An independent competitive analysis

Matthew Nieder­berger pub­lished a quick usabil­ity com­par­i­son test in his blog Actu­alIn­sights* called Remote User Test­ing: Airbnb vs Wimdu.

He did a remote test using UserTest​ing​.com with 5 users and the goal of the test was have first time users analyse and com­pare their first impres­sions on both web applications.

The results are inter­est­ing and Matthew’s expe­ri­ence in the travel indus­try helped him pro­duce very smart insights. It was well worth read­ing the whole arti­cle. I got some good ideas and insights for the project.

I have been mean­ing to use UserTest​ing​.com for a while and thought I would finally be able to use it on this ver­sion of the pro­to­type (ver­sion 10), but after read­ing this arti­cle and watch­ing how UT works I had the impres­sion that it would not really work on a pro­to­type. I seems like a remote test­ing ser­vice more suited for live web­sites. At least that was my over­all impression.

UX Design Notes: Room77 Competitive Analysis

Notes:

  • Room77​.com has a great con­cept: empow­er­ing hotel guests by inform­ing them which are the best rooms at a given hotel.
  • The prob­lem is that users are not able to see the avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar of that room or book it from the web­site. All the user get in the end of the expe­ri­ence is instruc­tions on where to call and how to talk to the front desk clerks of those hotels. The Web site is still in its beta ver­sion and not many hotels pop­u­late their data­base. How­ever it has great poten­tial, spe­cially if they decide to show user gen­er­ated pic­tures of the views and the rooms, as well as guest’s reviews.

What can I take from room77​.com?

  • Keyzz​.com should encour­age hosts to post pic­tures of the views from their prop­er­ties as well as its sur­round­ings and nearby attractions.
  • A “view” based search option for guests. If at least one prop­erty pic­ture is tagged as a “view” pic­ture, guests could view search results that com­pare prop­er­ties’ “views”.
  • Google Maps exten­sive customization.

What should I avoid based on room77.com’s Web site?

  • Search refine­ment that hides the options or uses non-conventional sym­bols to com­mu­ni­cate fil­ter options.
  • The Web site does not have offer a tool or fea­ture to help the users to find rooms that matches their bud­gets. Under the “room cat­e­gory” fil­ter there are three options divided accord­ing to room’s prices, but it does not give a real or ball­park price or price range. That means that for most users, room77​.com is a Web site that needs to be used in con­junc­tion to at least one other Web site in order to ful­fill the user’s main need which is to find a hotel room.

Due next week

  • User test­ing plan for “Host” User Testing

UX Design Notes: Information Architecture

Here’s the revised ver­sion of the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture diagram:

Information Architecture Revised Spring 2011

Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture Revised Spring 2011


Bel­low is the User Test­ing Script and Tasks revised after the pilot test for the sec­ond round of usabil­ity test­ing to be con­ducted in the next few weeks:


Notes:

After pilot test was done, the fol­low­ing changes were made to the pro­to­type to allow a more con­sis­tent and real­is­tic expe­ri­ence for users being tested:

  • The sign up and log in flow were fixed.
  • List Your Prop­erty is now List a property.
  • The map on prop­erty page reflects the map on search results page.
  • Prop­erty details were fixed to reflect the details on the tasks.
  • Prop­erty list­ings were changed to give a more real­is­tic impres­sion of the search results.
  • Email mes­sage from host to guest was changed to bet­ter reflect the sce­nario pro­posed by the task.
  • Fixed task 5 instruc­tions and pages on pro­to­type in order to be con­sis­tent to the over­all sce­nario pro­posed by the task.
  • Fixed task 8 instruc­tions so it does not tip the user about what must be done (can­not use the term wish list, the user needs to guess that).
  • On the Your Pro­file page the add a pic­ture fea­ture was cre­ated to sim­u­late the real feature.
  • The search details sec­tion of the Search Results page was fixed to reflect the details given by the user task.
  • Details of the Book­ing page were changed to reflect the details of the user task 2.

In class

  • Lec­ture and video about mind maps.
  • User test­ing with Kathleen.

