The explosion of mobile applications has brought smartphone capabilities many consumers would not have imagined just a few years ago. The flip side of that coin is the opportunity they can bring to businesses to further their reach and boost revenues.
Booking.com is one such company that has jumped into the market and is reaping the benefits from its satisfied customers.
The online company started 10 years ago in Amsterdam and, after its first branch out to Germany, quickly became a worldwide company, with 5,000 people working for it across 100 offices. It boasts partnerships with over 275,000 properties across the globe – such as hotels, B&Bs and villas – but Europe remains its biggest market.
“Our philosophy focuses on supply and demand meaning we are a very data driven company and this is one of the reasons we have embraced mobile as we have,” said Oliver Voute, director of mobile marketing at Booking.com, when he spoke to Computer Weekly at this week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).
The company has a team of about 200 people in IT and while around 100 focus on the front end of the website, a small team is squirreled away to work on how mobile can boost the firm.
“In 2010, the original leaders of the company saw a lot of iPhone traction in the data we collect,” said Voute. “We had already optimised the mobile website in 2009, even did some tests with WAP – although these were a total failure – but there was none of the buzz that there was around applications.”
“Some of our [hotel] partners already had iPhone apps and told us of their success so we thought it was time to step into this space ourselves.”
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Even though they had taken this decision, Voute admitted they still were not sure if mobile was the right move.
“We outsourced the design to another company so as not to distract our IT team when we still weren’t sure whether mobile apps would be the next big thing,” he said. “However, it has proved to be successful.”
After the initial iPhone app, Booking.com launched an iPad version in November 2010, an Android version in February 2011 and, more recently, a Windows 8 app for its tablets. In its last results call, the company reported 10 million installs of the various applications worldwide.
The key to a successful app
“The key to the design of the apps is to optimise the website for touch points, making certain buttons bigger or more predominantly placed,” said Voute. “The challenge for us is to priortise content on a screen that is so small. We need to find what the most important information is and rank that properly, making the app easier to use and more useful for the customer.”
“The sort and filter functions and narrowing the search is a big struggle for us to get right and we look at it on a day to day basis.”
But with new mobile devices hitting the shelves every week and extra capabilities coming to handsets, Booking.com cannot sit still and must continue to innovate.
“We are looking to ramp things up with new features on our applications,” he said. “One challenge is the multi-screen environment we now live in. You may have a phone, tablet, laptop and a connected TV. You consume media on a number of different sources.
The challenge for us is to priortise content on a screen that is so small
“We want to users to be able to port bookings and favourite locations across different channels and easily find a way to continue their journey from device to device.
“We have also been working on a stored credit card feature, enabling bookings by making them just a few taps away.”
There are also plans to continue to improve the experience for business customers who are regular users of the site’s services.
“There is a team within the company that looks after the business customer portion of our user base [and] we are working to give more options to them from the account perspective,” added Voute. “Features such as booking multiple rooms, allowing confirmations to be sent to all those staying rather than the one booking and forwarding on guest reviews all make the experience better.
“Our website is for anyone with a working credit card, but we are always looking for ways to improve the service for business customers.”
Voute concluded that while mobile isn’t the be all and end all of Booking.com’s business, it is only right to follow where the market is.
“Desktop may still be the biggest chunk of traffic for us but it is clear there is a lot of growth in mobile,” he said. “Who knows if or when it will take over from desktop, your guess is as good as mine, but the name of the game for us is to focus on the quality of what we have and finding that sweet spot for our customers.
“It is all about delivering a great service and we will handle that on desktop or mobile.”