Travel Site Tries Pop-Ups To Trim Abandoned Bookings

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Online travel sites are good at drawing people to them and creating metrics based on that traffic. But they are inherently weak in turning those lookers into bookers -- something 11thHourVacations.com aims to change.


Hiring Web usability firm NetConversions Inc. to analyze visitor behavior and drop-off issues, 11thHourVacations turned to pop-ups on its site to staunch the pace of abandonment.


"We noticed that our conversion rate was not what we'd like it to be," said Mike Putman, founder and president of 11thHourVacations.com, Greenville, SC. "Before our engagement, it was like 1 in 1,200, and one of the easiest things to do is to better utilize the traffic you have."


Begun in mid-December, a pop-up touting a 24-hour hold service for abandoners and a $25 discount pop-up have led to 108 bookings valued at $200,000 that 11thHourVacations would not have gotten.


Though the revenue numbers may not awe, they are a boost for any player in a travel industry plagued by declining business over economic, terrorism and war fears.


11thHourVacations, which boasts almost 2.5 million cruise and hotel resort packages on its site, had another problem. Its Web analytic tools for log file analysis supplied data only on traffic levels and errors that occurred on its site. These tools were not intelligent enough for making decisions to boost online sales.


NetConversions, Seattle, had the answer. NetConversions used its True Usability tool to collect and analyze consumer actions like scrolling and path behavior, and mouse-clicking patterns.


Among the findings: 52.9 percent of visitors on 11thHourVacations.com did not view the bottom 60 percent of the home page. Next, NetConversions noticed a 200 percent higher look-to-book ratio for recommendation-based options vis-ˆ-vis other site features. This finding let the site increase conversions by driving traffic to more recommendation-based options.


Finally, 85 percent of lost sales occurred at the first checkout page. Qualified prospects were dropping off even after choosing a travel package and starting the checkout process.


Changes were made. Steering traffic to recommendation-based options was one.


Combining the first two pages of checkout into one was another tweak. This has worked so far because users are far more likely to scroll on the checkout pages than other pages. Thus a slightly longer, more condensed page would be friendlier to users.


Also, NetConversions knew which links were clicked on most. It optimized the single page by removing links that not only increased the page size but also distracted users from completing the checkout process. A redesign helped boost throughput by 121 percent on these pages.


Testing was critical. 11thHourVacations could make changes on the fly by embedding a small line of code in each page. For example, the site could change the "Buy Now" button color from black to green and measure the response.


In all, 40 to 50 changes were made. But only the pop-ups could be directly tracked and results linked.


Take the 24-hour hold pop-up. It simulates the policy of retail stores in which items are held for a while to help consumers decide. The pop-up told users that they could hold onto the browsed travel package for 24 hours at no obligation or cost.


The second pop-up emulated discounts offered by car salesmen to entice consumers to buy the vehicle that day. If consumers abandon the shopping cart process while transacting, they are offered an on-the-spot $25 discount for completing the transaction.


"Assuming that these people who took advantage of the pop-ups could have walked away and never come back, we've gained an incremental $200,000 worth of sales since the middle of December," Putman said.


11thHourVacations, founded in 1995, was sold in March 2001 to OneTravel.com, an East Greenville, PA, online travel agency. It competes with Site59.com, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. It claims its packages are more competitive since deals are struck directly with the cruise companies and resorts, cutting out the middlemen.


The company also powers the online travel sections of uniglobe.com, thetravelchannel.com and American Movie Classics' amctv.com. In June it will power lastminute.com, a British travel service that also sells restaurant packages, flowers and show tickets.


In terms of marketing, 11thHourVacations sends 8 million e-mails weekly to opt-in consumers on three house lists. It also uses keyword buys on search engines on both cost-per-thousand and cost-per-click basis, 12,000 affiliates and powering or co-branding 1,000 sites.


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