Expedia is looking to use your facial muscle response to help make your holidays happier
A RECENT SURVEY by a British marketing firm revealed that a massive 80 per cent of us today book our vacations online and that nine out of 10 of us use the Internet to research all aspects of what we can expect to find at our chosen destination.
While Expedia Inc, a leading global player in the online travel market, is well aware of the figures, it has also come to understand that the planning of a holiday is a surprisingly stressful endeavour. To try and make the lead-up to a well-earned vacation to lessen those levels of stress, it has turned to the medical world.
The travel giant recently flew journalists from all over the world to its headquarters in the US state of Washington to introduce its new Innovation Lab, which uses electromyography or EMG to understand how and why people shop and book their holidays.
EMG, which is used extensively in the medical world to assess the health of muscles and the motor neurons and to some extent, in the video game design process to gauge player emotions as they proceed through the levels, assesses facial muscle movement to determine the subjects’ emotional state while browsing through their website.
It’s an expensive process but, says Scott Jones, vice president of Expedia’s Global Product Design and User Experience division, the results are worth every cent.
“A holiday sounds great fun, but planning it is usually not,” Jones says. “It is expensive and it involves a lot of decision making, pressure and expectations. Our research found that people tend to shop around online for months in advance, looking for the best deals out there and making sure they’re taking the right decision. On average, holidaymakers run at least 48 searches for flights and 22 for accommodation before making bookings – that’s a lot of effort. After all, unlike other e-commerce products, you can’t return a holiday, and you have no way of knowing how good your choice is until you’re there.
“Our job, besides giving them a vast selection of products to choose from, is to make sure our service on all platforms benefits them the most, and assist them in finding what they’re looking for at ease with the least stress, so they can finally get to the most fun part of the trip: planning what you’re going to do where they get there. Obviously you can’t plan anything until you know how you’re getting there and where you’ll be staying,” Jones says.
In the lab, participants of random background, age and gender, are asked to browse through the Expedia website to look for flights, accommodation and whatever else they consider essential on their trips. They are hooked up to an eye tracker and face sensors that measure movement of the muscles around the forehead and mouth – ones that indicate emotions more prominently. Specialists, sitting in an adjacent room, then analyse their emotions as they go through their quests, and ask them questions to confirm the results.
“From the experiments we have some ideas of why a consumer is frustrated. He or she can’t find the filter she’s looking for, tries to figure out two room types that look exactly the same but whose prices are significantly different, or wants more information about the location of the hotel. We then take this information to our product development team and figure out how to serve our customers better and give them better experiences.” Jones explains.
“We also run tests and experiments across departments because every little detail counts, and after all, a good holiday is made up of the little things.”
In 2015 alone, Expedia spent a staggering $830 million on tech and content. And later this year, Expedia will set up another lab in Singapore to run studies for the Asia-Pacific.
Expedia, of course, serves more than just users; it also has to keep its suppliers happy. And the numbers are high. To accommodate the demands of more than 15 million flight shoppers and 28 million hotel shoppers on Expedia across the website, mobile app and other devices in 33 countries, Expedia offers 269,000 hotels and 1.2 million vacation rentals in 200-plus countries, 200,000 cruise staterooms to book online, 475 airlines, 150 car rental companies and 15,000 unique activities in hundreds of destinations.
“The suppliers must have a good experience of doing business with us too if we are to make the market lively and beneficial to all,” explains Benoit Jolin, vice president for LPS Global Product.
“We encourage competition and interaction between users and suppliers to further develop the products and hence enhance the consumers’ experiences through the new feature, Expedia Partner Central.”
Launched in January, the rollout is designed as an easy-to-use platform that opens the lines of communication between booked guests and hoteliers via a message centre. Guests can start a conversation by asking a question or submitting a special request at time of booking. Alternatively, the hotelier can reach out directly to the guest.
“We give the suppliers real time feedback from customers, so they can prevent those “bad reviews” from ever happening.” Jolin says.
“Also, we help the suppliers to tread through the market more wisely by showing them how customers look at their products, how prices change, who they have lost their bookings to and other information that ensures they serve their customers better and know how to take advantage of the market.”
On the Web: