In-house tech team to drive Lastminute’s assault on SoLoMo

One-time gem of the UK online travel scene, lastminute.com, has moved to London’s jewellery quarter as it seeks to forge a dazzling future. A year after he took on the role, president Mathew Crummack tells Lee Hayhurst about his vision


New London offices and a refreshed focus on its core mission of providing five star experiences at three star prices is helping to reinvigorate lastminute.com, according to its new chief.


Although the latest announcement of a ‘rebrand’ in March met with a somewhat withering response from online travel insiders, under new president Matthew Crummack real change is happening.


This is no more evident than in the new offices Lastminute now resides in having moved out of its long-time, rather less streamlined, home in Victoria.


Now based in the London jewellery quarter of Hatton Garden, where it shares a building with online media agency Unique Digital, Crummack is trying to revive Lastminute’s ‘cheeky’ personality.


Any attempt to artificially manufacture such an identity would be seen through straight away by today’s savvy online shopper, but Crummack believes he has the right people and surroundings to succeed.


“What has perhaps evolved over the last year is we are very clear what we want to be as a business providing great five star experiences at three star prices in a last-minute window,” he said.


“We are not forcing ourselves on people, it’s an optional play and we need to make sure our option is very attractive.”


Crummack is conscious that Lastminute, although part of the global Travelocity and Sabre Holdings empire, must find an agility and responsiveness to local market conditions of its own.


So, even though the new offices have only been inhabited for a matter of months, already the walls on one side of the main atrium are littered with an assortment of hand-written notes.


Crummack explained these were all part of the process of encouraging staff to get involved with a more integrated and accessible technology team in the day-to-day development of the website.


Lastminute’s in-house web development team now reside along one side of the open plan office where on one set of cabinets sit computer screens displaying the latest iteration of its home page, currently being live tested, and iPad site.


Next to the screens is a suggestions box for those members of staff who come and play with the site to leave their thoughts.


Close by, a breakout area has been transformed into a makeshift-looking lab where more developing and testing is being done with a particular focus on the one area Lastminute must surely look to be leading the way on – mobile.


Crummack believes if Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman were to have set up Lastminute today they would have gone straight to mobile.


“It’s been quite a story, the first 13 years of Lastminute,” he says. “It was the poster child of the dot com era and we created an opportunity for people to buy five star lifestyles at three star prices.


“We do not want to change that, and we think that’s a very relevant proposition today particularly in these recessionary times.


“People are having a hard time and they like going out and doing things that are good value. We want to make the unobtainable obtainable for people.


“The heritage and the brand story is not just some images we put on the side of a bus, it’s the DNA story about what we as a business do for our customers.


“We can design new brand materials, which we have and which we are very pleased with, but to really drive that cultural change takes a lot longer than that.


“If you look at what’s changed versus 10 years ago there were not some of the specialist competitors by category that we have today.


“And people move very quickly today, so part of it is about this organisation being able to move quickly, be agile and find ways to improve the customer experience so we improve our conversion levels, but in an agile way.


“Equally, we have to engage with our customers in a different way and SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) is inevitable and has certainly been something we have had to respond to, particularly through our social channels.”


Lastminute is pleased with the growth in its Facebook likes, up 44% on a year ago to 120,000, and its Twitter followers, currently sitting at around 20,000 and growing.


But this is just the start of a process which Crummack says will see it hone its offering more closely to the desires of customers not just in London, but other UK regions, as well as overseas markets.


“We are very keen to drive innovation here out of the UK and we are building a business right now which will allow us to be quick and nimble in the future. But the future’s not far away.


“I have stakeholders in the business now who are very keen to bring things to market and you will see evidence of that.


“What we primarily want to do is radically improve our customer experience which drives a lot of engagement and means customers come back time and time again.


“That’s not a one-time piece of work, that’s a state of mind in continually improving the journey for our customers.”


Crummack admits during Lastminute’s “teenage years” when it embarked on a remarkable spending spree of travel firms, it maybe got a bit ahead of itself and tried to do too much.


But now as a young adult in business development terms Lastminute is looking to “make life simple”.


“What we have done is made some decisions about what will be important for us across the next two to three years and what will bring that brand value.


“We have been very clear and tried to simplify things down but we are investing significantly in our new technology team and new technology projects, as you can see in our offices here.”

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