Eight years back, Google acquired ITA Matrix Software and stepped boldly into the world of travel. The software allowed them to build their own search-aggregation site rivaling the likes of Skyscanner and co. The new site’s ad-free front page and lightning-fast searches were instantly recognizable as the Google brand. And one of the greatest advantages to the user was the ability to book directly in site. Regardless of who you travel with, you only ever have to give your details once, to Google.
This system was a game changer in price comparison travel websites, but we already knew the model. It is essentially the same thing Amazon does for us. Thousands of suppliers are offering millions of products and we can choose to buy from anyone and only need to enter our details once.
The high price we pay for convenience
This is the big difference the user/purchaser sees. Their experience is streamlined and everything becomes just a little quicker. However, behind the curtain, there is much more going on. Consider for a moment the situation from the brand’s point of view. Whether they’re selling long-life batteries or flights to Acapulco, their customers are comparing (to their mind) apples to apples. The big difference is in the price. And when a product becomes interchangeable with other like products, it becomes a commodity.
Some argue this has a detrimental effect on the quality of the product, but why is that? The product stays the same and only the price that changes. Surely, brands need to become more competitive to be chosen. While this is one side of the argument, the other side says cutting costs leads to cutting services — and quality. If the only (or most dominant) variable in customer choice is cost, the frills of quality can be trimmed away. You therefore, get household name airlines looking to make food and drinks add-ons, ditto luggage and assigned seating.
But no one wants this, not the customers and certainly not the brands. They’ve worked hard to build a reputation and this can easily be eroded once they’re seen a commodity. The knock-on effect is less choice to the customer. If one airline wins the majority of the fares on one route, other carriers may reduce their route options out. Soon, even if you do have a preference, your preference won’t be available on your route. Likewise, your favorite washing detergent with a certain scent could be priced out. No one wants less choice, but that’s where we could be headed.
How can they attract brands when the device doesn’t support brand identity?
But it doesn’t need to be that way. There are many stakeholders and players in the price-comparison site shopping community — from the platform owners to the brands to the customers. And between them, all their needs can be met.
The platform needs the brands to add authority to their offering and to stop loyal brand customers shopping elsewhere. The brands need the platform to make sure their products are in the running as the field thins out. And of course, the customer wants value, choice and access to their preferred brands. And by partnering with brands, platforms such as Amazon and Google Flights can continue to keep everyone satisfied.
The answer lies in AI and microsites. By understanding my preferences, comparison sites can continue to offer me products and services, which it thinks I will value. If I tend to rate highly products which come in less packaging, it’ll learn to move these products up the list. If I am happier with my flight when I have my own seatback screen, it’ll filter up these options too. And of course, dedicated branded microsites will allow me to stay on the platform while visiting my preferred brand’s pages.
We will likely never go back to individual searches when we want to comparison shop — but we can make the way we shop a better experience.