November 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Mobile take-off

Innovative travel firms can teach retailers a thing or two about easing and enriching m-commerce.

Lead Photo

Retailers can learn a lot from Travelocity when it comes to one of the pivotal aspects of mobile commerce: fast, easy checkout.

The online travel firm in September launched an iPhone app called Hotel Deals by lastminute.com. A consumer selects today, tomorrow or the following day to check in. The app then searches for the nearest hotels with deals using the smartphone's GPS technology. The consumer selects the hotel she desires and is presented with the checkout page—which is where the mobile magic begins.

On the checkout page, rather than enter all her payment information by hand, she touches the Auto-Scan Credit Card With Camera button, lines up her credit card in her camera sights, and the app reads the data off the card, entering the information for her. This feature, enabled by Netswipe technology from vendor Jumio, kills a lot of what mobile commerce experts like to call friction—anything that stands between the customer and the completion of a purchase.

"You can go through the entire booking process in just a couple of minutes," says Jason J. Fulmines, director of mobile at Travelocity, whose several apps have been downloaded more than 5 million times, he reports. "With smartphones you should be focused on reducing the number of taps, because any time you can reduce taps your conversion should be better because you are able to make it a little easier on folks."

Things in common

Travel firms sell products and services quite different from what retailers have to offer, but they sell via mobile commerce in ways similar to those used by retailers. Retailers can learn from how travel firms go about their mobile business and can benefit, for example, from travel firms' experience and innovation in checkout, personalization and customer feedback. Conversely, some travel firms eye mobile retailers with envy, seeking to learn a few things from their retail counterparts.

Easing the checkout process is a top priority for Travelocity, and Netswipe was its big step forward. Fulmines knows his colleagues in retail share a concern over mobile checkout. "In the retail world the checkout process is always scrutinized," Fulmines says. "You get a lot of abandonment unless you have a very smooth checkout."

Very smooth checkout was the goal of Marriott International Inc. when it designed its mobile commerce app and site. It started where any retailer might, with the content on its e-commerce site. But there's a world of difference between e-commerce and m-commerce, and Marriott found that out when first designing the informational process that leads to the checkout process.

"Hotels are an information-rich product," explains George Corbin, vice president of digital strategy at Marriott. "When I look at the PC world over the years, 20 years ago we had one page and one photo, to what can now be 25 pages rich with photos and tours and video, and as we've done that, booking conversions are growing. People want more information."

The mobile challenge

Now switch over to a mobile device and all of that success becomes part of the challenge, Corbin says.

"People don't want to wade through multiple screens and multiple page views in mobile," he says. "On a smartphone they are in a different urgency mode. I need to rebook right now because my flights changed. On the small screen we have to strip down all of this content. It becomes a design constraint challenge. Let's give the optimum amount of information we can, let's strip down the photos to one core photo, have a separate tap for a tour, and write a real tight synopsis. Here's a thumbnail, here's the rate, click here to see on a map."

Having eased the path to checkout, Marriott made checkout simple by stressing membership in Marriott Rewards, a loyalty club that stores billing and payment information. Rewards members begin checkout by entering their Rewards account user name and password, then all data fields at checkout are automatically populated with their account information. "We really streamline the process," Corbin says.

JetBlue Airways also stresses loyalty club membership to its mobile users through messaging on the home screen of its app. It sees expedited mobile checkout as one of the prime benefits of membership in its TrueBlue club.

"Part of the value proposition of having your TrueBlue account in the app is that it shortens the time it takes you to book," says Jonathan Stephen, senior producer of mobile products at JetBlue Airways. "When you go through the booking flow we present the screens to see the different flights, and when it gets to pages that are data-intensive we fill out the information for you because we have it. For the user that doesn't log in we offer them the opportunity to sign up for the program so subsequent flights won't require them to fill out that information."

Personalization

JetBlue has used its TrueBlue rewards program for much more than easing checkout. The airline gives members who sign in on the app a highly personalized experience.

Once a member is logged in, the app home screen displays content relevant to the member's next trip. Two weeks away from a flight, for example, the app will display information on restaurants, tourist spots and events at the destination. 24 hours out, the home screen will display flight information and a large Check-In button, so travelers can complete the check-in process and pick their seats before arriving at the airport.

"We wanted to build an app not just to extend booking a flight to mobile but also to deliver information and content and an enhanced travel experience through that device," Stephen says. "If you book a flight on the dot-com or on the device it syncs provided that you booked with your loyalty account. From the time you book to 24 hours before the flight to when you land, the app changes shape and form as you need it. It's very important for travelers to have that relevant information throughout the travel experience."

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