The usage of smartphones by leisure and business travelers is on the rise, and this growth makes the whole talk about mobile product strategy more fascinating.
It’s absolutely essential for businesses to evaluate their current mobile experience for these users and to invest in improvements.
Companies acknowledge that consumers now see each platform factor with a consideration to time and place, meaning they weigh their specific set of circumstances and choice to the platform that will offer the best experience available. Users are now familiar enough with the tradeoffs between PC, tablet, and smartphone to make intelligent decisions. The way the entire travel sector continues to refine its mobile portfolio and even tries to convey the same in a candid manner (for example via their blogs) depicts the significance of mobile today.
For instance, Yelp is quite pro-active in explaining its mobile-related initiatives to its customers. Be it for making check-ins more meaningful or informing customers about Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant, Yelp ensures it keeps its users updated.
In order to know more about the company’s mobile strategy, EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Dave Scheine, Director of European Operations, Yelp.
Scheine is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2012, to be held in London, April 17-18, this year.
What do you make of the web versus application debate in the mobile product strategy?
The debate between mobile webs versus application continues to evolve. In fact, recent advancements with programming languages like HTML 5 are making mobile websites ever more powerful, such that the distinction between the mobile web and apps is blurred.
Although apps continue to dominate the news headlines, and Yelp is continually rated as one of the most popular consumer apps of all time, I am continually surprised by the large size of our mobile web audience. This just reinforces the need to have both a mobile web and app strategy.
What do you think are the major challenges, be it for m-commerce or mobile advertising, at this stage as far as the travel industry is concerned?
There are several challenges facing advertisers in the travel space with regards to mobile.
First, companies must decide their platform strategy (app vs. mobile web vs. single platform vs. multi-platform). Then once you decide which apps to develop, you need to think carefully on how to promote and distribute your apps. Do you just focus on the two largest stores (Apple App Store and Android Market) or do you also work to be featured in the Amazon App Store, or one of the many (and growing) carrier app marketplaces?
Lastly, devising an advertising strategy on mobile can be complex, given the dearth of quality apps/sites that offer premium placement opportunities. Many prominent companies such as Facebook do not currently monetize their mobile apps.
How should travel companies go about making the most of their investments in 2012?
At a minimum it is important to have a web-based mobile version of your website that can work across all the major platforms. Having apps at least customized for the iOS (both iPhone and iPad), as well as Android, is advised. It is also worth reaching out to the major app stores to make sure your app is approved for their marketplaces. Sometimes this needs to be done on a country by country basis.
With mobile, providing customized information based on location is increasingly important. Consumers now look for immediate gratification when it comes to searching for information when traveling. The old system of researching a trip beforehand and then printing an itinerary is a lot less common; people decide on a destination and discover as they go – hence the importance to get local insights like those provided on Yelp.
Companies have to find ways to validate all the paths, across all online channels, in order to provide a faultless experience. What do you make of handling such a significant issue?
It is important to understand and accept that people will access many channels, and you should be consistent in your branding and experience. However, do remember the experience (and requirements) on mobile and a tablet are different than on a website.
Yelp, for example, sees spikes in mobile traffic in the evenings and on weekends as people are out of the office/home and are looking for places to eat, drink, shop, and get entertained.
What do you think is being done to personalize the whole experience of mobile shopping?
Customer reviews are becoming more prominent in purchasing decisions. In fact, 78 percent of Internet users trust recommendations from consumers, and 61 percent of Internet users trust consumer opinions posted online. This is significantly higher than search engine advertisements, or even television and radio advertising. If you think about it, it makes sense, because consumers are always keen to learn about the experiences of other consumers before making a decision to visit a place, stay at a particular hotel, or sit in a specific airline seat.
There are also different elements of personalization. One element that we believe is important on the Yelp platform, as a social network for example, is that when a person visits a business where their Yelp friends have already left a review, these will be featured at the top of the review listings. We understand that you are influenced to a different degree by your friends than you are by strangers. You are more likely to trust the sincerity of a friend’s review than that of a stranger.
How do you think travel companies have gone about tailoring their marketing strategies as per the strength of the devices used by consumers?
Travel companies need to go where their customers are, and at Yelp we’ve seen that mobile is incredibly important.
For example, although in Q4 2011, Yelp averaged 66 million monthly visitors to its website, and had almost 6 million monthly active users on its mobile apps, approximately 40 percent of all of our search volumes happened on mobile.
In short, we’re finding mobile users to be much more active than your average web user. Similarly, travel companies need to recognize that although mobile users might at present be fewer in number, they could expect to have a higher degree of engagement. Thus it is important not just to view mobile as a mere extension of the desktop, but really to develop capabilities that take advantage of the flexibility that mobile provides.
The mobile device market is fragmented, with many platforms vying for market share. How do you expect the whole segment to shape up?
Mobile device market continues to evolve at a very quick pace. You have to remember that the iPhone itself is only five years old.
At Yelp, we’ve taken a position of making our apps available on all the major platforms (iOS, Andorid, Blackberry, Windows, Palm, etc.). We’ve also invested heavily on developing a mobile version of the website that works on all platforms. In many markets, I’ve certainly seen a trend towards two dominant platforms (iPhone and Android). Indeed, if you look at the app stores across all platforms, you see the most apps on the Apple Store and the fastest-growing number of apps in the various Android markets.