I Want to be Addicted to the Hotel Shopping Experience

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October 29, 2018
Personalization
Jeffrey Parker

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, and I do. I actually get depressed when I get home from a trip when there is not a brown box secured with 'Prime' tape sitting on my coffee table.

On bad days, when the addiction is taking hold, I’ve even checked the mail twice, just 'knowing' that my gadget (or hot sauce, or truck accessory) was going to be there the next time I veered to the mail box. Amazon for me is like constant Christmas, a gift to open almost daily.
 
It all started innocently enough, with a tankless water heater, where the price of shipping was cheaper then the cost of prime. It would have been foolish not to try prime for a year, when I was essentially getting making money by subscribing. Right?
 
This is where Bezos' shipping peddlers gets you 'hooked', they start with that justification purchase, then you think: “I have the benefit, I should use it.”
 
Then, I hit bottom, I started traveling all the time, and asked myself: “Why would I waste time going shopping when I was home, when I only have the weekend to spend with family and friends?” …and now most days my living room looks like a cardboard forest!
 
Adding the value of music, movie, television and original content; augmented with wish lists, price change alerts, recommendations, and now discounts at Whole Foods; Prime for me is a no-brainer. And, I am loyal, there are few things I shop for in person any more, why bother?

What does Amazon Prime do right?
 
They make it crazy-dead-simple, mother-in-law-proof to find something, see user reviews, order it and take the heartache out of worrying about shipping. They communicate that the item is ordered, shipped, in transit, in area and finally delivered. I would say that 99 percent of items are delivered when expected, undamaged and working.
 
Hotels on the other hand, well let’s just say I don’t know anyone addicted to hotel apps or websites. We have made steps as an industry, but we have a lot to catch up on. 
 
Amazon literally has millions of items (how often have you looked for something they did not have?) that they return results for in milliseconds in an easy to understand format with qualified to me  results to help me select (purchase). Yes, in many cases, there are hundreds of items, and sometimes I scan a couple pages down if something I am looking for is not on first screen, but if what I want, at a price that is fair, with a decent rating is on the first page, I’m buying it.
 
How come we as an industry struggle with delivering what might be up to a dozen room types with six to eight features? How come we have not looked to true disrupters like Amazon to borrow some features to make our guest happier, make booking a room easier, make more money?
 
Hotel websites return results in some order that I swear I still can’t decipher why I am returned a guest room with a single queen over a guestroom with a single king, why price is sorted low to high versus popular rooms, why the assumption is on price not value?
 
Amazon gets better in guessing what I might be interested in, every single time. Amazon remembers what I searched for and makes recommendations based on my purchase. Even if I don’t buy something, Amazon remembers, and the next time I log in, there are 10 suggestions based on the non-purchase.
 
Amazon builds a profile, without me having to actively participate beyond shopping.
 
We are all collecting the statistical data, what are they clicking, what are they hovering over, abandoned carts, what calls to action work? Hospitality has sooo much data, we just seem to trip over the execution of using that to make more money or improve guest experience (which makes more money).
 
The reason Big Data is a joke, is it rarely translates to actionable intel.
 
Imagine a world where the hotel.com site you are using (or heaven forbid their app) actually helps you in the booking process. Keeps some record of what you looked for or booked last time and made recommendations for your current booking path. Much of this data does not require the guest to be authenticated to anything, a persistent cookie or other tracking can go a long way.
 
Would you be more likely to book? I think that looking at the retail examples, the answer is yes.
 
I get that even in a brand that not every hotel is the same, not a lot of ocean views in Denver, but at the core they have similar beds, room classes, amenities and features; why when I search for a king room almost every single time, are we not putting a king room at the top of my shopping list?
 
Hotel searches can learn from online retailers like Amazon, we need to start providing answers to our guests based on what they ordered last or searched for last.
 
Once we start listening to our data, we can build with profiles for our loyalty members, why are we not asking questions that can help us serve our guests?
 
