How Amazon can sell a lot more Kindles

April 11th, 2011 satish View Comments

Amazon today launched a version of Kindle for $114, 18% lower than its full price of $137. Amazon will subsidize the difference by showing ads on the device.

I believe that Amazon will not sell too many of those $114 devices because the problem with the Kindle is not the $137 price.

The real problem is that mass market customers are not willing to trade in their physical book for a digital kindle copy just yet.

Customers buy physical books for various reasons. They don’t buy the kindle version even though it is cheaper because they are scared that they will FEEL like buying the physical book at a later time.

In order to push customers over the edge, Amazon needs to give away the kindle version of the book when ever a customer buys a physical copy of the book from them. Customers who have been buying a large number of books from Amazon in the past will instantly have a large collection of kindle books. The library of kindle books keeps growing as customers buy more physical books, with out having to give up buying the physical book. At some point these customers will buy a kindle for convenience. And once they start using the kindle, they might switch over completely.

They need to nudge customers to use the Kindle and the way to do it is not to give away the device. Customers need the digital version of the books to understand the value of a Kindle.

So Amazon, if you want to speed up Kindle adoption, just give customers who are already paying for the physical book a free kindle edition. You don’t even have to lower the price of the device.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Why Google needs to build a vertical experience in Travel and also acquire ITA

April 8th, 2011 satish View Comments

Bill Gurley’s post “Google Acquires ITA: Will Deeper Vertical Integration Lead to Higher Revenues?” got me thinking about Google’s intentions.

Bill thinks that Google may lose revenue and makes his case by saying that:

1)      CPC pricing on Google is Irrational today because market places with less sophisticated customers leads to an edge for the market which is Google.

2)      Moving from a marketing channel to a transactional channel will lead to loss of revenue as the customers will stop paying for life time value and demand paying for current transaction value.

Both of these arguments hold for highly competitive markets with some less sophisticated customers where Google plays arbitrator. Secondly the vertical also needs to be an area where users come to Google first instead of going directly to a vertical site like Amazon.

The problem is that both those conditions don’t hold true for travel.

  • Kayak, Orbitz, and Travelocity market directly to the end customer on TV and drive traffic to their sites, which could be leading to a drop in the overall volume of travel queries.
  • Travel sites might also be realizing that a larger share of their customers are coming directly to their site and reducing adwords purchase budgets.
  • Finally, I would expect companies like Kayak and Orbitz to be sophisticated in paying for customer acquisition costs.

So Google needs to figure out a way to regain mind share in travel to grow revenues in this vertical. And the only way to do that is to provide a compelling flight search and comparison tool themselves. That is where the ITA acquisition comes into play.

The ITA acquisition will provide Google with 2 sets of data for free:

1)      Historical data to predict price changes which Microsoft has access to with the acquisition of Farecast. This will allow Google to provide strong recommendation to customers on when to buy their ticket.

2)      Free access to fare prices for all future dates to give recommendation to customers on when to travel. Usually when you search on Travelocity, you need to search one date at a time. If you look at the flexible date calendar for the next month, there are a lot of dates for which no fare is shown. Sites leave dates blank because they use only previous searches to fill out this calendar. If no one has previously searched for a date they will not have the price for that date. I assume they do this because the cost to search for ITA fares for 30 days is much more than the margin they make by selling a ticket. If Google own ITA they do not have to worry about that. And this information superiority will enable them to provide a better solution for their customers.

Finally Bing is investing in travel because it provides them a beach head to gain market share in search. And Google needs to make sure that Microsoft does not gain a foothold in any vertical that will eventually help them gain search market share.

Categories: Flight Search, Travel Tags:

How Fred Wilson built an amazing community at avc.com

April 8th, 2011 satish View Comments

Fred Wilson built an amazing community that visits avc.com every day and leaves a large number of comments. I have been a part of that community for about 4 years now. These are my observations on Fred’s efforts that helped built the community.

Getting Started:

  1. Write engaging content and take a strong position. Readers will not leave comments unless they strongly disagree with you or strongly agree with you.
  2. Reply in real-time to have a conversation with anyone who comments on your blog post. They will not comment again if you do not engage with them right away.
  3. Identify people who are leaving smart comments and engage them. Make sure they will return to have a conversation with you frequently.

Gaining momentum:

  1. Incentivize intelligent people by re-blogging good comments.
  2. Highlight people who leave good comments & ideas for blog posts by giving them credit for the idea for the post.
  3. Rarely invite a guest post from a star commenter. Fred Wilson’s first guest post was written by JLM.

