Skyscanner has disrupted online search and travel sectors alike with its easy to use holiday research platform.
The site was founded in 2003 with the intention of making it easy for customers to find affordable airfares across multiple carriers in Europe. Since then, the business has become a global force with 900 employees across 10 cities worldwide and more than 60 million users.
Here are five lessons that retailers can learn from Skyscanner.
A smart way to crack China
At its inception, Skyscanner had a laser focus on providing airfare price comparisons in Europe. However, the company soon realised there was an international appetite for this kind of service and expanded into China in 2012.
Many retailers have tried and failed to crack the affluent but elusive China opportunity. Skyscanner has had success by collaborating with local partners to access expertise fast.
In 2014 the airfare search platform acquired Chinese start-up Youbibi, which chief executive Gareth Williams said would bring together “the best of both worlds with Skyscanner’s international coverage and Youbibi’s domestic travel search and intimate knowledge of the Chinese traveller”.
It was a canny move that delivered stratospheric expansion in the country – the following year the Scottish-based business reported a 65% rise in its Chinese user base driven by its mobile app.
The success of this venture caught the eye of Chinese travel agent Ctrip, which snapped up Skyscanner for £1.4bn in November last year, with ambitions to supercharge the platform’s expansion into more international territories.
Making the most of voice technology
Voice commerce and the impact of how customers use it to find and buy items has sent many businesses in retail and beyond scrambling. Skyscanner has very much taken the disruptive new channel as an opportunity.
It was one of the first businesses to offer voice search capabilities on Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo.
As well as being first to market on voice, investment has been made to improve in-house machine learning capabilities and to launch its own chatbot, which allow customers to find cheap airfare via Facebook Messenger.
Skyscanner has responded at pace to the changing landscape of search to ensure its business is resilient to changing consumer habits – a tactic that many retailers could consider adopting.
Catering for opportunistic customers
Much like retail, the success of the travel sector is linked to the appetite of its customers – and the depth of their pockets.
Skyscanner has sidestepped downturns that could have afflicted it in times of consumer uncertainty by introducing a variety of features and alerts that incentivise spending both for big holiday planners and impromptu mini-break thrill-seekers.
It allows shoppers to track prices to destinations on their wishlists and will send notifications on cheap routes as they become available.
It offers responsive charts that show the price of flights around a customer’s preferred date to ensure they are getting the best deal
For city-hoppers the business offers a multi-destination option that will consolidate all flight details to and from several consecutive destinations into one price – a service that not even search giant Google can offer.
Skyscanner also uploads regular content on its website and app, with tips about places to stay and things to do at various locations with a range of price points.
By investing in features that encourage customers to browse and come back, Skyscanner has created a robust service that attracts users outside of the usual summer and Christmas peaks.
Making things simple
For many retailers there is a debate about the return on investment that a mobile app would add to their business – Skyscanner has made a compelling case for why they are worthwhile.
Its free mobile app has been downloaded more than 60 million times and the overriding feedback from users is positive about its simplicity.
From notifying shoppers when a price of a flight they’re interested in is about to go up, to allowing them to select flights from an airport of their choice to anywhere in the world sorted by price, Skyscanner’s app acts as a source of travel motivation and inspiration.
Putting ease at the forefront of its operations is what has made Skyscanner stand out from rivals. The business describes itself as ’global but local’ and offers products in 30 languages and 70 currencies.
Own the ecosystem
Starting life as airfare price search platform for Europe, as it grew so did its ambitions and it later expanded to worldwide flight coverage.
Recently Skyscanner has expanded its price comparison capabilities across hotels and car hire.
Its latest financial results revealed that the hotel and car division made up 9% of its overall revenue, up from 6% the previous year.
While a £12.9m contribution to overall sales of £158.3m is relatively minor, it demonstrates the scale of the travel search engine’s ambitions.
By expanding into new areas of the travel market Skyscanner is establishing itself as a one-stop shop for holiday planning.
For consumers who increasingly expect speed and convenience in all their transactions, Skyscanner’s appetite to serve all of their travel needs is something from which retailer’s eyeing expansion could learn.
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