Skift Take

OTAs need to do a better job at identifying their customers and understanding why they’re abandoning their carts before booking. Relying on cookie-based technology to solve for this is no longer enough.

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It’s no secret that travelers are a flighty bunch (excuse the pun). As it stands, the cart abandonment rate for the travel industry is 81.7 percent, according to data from Fullestop.

This can be a difficult hurdle for travel companies –– and online travel agencies (OTAs) in particular –– to overcome. But it also presents a real opportunity: How can travel companies capitalize on this massive chunk of people who came to the site with full intention to purchase, but didn’t end up booking?

To start, let’s look at why an abandoned checkout flow is so detrimental to OTAs. Once an OTA has spent major marketing budget getting a shopper to site, it often doesn’t know who the person behind the visit actually is. This means they’re leaving a huge slab of revenue on the table.

The main reason for this is that OTAs are currently behind in a fundamentally important technology: identification. Identification, in this case, means being able to connect a site visitor back to his or her email address across multiple devices, sessions, and browsers –– and it’s a game-changer for the travel industry.

OTA shoppers have a long-tailed decision process that often involves hopping between sites, comparing prices, flight times, and amenities. The options are nearly endless for where and when to book.

OTAs spend an inordinate amount of money getting shoppers to site in the first place. Whether through Google ad spend, batch-and-blast emailing, or social media targeting, marketing is really one of the largest overhead costs for OTAs. Much of that budget goes to competing with meta searches like Google Flights and direct airline bookings.

Once a visitor finally hits the site, therefore, it’s incredibly important to capture a booking from him or her to capitalize on the budget the OTA just spent. Unfortunately, due to distracted, indecisive, or price-conscious shoppers, the likelihood of capturing that booking on the first go-round is low –– just refer to that opening stat.

If OTAs aren’t strongly adept at recognizing who is on their site, once the visitor abandons, they have to spend that same budget just to get them back again. In fact, they could be paying for the same customer to hit the site four to five times before they actually convert. It also means they can’t remarket to them effectively via powerful channels like personalized triggered emails.

OTAs have historically relied on cookies to try to solve this. But with cookie attrition events like cookie rejection, cookie clearing, incognito browsing, and cross-domain browsing, cookie-reliant technologies are no longer an effective way to bring personalization to shoppers.

Let’s look at an example: If a shopper goes to an OTA site on his computer to browse flights from Los Angeles to New York City on a specific date, there’s a good chance he has pretty high intent on making a purchase. But if he leaves the site before checking out, that revenue from the potential purchase is gone, totally untapped. Even if he comes back to consider the same flight on his smartphone, OTAs aren’t often able to recognize that those two devices are connected to the same person unless that person logs in, which is extremely unlikely.

Therefore, the OTA can’t refill the checkout flow to optimize conversions for an enormous portion of customers. And if the customer doesn’t log in on all of his or her devices (who does?), the OTA has highly limited ability to send the traveler triggered emails based on his real intent and onsite behavior –– meaning OTAs aren’t tapping into a massive source of potential revenue.

OTAs need to accurately recognize their consumers when they land on their booking site so they can increase their revenue from people who are actually considering making a booking. If an OTA can truly identify their shoppers onsite, they can do things like optimize their checkout flow by replenishing carts across devices, send triggered emails that highlight low stock or price drops, and retarget to people across devices, sessions, and browsers.

Some companies are using new technology to help OTAs do this. One of them is BounceX, a device identity resolution company that works with clients like Avis and Lufthansa.

“Often times, visitors appear anonymous when, in reality, they’ve provided consent for that OTA to market to them in the past,” said BounceX CEO and co-founder Ryan Urban. “The result is the same generic experience provided to everyone else. Our technology recognizes six-times more visitors and markets to them more appropriately.”

OTAs, and travel providers in general, can replicate the best-in-class user experience that customers have come to expect in other forms of retail to create marketing that pushes a browser down the funnel through conversion.

Consider an experience BounceX powers with a retailer like Avis. When a shopper visits the site on her computer, Avis recognizes her and is able to replenish the car she previously browsed on her smartphone back into the same place in the checkout flow. Avis can send her emails based on the reservation dates she showed interest in or the two makes and models she was comparing, depending on her behavior. A better purchase experience –– driven by identification –– increases conversion rates, brand loyalty, and revenue. However, it all relies on identifying and recognizing shoppers as soon as they hit the site. By partnering with BounceX, Avis was able to grow their identifiable email list by over 40 percent.

Without such technology, cart abandonment rates will remain high, and OTAs won’t be able to tap into that massive chunk of revenue that’s just waiting to be taken.

This content was created collaboratively by BounceX and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

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Tags: digital, otas, technology

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