When travelers embark on their journey to find the perfect place to stay, the first stop on their itinerary is usually the internet. This makes your hotel’s website not just a digital brochure but a critical part of the guest experience. It has the power to convert lookers into bookers.
Today’s travelers are well-versed in shopping online, and they have conditioned expectations when purchasing hotel stays online too. While they’re not shopping for shoes or groceries, the e-commerce principles and paths to purchase for retail and accommodations are similar. It’s important for independent hoteliers to see their business as part of the e-commerce landscape to drive conversions.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how the principles of e-commerce can be seamlessly integrated into the design of hotel websites, transforming them into powerful booking engines.
E-commerce Elements of Design
Adopt an e-commerce retailer mindset when designing your website to enhance booking rates. In addition to captivating imagery, prioritize a conversion-focused design that caters to user needs. Think of your website as the digital welcome mat for guests, ensuring a hospitable experience from their initial click all the way through to the booking process. This is where user-centric design becomes essential.
In e-commerce, a strong emphasis is placed on minimizing friction to provide a seamless and expedited path to purchase. Slow loading times, hard-to-find information, and technical glitches are notable examples of friction points. The more friction there is, the less likely a potential guest will stay on your site and complete a booking.
User Experience (UX) design means designing a website with the user’s goals at the forefront. It’s less about what you want to say and more about what your customer wants from your website. Consider your most frequently asked guest questions and your audience segments, and you’ll know what information needs to be readily available.
Intuitive Navigation and Content Hierarchy
Content hierarchy complements your UX design by determining the sequence in which you present information on your website, increasing its usability. It should encompass all the information your guests seek, structured in a manner that anticipates and answers their questions promptly. When combined with intuitive navigation, your website visitors can seamlessly click, scroll, tap, and swipe their way through your content.
Navigation menus should be organized in need-to-know order, with featured tabs prioritizing what guests are most interested in. Your homepage might begin by offering guests an overview of your hotel, followed by a breakdown of your rooms, room amenities, then property amenities.
E-commerce retailers know how to meet customers where they’re at—whether that’s on smartphones, tablets, or desktops—with a responsive website. In e-commerce, the majority of purchases are made via mobile device—56% to be specific. In 2021, mobile online hotel bookings were close behind at 40%. The trend is clear!
Aesthetics and imagery matter! Just like a beautifully appointed lobby sets the tone for a great stay, your website’s visual appeal sets the stage for a memorable online experience. You want visitors to picture themselves sipping coffee on your terrace or lounging in those comfy hotel beds. So, let your website be an inviting reflection of your hotel’s charm and warmth with beautiful imagery and videos. Take your cue from e-commerce brands and display your room offerings and bookable amenities like an online store. Let guests scroll through their options and view image slideshows and virtual tours before making their final choice, all the while imagining themselves at your hotel.
Personalization and Recommendations
While shopping online, it’s common practice to receive product recommendations based on your browsing history. Use your online booking engine to recommend relevant packages and add-ons based on search criteria, such as booking dates and room types, to personalize the customer experience.
Clear and Effective CTAs
Have you heard of the sales acronym, ABC? It stands for Always Be Closing and means that a salesperson is focused on closing and securing a sale with every activity and every action. A well-designed e-commerce site is the same. Every description, visual element, and button is there to help make a sale. Boost your conversion rate with clear and clickable calls to action (CTAs) throughout your website. Make sure your booking engine is accessible on every page. Consider using pop-ups on your website to promote limited-time offers or feature packages.
An Online Booking Engine for Online Shopping
Online consumers are used to seamless, intuitive, and secure online shopping experiences. Ensure your property has an online booking engine that fits the bill.
Think of your guest rooms as coveted products and adjust pricing dynamically in response to availability and demand. This is easy when your online booking engine is integrated with your PMS so that rates and availability automatically update in real time. This enables urgency messaging too, like “3 units left!” and strikethrough pricing for special deals.
Seamless Booking Experience
Offer a quick, intuitive search and booking process that only requires the information you need to confirm a booking (additional information can be gathered via pre-arrival communications/surveys). On top of that, your online booking engine should be mobile friendly, just like the rest of your website.
Credible and Secure
Set up your booking engine completely by adding your property’s branding, contact details, full unit and rate descriptions, amenity lists, and quality room photos. Ensure that it encrypts and protects your customers’ data and reassures them by displaying security signals. Finally, automate booking confirmations to confirm bookings immediately (just like online retail purchases are confirmed instantly) so that your guests know their booking was successful (and not intercepted by a hacker!).
Your hotel’s online booking engine isn’t only for booking rooms—it’s for booking an experience. Offering add-ons and packages during the booking process allows your customers to personalize their stay while driving additional revenue. But take care not to overwhelm customers with options. Ensure only relevant offers are presented based on the selected rate and unit type, for example.
Gift certificates are a valuable sales tool, encouraging direct bookings and repeat visits while offering a unique gifting solution to customers.
E-commerce Sales and Marketing Tactics
Don’t try to be a hotel for everybody. Instead, build your guest personas. This is a central idea in e-commerce. When you understand who your main customers are, you can focus on those personas when developing your marketing strategies, from branding to stay packages.
Once you’ve developed guest personas, create guest segments by gathering first-party data, then leverage your CRM to create marketing campaigns that are relevant and targeted to those segments. Automated email flows can be implemented based on specific triggers, such as abandoned bookings, email newsletter signups, and stay anniversaries based on the last time they visited.
Repeat stays provide a larger return on investment for your marketing spend than acquiring new customers. Encourage guests to come again and again through a loyalty program. Did you know that more than 90% of retailers have loyalty programs? It’s no wonder large hotel chains have introduced their own programs. However, there are opportunities for independent properties, especially with software like Preferred Patron and Stash Hotel Rewards that make it easy for smaller hotels to reap the benefits of repeat guests.
Have you heard of reciprocal marketing? It’s big in the retail world and works on the premise that if you give your customers something for nothing, they are more likely to purchase from you in a reciprocal response. Instead of always thinking about sales and discounts, how can you provide your guests with something extra? Consider free digital guides or downloadable content to help plan their trip, and we bet you’ll see an uptick in your bookings.
For e-commerce brands that do not have a storefront, building trust is integral to their operations. As a hotel, brick and mortar is your bread and butter! But you can still build trust like a retailer through consistent branding, an About Us page, a lot of photos that show who you are, online reviews and testimonials on your website, and user-generated content, which goes further to build trust than anything you yourself can say.
Equipping your hotel with a versatile online booking engine enables you to harness e-commerce strategies for unprecedented success. However, having a booking engine is just the beginning. Your entire website design must support an e-commerce mindset. Combine this with tried-and-true e-commerce marketing techniques, and you’ll have a winning formula for increasing conversions.