to conversion.
The bill please…
Most people debate for days if not weeks on where to book their vacation, so ensuring that the actual booking and payment process is as user friendly as possible will ensure that you don’t lose your potential customer at the last hurdle.
You may recall that I picked The Guoman Hotel as they were a PCA Predict Customer – meaning the payment forms would be quick and easy to complete because of address lookup and auto-complete.
Online consumers have told us that simple forms are a must, over 80% of consumers abandon their reservation because of lengthy and complicated forms, hotel’s who keep booking forms easy to complete will be the conversion winners. Research also shows that inaccurate data has a direct impact on the bottom line of 88% of companies, so address validation is the cherry on top for any hotel who is looking to improve user experience, conversion rates and data quality.
On a side note, I did spot that the Guoman allows you to book on behalf of someone else, address verification is particularly handy here if you don’t know the full billing address.
The final confirmation button is where you would expect, at the end and you can’t miss it. If your analytics show that mobile visitors are on the increase you should optimise your site for mobile now. Simple steps such as large buttons, simple navigation and forms which utilise auto-complete will improve the experience – fat fingers on small screens can be a nightmare.
I did note that The Guoman obviously do follow up marketing via an array of channels – if you are looking at follow up marketing strategies you may want to consider integrating phone and email validation otherwise that’s wasted resources, and a potential mountain of spam data to sift through.
Overall I was impressed with the website, it might not be the flashiest hotel design in the world, but what it lacks in the latest on trend design, it more than makes up for with the basics of good user experience – professional photography, clear value propositions and calls to action, guest registration, simple booking forms and secure payment, which in my view is what a luxury booking experience is all about.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.