Amazon of travel? What your airline can learn from the eCommerce giant

By Hélène Dubos | Trends & Innovation

Feb 27
Amazon of travel

Back in 2015, Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Europe’s leading budget airline Ryanair said he wanted to make his business the ‘Amazon of travel’. The strategy would see the Irish carrier selling everything from complete holidays to hotels to car hire and much more.

Whether the business has succeeded in becoming the Amazon of travel is up for debate, but the idea is compelling. Amazon launched in the mid-1990’s as an online bookstore and has now gone on to dominate a huge proportion of online retail. While buying books, computers and even food digitally is very different to the process of buying and selling flight tickets, there’s no doubt that airlines can emulate some of the practices that have made Amazon so successful.

Here are some of the key ways airlines can learn from Amazon’s success.

Be customer obsessed

Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos has said that the online giant’s ‘secret sauce’ for success is an ‘obsession’ with customers. Specifically, Amazon has focused on pleasing customers first, rather than focussing on what its competitors are doing or its short-term profits. Instead, they have long focused on how they can respond to their customers’ desires, believing that this will always pay off in the long term.

What can airlines learn here?

Aim to innovate in ways which will add value to passengers – whether it’s offers of free refreshments during transfers, partnerships with tourism businesses in your destination or new ways of processing luggage to make the check-in process faster. By constantly striving to make the customer experience better and better, airlines can really make themselves stand out as the Amazon of travel.

Suggestions based on other customers’ behaviour

One of Amazon’s most widely-recognized innovations is their suggestions based on other customer purchases. Whenever customers look at a particular product on the site, they are met with a range of similar product suggestions that other customers have viewed or purchased too. This provides inspiration and means customers may consider buying something they otherwise would never have thought of.

What can airlines learn here?

While imitating Amazon with a suggestion like “customers who bought flights to Rome also looked at flights to Florence” may not quite work for airlines, it certainly offers inspiration. By tracking the behaviour of your customers as they navigate your website, you can build up consistent pictures of people’s interest in different destinations and recommend alternative routes and locations.

Imagine a group of 19-year-old students who want to go somewhere hot on holiday. They may have found flights to a destination in Crete where they went last year. However, with alternative recommendations to, say, a Greek island, they may decide to try somewhere different, based on the purchasing decisions of people like them. This kind of offer could boost loyalty since passengers know your airline would always be able to help them make decisions if they don’t have a lot of time at hand to research themselves.

Become an Amazon of travel by saving your passengers time

Amazon knows that its customers’ most precious resource is their time, and so has designed its entire website to make purchasing as quick and easy as possible (including, for instance, it’s ‘one-click purchase’ option). By making it easy to find and buy products, with as few unwanted extras upselling options possible, Amazon saves its customers time and only offers them what they want.

What can airlines learn here?

Again, it’s worth making the caveat that the way airline passengers make purchases is different to how people make retail decisions (flight tickets are generally more expensive than a retail ‘shopping basket’). Nonetheless, the notion that buying a flight ticket or any other ancillary should be quick and easy is worth bearing in mind.

For example, some airlines slow down the experience of purchasing a ticket by including page after page of options for seat upgrades, additional luggage and car hire – all of which demands the passenger’s time and irritates them. The reason for doing so is, of course, to increase ancillary sales and give the customer options which can be useful for some passengers, yet for others its an irritating distraction. One solution here is to use only show them relevant ancillary sales options based on a passenger’s previous behaviour and that of customers like them – learn how this would work here.

Know what they want before they do

Amazon recently announced a futuristic new patent: anticipatory package shipping. The notion is that, by using the vast amounts of data it holds on its customers, the company can confidently predict what many of its customers are going to buy next. The firm would then ship out products from its central warehouses to local branches in the expectation that a customer is likely to order those goods soon – and this would mean they could then deliver products even faster.

What can airlines learn here?

The simple lesson to be learnt is that Amazon is using the vast troves of data it holds in highly innovative ways – and airlines should too. Most airlines hold a huge quantity of data on their passengers, where they travel to, what interests them and their personal budgets. By using this data intelligently, airlines could offer a huge range of services to personalize their offers.

Say, for example, a business customer buys the same flight ticket on the same route every three months. Why not reserve their ticket for them in advance once the flight becomes available, locking in the best price? This kind of offer would delight the customer, saving them money and ensuring they stay loyal to your airline.

Could your airline become the Amazon of travel?

Amazon has had an enormous impact on the way the retail industry works, changing perceptions about what can be done time and again. While passengers buy airline tickets in a very different way to the way they buy products in retail, Amazon still provides plenty of inspiration to airlines.

Perhaps the clearest message from Amazon is about the importance of digging into your data to offer more personalized products. And with the right tools, airlines can certainly do that too.