In Amazonia there is a place to load your vehicles, so I loaded my new truck into my profile, and when I shop for truck things (looking at some new Fog Lamps) Amazon tells me in line that an item will or will not work with my truck, so I have less of a chance of ordering something that will not work. Yet another piece of a truly custom experience.
 
Some brand.com sites in the profile section are only asking for statistics (name address etc.) and others have sections for preferences but are bewilderingly limited. One major brand asks what bed type you prefer, but only offers one bed or two beds as the options, no way to prefer a king bed. 
 
I have looked at a dozen brand sites, and all are very basic in what they ask. While I understand that 90 percent of guests will not take the time, 10 percent will and if we can deliver on the promise of better experiences, I’ll bet that number goes up.
 
On that note, it is also frustrating to ask for information in a profile and not act or deliver on that. We need to be sure that if we are asking if you prefer feather pillows, that we actual deliver them, or we at least notify the guest when a hotel does not have them.
 
We know so much about our guests, bed preference, Wi-Fi usage, how they like their burger cooked, what they order at the bar. In connected hotels, we know what temperature they like the room set to, whether they use hotel shampoo or conditioner, what pillows they use, and even what side of the bed they sleep on. We track guest requests, complaints, even social media reputation management. This is all data we have collected without our guest directly participating.
 
Why have we not taken this data to make intelligent decisions that improve our relationship with our clients? 
 
To reiterate; Big Data is Bogus, Actionable Intelligence is the new black (or is that orange now?).
 
Since we are being honest with each other, I also have to admit I am addicted to some of these quick serve restaurant apps and sites, Noodles, Panera, Pizza Hut, Smiling Moose and others have great ways to order. You can customize your order down to every ingredient, and (you might need to sit down) save your favorite orders for super simple re-order.
 
So, the Jeff Parker Super-Duper Thai Curry with Zoodles instead of noodles (upcharge), add chicken (upcharge), skip cilantro is in my profile. It literally takes three clicks (open app, select store (Favorite Store or GPS at top) and then click Jeff’s Thai Curry) to order, and 10 minutes later I walk over, grab my order off the shelf (skipping the line) and bada-bing-bada-boom I have lunch! Guess what?! I order more often from them, because it is not only easy to order, it
is easy to order exactly what I want in seconds (well, the food is good, too).
 
Why is our industry not letting me build the Jeff Parker room? King bed, big TV (yes, I still watch TV in my room), fridge and a desk or workspace. Even add extras that we can monetize, like early check in, or check out, six pack of local craft beer in fridge. If our guests are telling us what they want, we need to take that data and offer to save it to the guest profile, let them save maybe three Jeff’s rooms; Jeff’s Business Room, Jeff’s Romantic Room and Jeff’s Family Room.
 
 
If a hotel can get what I want, in seconds, every single time, why would I start shopping around?
 
Why do we need to display 100 results when we have a pile of data that says buying decisions are made on the first page\screen of results?
 
How much are we paying Expedia and Google to be ‘above the fold’ because we know that drives revenue?
 
Our sites need to reflect this same strategy that we pay others for. We need to set our sites to return top results, then allow our guests to filter if they are not finding what they want. Upcharge for special items (corner room, low floor, high floor, etc.) when we let our guests customize their stay, they will, and most will pay a little extra here and there to get their perfect room.
 
This does not just have to improve direct bookings only, there is other opportunity with a well-done shopping experience, think about how to monetize like 1-800 Flowers, they always hit me up for a box of chocolates or stuffed animal with the bouquet I am sending, Amazon always offers a warranty on consumer electronics. Most of us are offering pre-paid rates, why not offer trip insurance that is nearly 100 percent profit on top of that discounted rate?
 
Even the big Expedia and the other OTA sites don’t get this right, so there is room to building a better way, faster way, more customer-centric way of shopping. Remember that the OTAs will never have the information on our guests that we have, never. Plus, hotels can make human contact, and I still believe that is important to our guests.
 
Clearly the technical problem has been solved, clearly the consumer is looking for this type of experience, when will we get there?

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