June 20, 2003, 12:00 AM

Travel sites put a hard journey in front of shoppers, says shopping survey

40% of mystery shoppers at travel sites got error messages while trying to place orders, 25% didn’t know the final price by the time they were ready to check out and 41% were unsure if they could cancel bookings, says Web Mystery Shoppers study.

Consumers are definitely moving to the web to make travel arrangements, yet almost half are getting error messages as they try to complete transactions, according to new research from Web Mystery Shoppers International Inc. Using 486 mystery shoppers, Web Mystery Shoppers tested the shopping experience at eight airline and nine travel agency sites. 40% of shoppers got error messages while trying to place orders, 25% didn’t know what the final price would be by the time they were ready to check out and 41% were unsure if they could cancel their flight bookings.

"Consumers want to skip a trip to a travel agency," says Tema Frank, president of Web Mystery Shoppers International, "but until airlines dramatically simplify fare rules and online booking procedures they still need to let customers talk to real people."

Among the frustrations that mystery shoppers felt as they shopped was slow response time on search results and the display of irrelevant results. Sometimes the results were simply wrong and other times the search displayed an itinerary that, when the shopper tried to book it, was unavailable, Frank says. Furthermore, most of the researchers felt that the sites were too slow in displaying results. Of the mystery shopper researchers in the test, 54% were on high speed connections, 38% were on 56K modems, 3% were on 33K modems and 5% were unsure.

Frank also says that shoppers often believed they weren’t finding the best fares. The 486 shoppers work out of their homes across the U.S. and Frank instructed them to try to book a flight from their hometown to Toronto. Based on their own expectations of what the fare should be, many felt they weren’t finding the best deals.

Researchers also felt that sites did not display phone numbers prominently enough. “When shoppers are ready to book, they want to get all their questions answered right away, not wait a day or two for a reply to an e-mail,” Frank says.

Researchers shopped at: 4CheapDiscountAirlineTickets.com, 4Airlines.com, AirCanada.com, AlaskaAir.com, CheapTickets.com, Continental.com, DeltaAirlines.com, Destina.ca, DiscountTravel.com, Expedia.com, NWA.com, Orbitz.com, SouthwestAirlines.com, Travelocity.com, Trip.com, UAL.com, and USAirways.com.


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