Engaging a large established community:

  1. Once you have a decent sized community there are a number of people who read the comments sections but don’t leave comments themselves. When one of those new people leaves a comment make sure you reply. If you don’t reply, they will feel that they cannot break into the community and won’t comment again.
  2. Make a new member feel like he is part of the group, then let them communicate with other frequent visitors.
  3. Once you reach this stage, identify leaders of your community and start to high light them. This will start to delegate leadership of the community. They will spend time engaging other newer members of your community.
Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

The Data Problem with Flexible Date Search

March 17th, 2011 satish View Comments

This post is part of my series on Flight Search. I start by stating my understanding of the user needs, then derive the features based on the user needs, deconstruct the different elements of flight search on sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk etc, and finally present my own design for a flight search product.


When a user performs a flexible date +/-30 days search on a site like Kayak or Expedia, a calender with fares is displayed. This fare calender does not have fares for a number of dates as the data for this calender view is generated from previous searches on the site. If no user had previously searched for a particular date then the fare for that date is left empty. For the search I performed for the month of May from SFO-DFW, Expedia had a lot of holes in the data than kayak.

Bing on the other hand has data for a fixed set of destinations for a fixed number of dates. For one set of destinations they have the data for 90 days for trip duration of 1-8 days and for another set of destinations they have data for 180 days for trip duration of 2-14 days.

Since ITA own the data that is used by other sites their calender view is complete and probably is the freshest data available.

My knowledge on this topic is minimal. I need to dig into this topic at a later time.

ITA Calender View

Expedia Calender View

Kayak Calender View

Bing Calender View


Back to Flight Search Series.

Categories: Flight Search Tags:

My flight search results page design

March 17th, 2011 satish View Comments

This post is part of my series on Flight Search. I start by stating my understanding of the user needs, then derive the features based on the user needs, deconstruct the different elements of flight search on sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk etc, and finally present my own design for a flight search product.


Will be ready in a couple of days


Back to Flight Search Series.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Flexible Destination Tools in current sites

March 15th, 2011 satish View Comments

This post is part of my series on Flight Search. I start by stating my understanding of the user needs, then derive the features based on the user needs, deconstruct the different elements of flight search on sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk etc, and finally present my own design for a flight search product.


Kayak and Southwest take a shot at creating a travel planning tool for users who are flexible with destinations.

Kayak does some interesting things with exploring destinations but doesn’t provide an integrated experience. Kayak sends you off to a different tab/window to search for flights once you pick a destination.

Southwest on the other hand does an incredible job of providing an integrated destination browsing, hotel exploration & selection, and flight booking experience. The only problem I experience with their solution is that it is very rigid and doesn’t expect the user to go back & forth between various steps of the process. They also expect the user to browse and purchase in one visit to the website. They need to allow users to save ideas and pick up where they left. With a few tweaks their interface could become a killer vacation planning application.


Kayak
Map Based Landing Page

Filters

Dates & Budget

Type of Location

Travel Time

Sharing

Results

Southwest

Dates, Budget, Vacation Theme

Browsing Destinations on Map

Browsing Destinations in List

Filtering Hotels at a Destination by Star Rating

Browsing Filtered Hotels at a Destination

Details of a hotel

Flight choices for Destination

Confirming Choices for Vacation


Back to Flight Search Series.

Categories: Flight Search Tags:

Decision Making Tools

March 15th, 2011 satish View Comments

This post is part of my series on Flight Search. I start by stating my understanding of the user needs, then derive the features based on the user needs, deconstruct the different elements of flight search on sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk etc, and finally present my own design for a flight search product.


Bing Fare Caster Tool

Strong BuyPrediction

Strong Wait Prediction

Weak Buy & Wait Predictions

Explanation of Prediction

Fare Caster in action for flexible date purchases

In Graph Buy or Wait Information



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Categories: Flight Search Tags:

Saving flight options and sharing with others

March 15th, 2011 satish View Comments

This post is part of my series on Flight Search. I start by stating my understanding of the user needs, then derive the features based on the user needs, deconstruct the different elements of flight search on sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk etc, and finally present my own design for a flight search product.


Based on user needs, a good flight search site should provide tools to:

  • Save Searches
  • Save Flight Options
  • Email Flight Options
  • Email link to Flight Options
  • Find the same flight option later (even if the price is different)
  • Display flight options that are similar to saved flight option

Save Searches
Kayak
Kayak automatically saves the searches performed and displays them in the landing page.

Save Flight Options
kayak provides an option to save flights in the results page. The saved flights are then shown at the top of the results page above the rest of the results.

Sharing Options
Kayak provides options to copy a link, send an email, share on facebook, and share via linkedin.

Email Flight Information

Copy Link to Share

Share on Facebook

Share via Linkedin


Back to Flight Search Series.

Categories: Flight Search Tags:

Deconstructing the results page of flight search sites

March 14th, 2011 satish View Comments

This post is part of my series on Flight Search. I start by stating my understanding of the user needs, then derive the features based on the user needs, deconstruct the different elements of flight search on sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hipmunk etc, and finally present my own design for a flight search product.


