It's hard to imagine a time before shopping carts, but it really wasn't that long ago. Sylvan Goldman, who owned a number of grocery stores in post-Depression America was the mastermind behind the shopping cart. His was a business problem to solve. The stores were suffering, and he needed shoppers to buy more groceries. In order to do this, however, they needed a tool that would be functional (to keep their arms from tiring) and, ideally, would encourage the purchase of a few more products without the carts becoming too big for the store space. As we all know, the shopping cart, which began rather small, has evolved over time to fit the way that consumers use the grocery store. Now, shoppers fill baskets—both at the grocery store and online—to the brim. Goldman would likely be shocked at how the cart has evolved, but the point is that he saw a problem and created a solution that would allow shoppers to get more of what they want, and, in turn, he increased his business.
When I think about how simple it is to fill up an Amazon cart with a million things, big and small, I am confounded at how we have limited ourselves to just a few options for booking a hotel room. You select a category, a pre-determined assembly of key room features, offered at a price. Distinct views, corner rooms, the high floor, and so many more features that have true value to many guests are relegated to either find their way into such a category – or they can only be given away for free. Adding extra services such as breakfast, or the occasional massage, some even try selling teddy bears, towels, and bathrobes; that is about as creative as we get when it comes to the use of shopping carts. Yet, we want to inspire them – get them excited and delighted. These are not inspiring choices. And, let's be honest. There are no guarantees their preferences will be delivered. All too frequently, travelers are disappointed when they arrive onsite to find out there are no more king-size beds available, or that their preference of being on a high floor could not be accommodated.
This way of booking hotel rooms goes against everything that travelers want. They want control, and we are wrongly assuming that giving them the ability to do everything on a mobile device will fulfill that desire. It will help, no doubt. However, what will set one property apart from the next is the ability to drop features into a shopping cart; choosing a hotel room based on a whole different spectrum of options than they've ever been offered before.
Like Goldman, we can look at our current situation and identify a problem. The market is competitive; supply continues to increase, and occupancy is beginning to shrink. How can we give travelers more of what they want in order to drive up occupancy and rates? Creating the desire to stay at your property is a starting point, and it begins with giving them something besides "double, non-smoking" as a choice when booking. Instead, we can directly offer them to book the room features they care about. Instead of having to choose among dozens of categories to find one that best fits their needs, and then hoping the 'Away from elevator' and King bed' requests will be honored, what if travelers are simply offered the choices that correspond to their desires? Guests could choose their view in as much or as little detail as you want. They could drop a balcony into their cart, if available. They could choose their floor: high, low, mid. The features functionality can go as far as you want. Add a bottle of wine or a choice of bathroom amenities to make it even more compelling. Each of these opportunities to make a personal selection also has the potential to move the guest to buying decisions, without ever having to leave the dream phase. Many of these features are also quantifiable, while in today's flows, they aren't capitalized on. Many guests gladly pay extra for the guaranteed bed type, floor, or view. And once committed to "the dream" of their stay, they are less likely to change their mind.
Intelligent technology allows hotels to offer these opportunities. It encourages guests to book with you, because you've given them more of what they want, and it increases loyalty when guests can select the exact amenities and conveniences they care about, and that are geared to the purpose of their stay. Making this experience, and consistently delivering on it – that is what creates loyalty. This last point can't be overstated. We are in an era of declining loyalty. According to a 2016 JD Power survey, every succeeding generation is less likely to be a member of a rewards program, and it's safe to say that every succeeding generation desires more control, too (JD Power).
Being more competitive in selling hotel rooms is about more than distribution channels and Google rank. Guests know how to search for the kind of place they want, and most will go to great effort to find it. According to Google, a typical traveler has over 700 digital touch points while planning a trip. This includes 52 Google searches, and eight different accommodation brands considered before booking (Think with Google). When it comes down to deciding between hotel A and hotel B, travelers care about a lot more than just price point. They care more about relevant choices and designing their own experience than they do about saving $20. The opportunity to capture travelers is right there in the empty shopping cart space that hotels have not begun to use. Yet.