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Interview: Hipmunk CEO on the Simplicity of Mobile Apps

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Download the full report for an in-depth look at how companies in the travel and hospitality industries can leverage mobile applications to better serve their customers and grow their businesses.

— Jason Clampet

Earlier this month we released a new report in the Skift Trends series, Effective Mobile App Strategies of Consumer Travel Brands.

Below is an extract. Get the full report here to get ahead of this trend.

Adam Goldstein, CEO and co-founder of Hipmunk, spoke with Skift earlier this fall about the challenges of enticing consumers to download – and continue to use – travel-based mobile applications.

An edited version of that conversation follows.

Skift: What are Hipmunk’s priorities when it comes to designing and updating mobile apps? What should developers and designers keep in mind?

Adam Goldstein: The first thing is always making sure it’s easy to use. I think a lot of companies put a priority on is pixel-for-pixel between different platforms. If it’s easier to use by showing less information on mobile that’s what we do. And it’s very important that the experience is consistent across devices.

Skift: Can you give an example of some differences in design between smartphone apps and PC sites?

Goldstein: Take hotels, for instance: On the desktop we planned this great side-by-side experience so you can hotels on a list on one side of the screen, and you can also see where they are on a map on the other side. That turned out to be really useful. But on a smartphone screen you don’t have space for that. So that turned out to be our first challenge.

Another example is that on mobile applications we realized that from the desktop there’s a classic customer [of airlines] that likes to compare other websites at the same time by checking boxes that allow them to see results from other sites. Fitting that onto a mobile screen turned out to be quite a design challenge, but we were able to do it. If you’re looking for the option to access results from other sites, you’ll find them bottom of the first page.

Skift: How do you market the app to get attention in a very crowded marketplace?

Goldstein: We take a multi-tier approach to this. We work very closely with Apple and Google to make sure our app shows off its functionality, including from a design and feature standpoint. We work with platforms and app stores to make sure the app works well there, and we get free promotions and mentions; we often get mentioned in the featured app section. Another category is what you could think of as cross-linking people from other platforms to the app.

Skift: How do you keep people engaged and continuing to come back to the app?

Goldstein: To some extent the people who use our applications are somewhat of a self-selected group. In general if you’re installing a travel app it’s because you want that one-click access to things like preferences. So there are many different ways. One is just emails — we highly encourage to sign up for emails, and most customers do. There’s also value in just keeping them up to date in industry news, information like fares during the holidays, what are the best kinds of wine countries to visit, that kind of thing. When it looks good in the mobile email, you can also do deep-linking into the app to find out more about it.

There are other techniques like retargeting, where you can do mobile only, desktop only, mobile to desktop or desktop to mobile. We do all those things.

Skift: How do you manage the lifecycle and extend the lifecycle?

Goldstein: We’re not believers in freshness for the sake of freshness. What we do is interview customers — both existing and ones that don’t use the app yet, but are the ones we’d like to have, frequent travelers, millennial travelers – and we get their opinions on those things before we commit to actually building them. And then when we do build them, we don’t assume they’re going to work in the wild the way they do in the lab, so we continue to test them.

We test for things like usage and retention, and we run these tests for long enough to get a read on what’s going on. There are definite cosmetic changes we make from time to time, and we try to align those with changes platform developers are trying to make.

Skift: How important are analytics?

Goldstein: I think there are a lot of things that are understood as best practices on the desktop, and there are certainly also best practices on mobile applications and the mobile web. But there are lots of things that are harder to do on mobile. Sometimes that’s because the number of customers (on mobile) is smaller, or because it’s just technically harder to do simple layout changes. None of those are reasons in my opinion not to do it, though. We’re always going to test before we roll it out, and we’ll often pilot stuff on one platform. There’s no real point in testing something simultaneously on two platforms because you have to do double the work to implement it. We pick one platform to test it out first, then we roll it out to all the customers.

Skift: Does Hipmunk get any pushback regarding the permissions you ask for from consumers looking to download your app?

Goldstein: The more permissions you get, the richer you can make the experience, the better the search results are, and the more context you have about what the person is looking for. On the flip side, someone who’s never even used your app or service, the more you request from them the less likely they’re going to use your app at all. The way we’ve dealt with it is that we make the app fall back gracefully (to leverage the permissions the consumer does allow). If you don’t give us certain kinds of permissions it won’t be as good for you, but you won’t find the app completely worthless.

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