Competitor review puts Loving Apartments in a holiday mood

1 November 2011

Online booking of holiday apartments is now the rule rather than the exception, and customers expect an uneventful journey and smooth landing when they negotiate a company’s web pages. Loving Apartments wanted to test whether its website was delivering what customers wanted – and how it stood against others’ offerings.

Director Iain Macauley approached HELO and asked if the programme could help find someone to test the site’s user-friendliness. Consultant Ashton King provided an impartial opinion with his first-ever competitor review: Loving Apartments learnt what it was doing right and wrong, and within weeks had made improvements based on his recommendations.

Loving Apartments

Self-catering holiday apartments are an ideal alternative to hotels, providing comfort, privacy and value-for-money– not to mention the experience of living like a local for a short time. Iain Macauley and Jonny Norman set up Loving Apartments (www.lovingapartments. com) in 2003 as a ‘lifestyle business’ alongside their then-day jobs; now it is a fulltime concern, offering holiday accommodation in 12 destinations from Amsterdam to Zermatt.

In such a competitive industry, where at the click of a button – or not, as may be the case – a customer will move onto the next online booking agent at the first hurdle, ease of use is essential: the company earns its revenue from commission from direct bookings. Catherine Luther, Loving Apartments’ Marketing Manager, says: “We needed an impartial user, a fresh eye, to test what a customer would experience when booking a holiday rental on our site and three competitors’ sites, to see what works and what doesn’t. We were too close to it. So Iain contacted UCL Advances for help.”

Ashton King, a UCL graduate in human computer interaction who had already carried out usability testing for start-ups through the HELO programme, designed and tested a scenario representative of Loving Apartments’ typical clientele – a family of four with two young children searching for a suitable apartment in Barcelona.

He quickly identified a number of problems and suggested changes: double arrows on the search calendar that scrolled year by year, not month by month as expected, were removed; and walking distance from the city centre was included in the area information. Loving Apartments was also encouraged by what they’d got right vis-à-vis their competitors: bed configurations were clearly visible and the testimonials page was easily accessible.

Catherine Luther says: “We would not have arrived at our conclusions without Ashton’s help. Making even a few small changes will enable us to attract and retain more customers.”

Ashton says: “I’ve gained experience across a number of areas with HELO, from full usability tests to expert reviews. This is the first time I’ve carried out a competitor review using a qualitative approach.”