Guest Post:  Flight shoppers want more visuals and airlines can deliver

Guest Post: Flight shoppers want more visuals and airlines can deliver

Angela Sultana, head of global marketing of ATPCO, discusses recent research conducted by the company, which found flight shoppers want 4-6 images for options like seats and in-flight extras and that one third would pay more if they were able to see what they were getting

There are certain retail categories that are now largely purchased online, from books and music to fashion retail and technology. Retail data company, Profitero, recommends an average of 6-8 pictures per item for sale on Walmart, and recent ATPCO research shows that flight shoppers want 4-6. While people have come to expect to see multiple pictures of every t-shirt, pair of headphones and even toothbrushes sold online, airline tickets are another story.

While the average price of a flight is significantly higher than most items purchased online, airlines have not yet fully embraced the concept of visual search, even though consumers want them. In fact, ATPCO’s recent survey of 500 consumers from 30 regions across the globe found one universal truth - 83% of flight shoppers want visuals of the seat, leg-room and in-flight extras. Not only that, and maybe more surprisingly, one third said they’d pay more if they were able to see what they were getting.

Shoppers want to know what they’re sitting in 

While the retail world evolved to deliver a more visual online shopping approach, airlines have held onto their text-oriented shopping experience for too long. While it’s understandable, enabling in-depth comparison shopping across multiple airlines and fare brand products is difficult to visually showcase, there are many innovative ways to highlight a more retail-rich experience. There are also likely a few fears that have held airlines back from embracing images.

First, while certain airline’s economy legroom has gotten smaller, airlines, understandably may not be very excited to advertise that. Second, there’s a lot of complexity. With airline tickets, there’s a level of variation that airlines can’t always predict months into the future, and not all planes have the same experience. The seats and layout configuration might vary, and the in-flight entertainment might be configured differently, some may have charging ports for devices, some may not. We understand it’s far easier to merchandise a t-shirt or a book online than it is a flight. You can return a tee shirt that doesn’t look like what you saw online. It’s a lot harder to do the equivalent with an airline ticket.

Despite these hurdles, progress is being made, and airlines and travel sellers should be proud of some of the leaps forward they have taken, for example like KAYAK’s OTA site or Gulf Air’s direct sites. Airlines don’t just need to implement more visuals of the flight experience just for consumers, airlines and sellers can also increase their bottom line. Other prominent studies have found that visual search has the potential to increase revenue. Northwestern University found that visual search is the most trusted by consumers across the board. For first mover airlines, adding visuals provides a competitive advantage. The reality is that most airlines are working within similar parameters and showing the size of a coach seat with an image, and our survey shows, that it will actually encourage someone to upgrade more than it pushes them towards another airline entirely (which likely has the same size seats.)

Airlines don’t need a brand new A350 in order to add images to the flight shopping experience, and shouldn’t worry that shoppers will judge images too harsly. With the right approach, airlines can give shoppers the visual experience they expect, while managing the tricky elements. Visuals can show a range of seats that the consumer might expect to sit in, for example. Research shows that images actually build more trust with customers in the long run. We found that 70% would likely upgrade from basic economy to economy, if they saw what they were getting.

Making the difference 

As more airlines try to create an edge, visuals can also be used to highlight the extras that matter to different shoppers. Consumers care a lot about in-flight amenities, and they can become a competitive advantage. Our study found that 80% of shoppers compare offers from multiple airlines. If someone can actually see the legroom, extra carry-on size, or in-flight meal that they will be getting, research shows that they’ll prefer it over an offer they can’t see.

With airlines embracing dynamic offers to deliver more personalized, tailored flights for shoppers, research shows that consumers are much more likely to select offers that show images, visuals can provide a sort of turbo boost to higher customer satisfaction.