After 14 long years, Wotif.com, Australia’s largest online travel agent, has made the monumental and inevitable decision to ditch the home page it’s had since launching way back in 2000. Wotif will replace the dated visage within a week or two – no firm date set – and roll out a modern look that has passed muster, though not without reservations, in testing with its devoted customer base.

“With any change, we are going to lose a few nostalgic people who’d like things to always stay the way they were,” said Scott Moorhead, Executive General Manager (EGM), User Experience & Innovation at Wotif Group.

“But that’s why we test before we roll-out, and actively ask for user feedback.

“One of the things that has surprised me most is just how passionately people feel about the experience.

“The words people use to describe their reaction to the change (good or bad), I can’t imagine people applying to most retail services.

“When people tell us what they think, it’s really polarised.

“I guess that shows just how much people have taken Wotif to heart: they feel like we are changing THEIR Wotif.”

But change is necessary.

“For us it’s about being adventurous, and evolving, while still meeting the expectations of our huge base of customers, many of whom have used the site for 14 years.

“And that’s why we closely watch the stats too – they usually tell a more reasoned story.”

CURRENT HOME PAGE

Screen grab - Wotif traditional 4.03.14

BETA OF NEW HOME PAGE

Screen grab - Wotif new beta-home page Feb 14

Mr Moorhead was circumspect in explaining why Wotif finally decided to make the home page change.

“Over 14 years, what used to be a short list of Australian cities on our homepage grew into a very substantial list of destinations around the world.

“It’s been exciting to see that growth, but a list of thousands of destinations isn’t the easiest thing to navigate and has a bunch of in-built limitations: like assuming that everyone refers to destinations the same way.’

“The new home page is one component in a planned range of new features and design elements throughout the site.

“When it comes time for a widespread release, as much as possible there’ll be a consistency to the elements throughout the site.

“At the same time though we are embracing a philosophy of continual testing and release and that means some elements may ‘go live’ before others as they prove themselves in testing.

“For example, our new packages page on Wotif.com is already featuring enhanced and inspirational images, and has a modernised look and feel.”

But one thing that will not be changing is ‘the matrix’, which displays all prices in an easy-to-assess grid.

THE MATRIX

Wotif grid

“The ‘matrix’ is here to stay, and for good reason,” Mr Moorhead said.

“It’s one of those things we know has a big fan base of Wotif.com loyalists (and) continues to provide an easy way to compare rates for price sensitive travellers who have flexibility about when they want to travel.

“The grid layout is now also somewhat unique (on most sites, customers would have a hard time knowing if the next or previous day or week offered a better deal).

“However, that’s not to say we don’t see ways of improving the customer experience ahead. It’s likely we’ll add some improvements over time.”

He said the evolution is possible due to back-end technology and system enhancements over the past year that are “allowing us to be more nimble”.

Better data utilisation is also a focus.

“We are working on technically taking more advantage of a range of data that we’ve been sitting on for a long time,” he explained.

“For example, we’ve got more reviews of Australian and NZ accommodation than anyone else.

“We can do more with that data than just showing it to people.

“There’s a range of things we can do to help customers separate the signal from the noise and get a more tailored list of accommodation options.

Will it work better on mobile?

“Yes. And there’s more on the way there too,” he said.

“It won’t happen all at once, but we are working through each of the sections of the site to make sure they feel right on almost any size device.

“Our Packages product works great on mobile now.

“At the same time our native iOS and Android apps are getting a great response and in some ways have presaged a number of our desktop design and functionality changes.”

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