When was the last time you booked a vacation using a travel agent? Likely not recently since booking travel online has become so easy. Companies like Expedia and Orbitz offer a convenient service for consumers by allowing a “one stop shop” experience for your travel needs. But how does the usability of their sites rate? Without an obvious competitor it is hard to compare services, especially if most sites are the same. But it might be helpful first to take a glance to see who these consumers are that travel companies are designing their sites for.
Specifically Expedia, using Quantcast we can see that 55% of users are affluent women with a skew to being older, typically have no children and college are educated. This lets us make some assumptions about how the usability of the site is designed to target this demographic. One assumption about the consumer is their familiarity with the internet and how to navigate it. Providing additional advertisements and promotions on the homepage might create more impulse purchases since they feel comfortable with their experience online. As a consumer myself, it is nice to have the freedom to search without pressure and choose the best travel option. Possibly this is the reason for the added clutter; the consumer might not be purchasing right then, but the travel site has a chance to influence their future purchase.
In a quick review of Expedia and two of its well know competitors Orbitz and Travelocity, I found three common factors in the design of their homepage. The first was the overall design, they are all very similar. Each has a look that incorporates beveled graphical elements, a blue scheme (possibly trying to relate to the sky), and multiple column layouts occupied with duplicate information (see graphical comparison below). All three use the same radial button design for consumers to select their travel options. One might argue this design element makes searching for travel more intuitive because it is easy to understand, but why does each site have the same format? I would argue that one seemed successful, thus why not copy? But to counter this statement, doesn’t this make it easy to cross over and use their competing site?