Web Informant #360, 3 March 2004: Making it easy




Lately it seems that I have been spending a lot of time on airline Web sites. Whatever the reason, I have begun to see a big difference between some of the carriers: those that make it easy to book with them, and those that make it harder. This isn't really news, but the whole series of experiences has driven home to me what Web usability is all about.


For those of you that haven't flown them, click over to www.easyjet.com and pretend that you are taking a short trip between two European cities, because that is where they fly. In putting together my itinerary for a trip to Europe last fall, it took me about 3 minutes to find, price and book my flights. Their site is really a shining example for the rest of the airline industry: There is clear indication of where you are in the process (with progress indicators at the top of each screen). There is a logical flow to the whole bookings process, and the fees are clearly labeled. Ironically, the cost of my actual flight was about half of the ultimate ticket, with all the various landing taxes that I had to pay. But that isn't the fault of the airlines, and they get points for showing you clearly what you are being charged.


The EasyJet home page is a study in compactness. You can find out their on-time record, their entire route schedule, immediately get into booking a trip, change your reservation, or search for something that isn't immediately obvious where it is. A set of menus runs across the top of the page -- where you would normally look for them -- and they are in plain text rather than some fancy graphical button or other visual pollution. If you are just flying one-way, you don't have to go to another menu system or click on another link; instead, you use the same home page dialog boxes that a round-trip would use.


Often, businesses use the Greek diner model of product differentiation: offer pages and pages of different choices, so many that you cover almost every possible need of your customer. But you don't go to a diner to order Filet Mignon: Most people have an omelet or a burger. The challenge for our times is to make things easy. That means reducing the amount of options to avoid confusion, but not to the point where consumers feel they don't have many choices and walk away in frustration.


The implications for the Web are obvious:

1) Don't trick up your pages with lots of bells and buttons;

2) Keep the design clear and clean;

3) Make it obvious what the choices are when there are choices.


EasyJet, like JetBlue here in the States, offers one class of service, although you end up paying more for your flight the closer to the time you want to travel. That is as it should be: We all should be rewarded for planning ahead. And, really, for short flights of less than an hour or so, having a bigger seat or fancier snacks really doesn't make much difference. EasyJet is doing very well, and I was pleased by how clean and comfortable the planes were that I flew, not to mention how glad I was that I was paying pennies per mile to fly them versus taking the train or using a full-price carrier for my trip.


Contrast this with American Airlines Web site at aa.com. One of my biggest frustrations is on a Mac the pages load very slowly, so I have taken to using a Windows PC when it comes time to book with them. And while they offer plenty of options, the menu system is convoluted and the number of pages that you have to visit is at least double that of EasyJet's. And, some things you can't do via the Web, such as add your frequent flyer number to an existing reservation (or at least, I couldn't figure out where to do this). I do like the numerous notification options: You can have AA call your cell, send you e-mail, or page you with update flight arrival and departure status. Of course, if you have already left for the airport, that doesn't do you much good -- these days it seems like you almost have to leave a day before you fly, to allow enough time to transit the security barriers and to fight your way to your gate.


The EasyJet model is ripe for other industries, and there are reports of a U.K.-based cell phone company trying something similar. Reducing the number of options is key toward gaining customer confidence and credibility, as well as making the customer secure that s/he got the fairest price for the goods and services.


Make it easy, and you will thrive in these times of confusion.


Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc. 

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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