Understanding the psyche of today’s traveller

  • TECH
  • Sunday, 08 May 2016

Testing 1,2,3: Expedia’s Innovation Lab enables the company to track how users feel when they go online to plan for their holidays on Expedia.com. — Handout

Expedia’s Innovation Lab – which tests user’s online responses – is coming to Singapore.

EXPEDIA is all set to launch a new Innovation Lab in Singapore this year, where it will use eye-tracking and facial-movement technology to understand how and why people choose their holidays.

During a recent media trip to Expedia’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, media from around the world were given a behind-the-scenes look at how researchers at the Innovation Lab at the HQ (also known as a usability lab) conduct experiments, analyse graphs and then translate people’s responses into making the Expedia online experience more user-friendly for users everywhere.

Participants (random people sought out by a third party, and compensated with a gift card for their efforts) are invited to the lab and asked to use the site as they would at home. These participants are then hooked up to an eye tracker and face sensors which measure electrical impulses in two muscles (forehead and mouth) and seated in an adjoining room from the researcher who observes their behaviour through a two-way ­mirror. The sensors detect slight changes in facial expressions that suggest feelings of happiness, ­frustration, or anxiety, and researchers leverage on those insights, in the same way Electromyography or EMG works.

Scott Jones, vice president of global product design and user experience at Expedia, explained how holiday planning online can often lead to fatigue, and yet the consumer usually wants as much data as they can have in order to make the best decisions.

“Unlike other e-commerce – where you can return stuff – with travel, you don’t really know what you’ve purchased online until you get there,” said Jones, revealing that the average consumer would make at least 48 searches for flights, and 22 for accommodations before actually booking. (That’s actually a pretty tiny number when compared to what Greg Mushen, director of flight search product, claims is a mind-boggling 19 quadrillion unique round trip options between Seattle and Atlanta on one day).

“We’re looking at directional data and how people process information,” added Bill Long, senior director, global product design and user experience. Long talked about a spectrum of delight – how users can be delighted consistently and for how long that delight is able to linger; as well as how they have learnt from gaming research that frustration can sometimes be a good thing because it involves learning.

Visitors browse at the stand of global online travel brand Expedia during the International Tourism Trade Fair (ITB) in Berlin, Germany, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Long talked about a spectrum of delight – how users can be delighted consistently and for how long that delight is able to linger; as well as how they have learnt from gaming research that frustration can sometimes be a good thing because it involves learning. — Reuters

In Singapore, Expedia is already gearing up and recruiting ­manpower for research work to be done on local consumers.

Principal user experience research manager Tammy Snow, who walked the media through a usability-testing session in Bellevue, said that in Singapore, Expedia hopes to start out with a few studies per month to get the team familiar with the process, company culture, and to ensure results are stable.

“The lab will run studies for the entire Asia Pacific region as needed. We also have capabilities to perform studies in the specific point of sale we are interested in, if the test warrants it,” she said.

Does Expedia expect to find any major differences that may result between the Asian test subjects vs the rest of the world?

Snow said: “We are going to let the data answer this question for us. However, we imagine some of our other observations may be good indicators. For example, we’re keen to get information on data input fields as they currently exist, and how we could alter them to better suit the needs for characters versus letters.”

While the lab is a new addition, the test-and-learn culture of Expedia has long been practised in this region.

Gabriyel Wong, head of product, Expedia Asia, says that Asia already contributes to thousands of tests by Expedia annually.

“The product team prioritises tests according to their importance and opportunity and the number of tests varies from month to month.

“The Asian product benefits from the goodness of global test-and-learn as well as specific learnings in Asia. For example, the Storefront (homepage) is a place where Asian users have needs that are very different to users in other parts of the world, such as searching for locations through typing in non-Romanised characters and easy selection on maps or drop-down lists. We are running tests on the shopping path as well to continually optimise the experience such as filters usage, clarity of information and layout.”

The Malaysian connection

Shiva Naidu is a 36-year-old user experience researcher at Expedia who hails from Petaling Jaya!

“My aunty and nenek raised me. Our home is in Kampung Tunku. I attended Kampung Tunku Primary School back in the day, and I do miss my aunty’s mutton rendang and nasi lemak for breakfast.”

A Wichita State University graduate, Shiva has worked for Expedia for four years.

“As a UX Researcher at Expedia, I help our design and product teams answer questions by exploring the behaviours, motivations and ­frustrations of online travel shoppers. I conduct usability lab studies, interviews with current travel shoppers, and also remote usability sessions (like the lab studies except it is online with users across the US and the world),” he said.

“The biggest thing I love about my job is the ability to test myself as a researcher with new and ­innovative projects all the time. For example, I recently started research with customers who are blind and tested their shopping experience using Expedia.com. Our EMG research was also brand new when I got to work on it a couple of years ago.”

While technology is king at Expedia, the company’s people and work culture comes a close second. And Shiva concurs wholeheartedly. “I love the easy ‘work from home’ policy we have at Expedia. I have a four-year-old daughter and she gets sick all the time so it is nice to be able to just take care of her and not worry about having to be in the office.

“We also have a lax dress code which is great because I love wearing jeans and T-shirts everyday!”

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Lifestyle , Expedia , Innovation Lab , Testing , Travel


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