At Choice Hotels International Inc., mobile commerce success is in the numbers. The hotel chain, which operates through franchisees more than 10 brands and 6,000 hotels across the globe, says its mobile sales reach well into the seven figures each month. Mobile sales at Choice Hotels now account for more than 1% of all online sales.
And the positive mobile numbers don’t end there, says Christopher Brya, director of mobile and emerging channels at Choice Hotels. Mobile revenue is up 250% year over year, reservations are up 205%, mobile page views 130%, and mobile conversion 106%. Additionally, Brya says mobile traffic has grown on average 190% each month since the company first entered the mobile realm with a mobile site from m-commerce vendor Usablenet Inc. in 2008.
Last year, Choice Hotels delved further into mobile by developing an iPhone app in-house. The app, Brya says, has been downloaded around 500,000 times in 80 countries—including countries where Choice Hotels does not operate.
So to what does Brya attribute his company’s mobile success? Testing, and testing again. “Most of our recent gains in mobile have come from consumer feedback directly and more will come from mobile usability testing," Brya says. “We have a usability lab at Choice Hotels on-site. With that lab, we conduct mobile usability tests with consumers to see how they navigate and use apps and mobile devices.”
The lab is key, Brya says, because it helps Choice Hotels focus on the customer. It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating mobile sites and apps based on what can be done, rather than what customers want and need based on how they use mobile sites and apps, Brya says.
For example, his team found mobile consumers wanted to be able to access their Choice Hotels account information but didn’t want to fill out a laborious form to create an account. They’ll do that from their PC, Brya says. Top mobile priorities are to be able to search, access an account, book reservations and change reservations on the fly, Brya says.
“Mobile customers want things as quick and simple as possible,” he says. “Mobile is a very different experience than our e-commerce site. We don’t overuse copy and we try not to overwhelm with tons of marketing messages.” In mobile it’s especially important not to let design get in the way of where a customer wants to go or what she wants to do, Brya says. And with the web site, he adds, sometimes that can happen. “Marketing has their messages they want to include on the site and brands have what they want to do,” he says. “Sometimes it can get hectic.”
With an in-house usability lab, Brya and his staff can not only hear about what consumers want from mobile sites and apps, but watch how they use them. For example, some testers type with their thumbs, others with their fingers. Watching the various ways consumers navigate on sites and apps using different devices helps in design decisions such as when to use text links and when to use icons for navigation, Brya says.
While it doesn’t want to burden consumers with too much mobile information and too many options, Choice Hotels doesn’t shy away from leveraging features and functions of a smartphone that it thinks will aid shoppers. For example, the Choice Hotels app uses a smartphone’s GPS geolocation capabilities to offer directions and maps. Customers also can see how close a hotel is to a specific landmark or point of interest.
Next on the mobile horizon for Choice Hotels is an app for smartphones using Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Brya says the iPhone is the top mobile device in terms of traffic and traffic growth to Choice Hotels’ sites and apps. He adds that the iPad has become the second fastest-growing mobile device accessing ChoiceHotels.com in recent months. However, he says because most iPad users access the company’s traditional e-commerce site, Choice is looking to develop an Android app as well as apps on other platforms.
Beyond an Android app, Brya is planning for one more mobile development in the next year—major sales growth. He predicts 2011’s mobile sales will see incredible growth. After all, mobile’s exponential growth rate is why Choice Hotels is tasking him with leveraging the channel. “Companies that are serious about mobile realize someone’s got to be the point person—the one who’s keeping up with all the mobile development,” he says. “Centralization and collaboration is key to keep the ball rolling.”