Booking.com has 1,087,110 properties worldwide for reservation, with an information-rich website for travellers to book their ideal stays since 1996. The Booking app presents an interesting challenge as the users' environment and need differ.
To create/improve a product, we need to understand and define the requirements from 3 different perspectives; business, user and technology.
For the purpose of this exercise, I am going to evaluate the app and offer improvement recommendations from the user perspective, without considering the business goals and technology constraints.
The proposal is meant for Android mobile app so the same may not be applicable for iPhones since I only have an Android phone currently.
Booking.com app has a very task-focused design. Like its web counterpart, it offers rich information for travellers to book on the go. It adapts a huge portion of the web experience into a smaller package. So a Booking.com user and anyone with experience booking a hotel online should have no problem using the app. It is perfectly functional and usable in its current form.
There are a few methods we can use to understand the users. Without access to data analytics, I base my proposal through my understanding of user behavior and consumer psychology. To get better insights, I approached 2 of my friends who are the target group for my informal user interviews.
If a user is using the app instead of the website, we can visualize a few scenarios. They have no easy access to a computer, or on the move, or chilling at a spot with another person(s). In these various scenarios, we can say that in the minds of these users, they are not in an environment where they can perform detailed research on where to stay. They usually need quick information, and if they are at the stage of deciding a room to book, they need to do it without much hassles.
Booking Decision Process
There are 5 stages that all consumers go through when making a purchase or booking a hotel. The app only comes into play during the later stage of information search and ends when the travellers have checked-in to the place they reserve.
A user must first be aware of the need before any purchase can happen. In our context, we will use Mike as an example. Mike plans to travel and recognizes he needs a place to stay. This is the stage Booking.com can target him with online/offline marketing campaigns to stimulate the need.
At this point, Mike will seek for information about hotels and accommodations in his destination. He may rely on Google, social media, print media or word of mouth. If he has prior experience in online booking, he may return to that particular platform like Booking.com or try out a new one like Airbnb. If Mike has downloaded the app, this is indicative he is at the very late stage of information search and he has decided upon which platforms to focus on.
Evaluation of choices
Now Mike is seeking for the available hotels on offer. He may have multiple requirements like maximum budget, amenities, comfort level and distance to tourist spots. The hotels that can deliver all these values will rank high in his list. Once decided on the hotel he will evaluate the room features. The app's main goal at this stage is to answer Mike's questions and assists him in making a decision.
So Mike has decided on a room. This is the critical stage where a cumbersome UI or process may turn him away. The app design must offer an easy and positive booking experience, which in turn translates to a higher chance of successful booking.
In the context of hotel booking, the journey does not end at the booking stage. Booking.com needs to support Mike until he actually checks in to the hotel. This can be done via multiple channels like email and app. The app can send a push notification to Mike to remind him of his upcoming trip. His app can act as his official receipt at his hotel. This is the stage where brand loyalty can be built.
Findings from Interviews
The chat with my friends more or less proves my hypothesis. Both are frequent travellers, but one is more leisurely while the other more business. Adli usually perform his information search with a computer when he is free. He uses app only if there are better deals or he is in a hurry. Raymond however does his search on his app during those short moments between meetings/works or during commute.
Adli Syahril, 28
Adli is a millennial who embraces experience rather than material gains. He is a budget traveller constantly on the look-out for great deals on flights, events and accommodations. He uses multiple apps and websites to accomplish this. He primarily travels around Southeast Asia.
His favorite app is Agoda.
Follow him on his Instagram.
Raymond Ngu, 35
Raymond is a busy professional who due to his responsibility requires him to constantly travel to different offices around the globe. He craves comfort and convenience most of all. To him budget is secondary. He primarily travels between Europe, North America and East Asia.
His favorite app is Booking.com.
Follow him on his Instagram.
The app design, on a high level, can be split into 6 levels. This is the flow a user goes through to successfully book a stay. The conversion funnel can easily be mapped to the booking decision process, as illustrated. After reviewing the app, this funnel is the most optimized as it is, striking a balance between information density and levels. Removing one level, you risk having too much or too little content; introducing additional level, you risk losing conversions in between.
The only way we can improve the design is to minimize the frictions in each levels.
For the purpose of this article I will only look at 3 areas for improvements; the home/search, the result list and the detail page. Whenever I design, the 3 principles that guide me are simple, personal and fast. Below you can see the outcome of my research and principles at work.
The original design is very task-focused and functional. My question is do we need so many information to initiate a search at this stage? For someone like my friend Raymond, he only has so much time in-between his tasks that he wants the result fast without investing too much time and efforts.
By reducing the required information to just the essential three, where, when and how many persons, users will perceive the interaction to be fast and simple.
Since this is the first screen a user sees upon launching the app, user is greeted with his/her name, just to add that personal touch. The copywriting together with the video background is designed to trigger the wanderlust within the user.
If the user has already made a booking prior, the message changes to inform the user about his/her upcoming trip instead.
There are 2 options here; one with bigger images and the other with more information at a glance. Both has their pros and cons. Without testing, I can't tell you which one performs better in directing users to the next level in conversion.
For both variants, I have prioritized the information and reduced the density. The problem in the original design is that the search result has a lot of information to digest upfront, causing cognitive overload. The most difficult part though is to determine what can and cannot be removed.
Will the removal of "latest booking: x hours ago" contributes to lesser urgency to book and the perceived popularity of the hotel? Will taking away the total review numbers affects the credibility of the score? Will deleting the word "today" from "-30% today" minimize the interest from the users to check out the hotel?
Or will taking away all those secondary information still triggers enough interest to browse through?
The only one I keep is the real-time information of the "x rooms left" to book as this does create urgency if the user is interested in that particular hotel.
The other part that I change on this page is to combine sorting and filtering together under one icon, sitting beside the map view icon on the top right, thus cleaning up the UI a little bit. The user can also edit the search by tapping on the search summary tab (the one with location and date).
For the hotel detail page, what I aim to achieve is to reprioritize the information. Information is pretty much expected here at this stage. I categorize the information into 4 tabs: Overview, Rooms, Reviews and Policies.
Overview shows in a quick glance if the hotel meets the need of the user. Based on my interviews with my friends, the content is arranged in this sequence, from the most important to the least important:
- Title (score)
- Photo with auto rotation
- Cost in total
- Features as icons
- Score (x reviews)
- Call-to-action (stickied to bottom)
With this structure, it can assist users in making a decision without even needing to look at other tabs.