As big retailers such as Woolworths and Marks & Spencer announce disappointing Christmas profits, the webs e-commerce giants including eBay and Amazon anticipate unprecedented sales figures. But research shows it is the travel industry taking the largest pioneering steps.
European online travel sales finally outstripped the US this Christmas and the UK public represent 36% of the buying power. Forrester Research also noted that for the first time, more affluent shoppers have come online to purchase holidays and spearhead an incredible 44% increase in 2004.
Winner of Future Internet’s Best Business ISP 2004 - UKFast, commissioned research into the top ten vital components for a successful e-commerce site. Unsurprisingly, price came top of the list followed closely by the more technical aspects of navigation, speed and accuracy of results and then 100% uptime.
UKFast’s Managing Director Lawrence Jones (pictured) is not surprised by the results. “No one likes being left waiting in a shop queue and the same applies to a Website. We go out of our way to make sure that our clients’ customers enjoy a better online experience. Companies like cheapestflights.co.uk thrive on high speed, fully backed up GraphiterackTM servers and we’re hugely pleased to be a small part of their success.”
Macclesfield based CSI Media are responsible for designing and hosting a catalogue of online agents. Commercial Director Richard Nash believes one common denominator in creating a competitive e-commerce site is the infrastructure. “Speed of service and 100 per cent availability are everything to clients like cheapestflights and Air Scotland. Downtime just isn’t an option when you are dealing with such fierce competition.”
The implications for high street travel agents using the Internet as an information highway may be drastic as they find customers experimenting online much more in 2005. As more people find the confidence to complete transactions without appearing face-to-face, Richard Nash warns that the high street agencies need to think about how to stay in sync. “The nature of the industry is changing. Agents may find themselves offering financial advice but rarely taking bookings as the e-revolution gathers momentum.”
Despite the emerging trend, Nigel Schofield, MD of The Cheshire Travel Centre and gateways.co.uk is upbeat; “People look online, but rarely book online. They do lots of research on our sites, but will then ring up or pop into the office to complete the deal. We’re happy to say we were busier than ever this Christmas.”
Cheshire Travel are afforded a niche perspective as their packages attract many tourists at the top end of the financial scale. However, UKFast predict that as travel sites get more sophisticated and the public confidence grows the high street will suffer major casualties.