I spent an interesting evening this week at the regular Travolution Question Time event. There was a slight ulterior motive for being there as iCrossing who I'm currently working for sponsored the event.
One of the illustrious panel was Richard Carrick CEO of Hoseasons, who made some really pragmatic and insightful comments. Here's one:
"If we improved our conversion rate by 1% that would do the deal for us. We have enough visitors to our website, we just need to convert them better."
I'm paraphrasing slightly from my scribbled notes, but the point he makes is so valid. No matter how well optimised your website is if you're not converting your visitors, you're not making any money. For Richard 2009 will be "all about conversion".
And then a few days ago, an interesting news story about Thomas Cook (on Travolution too by coincidence). Thomas Cook's new starfish ecommerce platform has led to a 300% increase in bookings in the three weeks since launch. Now take this percentage with a pinch of salt... three weeks is hardly a long time, particularly at this time of year when traditionally bookings are pretty slow. But a big leap nonetheless.
According to the article, improved search and compare functionality is a core element of the new starfish platform and one area it's helped improve significantly is customer reviews. Apparently 300,000 customers have posted reviews to Thomas Cook.com in the last year.
I feel increasingly sure that Reviews (or UGC as it's often called) are a key driver for conversion.
Thomas Cook's e-commerce director Russell Gould seems to think so too: "There's nothing more powerful than endorsements
from other customers," he said in this piece. Tui's Sandra Leonhard has made similar proclamations of late.
So, Richard, in the unlikely event you are reading this... consider UGC. Not an easy thing to integrate into a site, but it should definitely be on the list.
And that was where this post was going to end... but then I started looking at the Thomas Cook site.
I have spent a good 20 minutes on it and I have found not one single review. There are lots of Ratings - but no actualy comments from customers that I can find at all.
Or was this a complete non-story?
[Disclosure: Hoseasons is an iCrossing client]