Based on user needs, a good flight search site should take into consideration the following features in the design of the results page:

  • Browsing Results
    • Intuitive Display of Flight Options
      • Separate Departure and Return flight results (Note: tabs vs scroll down)
      • Hiding redundant/useless flight options
      • Show all relevant flights in one page.
      • Thin rows for each flight option showing only relevant information. (Note: Southwest Vs Hipmunk)
      • Total Price Display vs Individual leg?
    • Summary View for Chosen Dates
      • Best price for nonstop, one-stop, two-stop
      • Grid view of airline, stops & price within chosen filters.
    • +/- 3 day prices at a quick glance
    • Intuitive Filtering
      • Time filtering
      • Price filtering
      • Airline filtering
    • Sorting Options
      • Price
      • Departure Time
      • Arrival Time
      • Duration
      • Stops
    • Calendar price view for identifying good dates to travel
    • Map view for displaying flexible destination results
  • In this post I’m going to examine the results pages of various sites to identify the different solutions that they arrived at and explain my reasons for liking/disliking them.

    Intuitive Display of results
    Separating Departing and Return Flight Options
    As I explained in the previous post, on design choices that lead to a terrible experience, Orbitz, Kayak, and Hotwire combine the departing and return flights into a single trip. This makes it complicated for the user to sift through the results, filter the choices and to make a decision. I am firm believer in separating the flights into individual legs and displaying the choices for each leg separately. Southwest airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin show the departing and return flights separately to simplify the user experience. Among the travel sites Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline display the departing and return flights separately.

    Most of these sites first display the departing flight options and then the return flight options. United and soouthwest display the two flight options simultaneously. Southwest displays the return flights below the departing flights, while United displays the departing and return flights in two columns next to each other.

    United

    Southwest

    These two options might not be feasible with an aggregator site as not all return flights are available with all return flights. I would experiment with dynamically creating the return flight list in the same page based on the departing flight chosen.

    Hiding bad flight options

    Hipmunk

    Bad flights Hidden

    Bad Flights revealed

    Displaying all relevant flights in one page
    Most sites display a lot of information that is not relevant for the first level of filtering in the results page. Since they take a lot of vertical space to display each flight, the user can see only a few flights without scrolling down. For example in the image below, Orbitz displays 2 flights in the entire page before the user has to scroll the page. Other sites like Travelocity and expedia display results very similarly.
    Orbitz

    Kayak does a better job event though it shows departing & return flights together as trip. Southwest (just screwed up their display by adding points etc), American, and Hipmunk do a tremendous job of displaying only the relevant information.

    Kayak

    Southwest

    Hipmunk

    Summary View
    Kayak

    Orbitz

    Travelocity

    +/-3 Day Prices
    American Airlines

    Orbitz

    Kayak

    Travelocity

    +/-30 Day
    Travelocity

    Kayak

    Southwest

    Filtering Options
    Kayak

    Bing
    TimeFiltering

    Orbitz
    Grid Based Filtering for # of stops and airlines

    Hipmunk

    Time Filtering by Searching Again

    Sorting

    Flight Details
    Kayak

    Hipmunk
    Individual Flight Information


    Complete Trip Information


    Back to Flight Search Series.

    Categories: Flight Search Tags:

    Price Discrepancy: Round trip vs One-way

    March 10th, 2011 satish View Comments

    Price Discrepancy

    The ideal solution for a user purchasing a round trip ticket would allow the user to individually select the best departing flight option and the best return flight option. On a site displaying flight results for a single airline this can be achieved without much difficulty. Displaying the individual legs separately is more complicated for a site that aggregates flights from multiple airlines because most airlines price their round trip and on-way tickets differently. Most airlines force customers to purchase round trip tickets from the same airline by pricing one-way tickets much higher than round trip tickers.

    For example:

    Round Trip Pricing

    Individual Leg pricing

    Leg 1

    Leg 2

    In effect customers get the best rates when they purchase both legs from the same airline/alliance.

    Design Choices resulting from price discrepancy

    This pricing discrepancy creates a difficult design choice when building a flight search site that aggregates flight options from many airlines.
    Option 1: Display flight options as round trips where both legs are shown together as one flight option (For example: If there are 20 departing flights and 18 return flights, there would be ~ 360 trips to display)
    Option 2: Display the departing and return flight options separately with the understanding that not all departing flights are available with all other return flights at the same price. Such an interface allows the user to select an option for the departing flight and then dynamically display the available return options along with the corresponding price. The user can select either the departing or the return flight first and view the choices that pair with the selected option to complete a trip.

    Kayak and Orbitz display results using Option 1, while Travelocity and Hipmunk use Option 2. Hipmunk does an excellent job of allowing the users to pick either the departing or return flight first.

    Hipmunk Dynamic display of flight options
    All Return Flight Options

    Return flights filtered based on the selection of a departing flight

    Categories: Flight Search Tags: