How does a Web page’s usability — its ability to easily deliver what its users want — impact business? Last week, that factor determined which of three hotels in Lake Placid I used when going up a day early for the SUNY CUAD conference.
The budget hotel I planned to use the night before the conference was further out than expected, so I pulled into a parking lot with three downtown hotels in view and pulled out my iPhone. This night was coming out of my own pocket, so I really just wanted a bed at a reasonable rate. You’d think price information would be easy to find on their Web sites, right?
Choices from Hotel A’s main page don’t help. The Online Reservation option sends to a third-party page requiring me to fill in a form, including lots of typing and pull-down menus. Not great on the mobile Web. Are the rates are listed elsewhere? Not under Specials, unless you want a two-night golf package. Lodging? Just big glowing room descriptions. The site isn’t designed with users in mind.
I want to give Hotel B a bit more of a shot, feeling guilty about using its parking lot as I surf. OK, Rates and Availability clearly listed. Work a few pulldown menus, and hit enter. That brings me … back to the original page and asks me to re-enter the data. I do again. And get bounced again. The submission form is either a) broken, or b) won’t work with an iPhone. Next!
Hotel C has a page labeled Rates. I click and, voila, it gives me — wait for it — rates! They look reasonable, and minutes later I check into Northwoods Inn at a reasonable price for a wonderful view of Mirror Lake, a kitchenette and a nice bed. Truth is, all I wanted was the bed … the rest was a bonus.
So why do hotels — or sellers of anything — make it so hard to find out how much something costs? Do they think that once you’ve clicked through countless pages and filled out forms that you’ll feel sufficiently committed to close the sale?
Similarly, Mary Beth Kurilko made a great point during her SUNY CUAD presentation: The thing parents most want when they come to college Web sites is how much the school costs. So what do most colleges do? Make it as hard to find as possible, as if we’re ashamed of it. With a tight economy, most consumers — of hotels or schools or products — are looking for value. If we make this hard to find, we shouldn’t be surprised if frustrated users keep looking down the road.