Feed­back

  • User test­ing text needs gen­eral revi­sion to improve clar­ity, use a more user friendly lan­guage, and improve cre­ation of a con­sis­tent sce­nario for the users.

Due next week

  • Revised User Test­ing Plan
  • Book­ing can­cel­la­tion sequence for guest side prototype.

UX Design Notes: Interviews and Wireframes

In class:

  • In class exer­cise: Inter­view x Interviewee
  • Lec­ture on qual­i­ta­tive user research techniques.
  • User Per­sonas.
  • Com­pet­i­tive Analysis.
  • What is the prob­lem that’s been solved by the project.
  • Board of Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in Pro­fes­sional Ergonom­ics (BCPE)
  • Usabilitylabaau@​gmail.​com and usabil​ity​labaau​.com

Notes:

  • I can fin­ish build­ing the pro­to­type for “guests” on week 4 and start test­ing on week 5.
  • Book being used for usabil­ity class: A project guide to UX Design (Unger).
  • Cre­ate an spe­cific sec­tion of the Require­ment Analy­sis for the prob­lem that is being solved by the project:
    • The most impor­tant prob­lem is the book­ing model cur­rently adopted by all vaca­tion rental websites.
    • The solu­tion is instant book­ing of vaca­tion rentals.
    • It solves a big prob­lem for the guests: instant book­ing with­out lengthy exchange of messages.
    • And it solves a big prob­lem for the hosts : attract guests who don’t like the old book­ing model,

Feed­back

  • Get pre­pared for user test­ing in less than 2 weeks.
  • Go to usabil­ity lab and talk to Josh.

Due next week

  • Fin­ish pro­to­type for guests user tasks.
  • Test plan.
  • Test in class next class.

UX Design Notes: Revised Use Case Scenarios

Bel­low is a report with all pri­mary and sec­ondary use case sce­nar­ios (user tasks) for guests and hosts.


 

IN CLASS

  • Indi­vid­ual Presentations
  • Lec­ture: User Research

Notes:

  • Change one of the per­sonas (prop­erty owner) to reflect the fact that the most impor­tant thing for home­own­ers is occu­pancy rate and money they can make.
  • Gam­i­fi­ca­tion: intro­duce gam­ing ele­ments into the project to engage the users by cre­at­ing achiev­able goals and gen­er­ate a feel­ing of a job accom­plished. In my project I could use that by intro­duc­ing a com­plete­ness score into each of the prop­erty list­ings, sim­i­lar to the one found at LinkedIn. That com­plete­ness score sec­tion would warn the user about what’s miss­ing in his list­ings and give tips on how to make them more interesting.

FEEDBACK

  • Pos­i­tive feed­back from advi­sor and instruc­tions to start build­ing inter­ac­tive pro­to­type in order to test “guests”.

DUE NEXT WEEK

  • Start build­ing wire­frames in order to con­duct user test­ing for guests.
  • Research Time Shares
  • Research Dru­pal

UX Design Notes: Main recommendation after 1st round of usability testing

Overview

The main prob­lem of the Web site as it is now is that it uti­lizes the inquiry-based book­ing model. This book­ing model is the most widely used today and the adop­tion of it by keyzz​.com offers some advan­tages and some dis­ad­van­tages when com­pared to the direct online book­ing model.
The main advan­tage is that it appeals to both indi­vid­ual home­own­ers and prop­erty man­age­ment com­pa­nies, widen­ing the tar­get mar­ket and con­se­quently the income from reg­is­tra­tion and monthly pay­ments.
The main dis­ad­van­tage of this book­ing model is for the final user or guest, who will have to learn how to book a prop­erty and wait for a con­fir­ma­tion from the host, which can take from a few min­utes to 24 hours.
This process goes against all online trends that we are liv­ing today. The typ­i­cal inter­net user is online all the time, either on his desk­top, lap­top, mobile, at work, at home, or at school. This user wants instant results, instant answers and instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion.
The mar­ket for vaca­tion rentals is grow­ing fast but it is still very small com­pared to hotels. There are many poten­tial first users who will arrive on keyzz​.com — or any other Web site that lists vaca­tion rentals -, and once they real­ize the book­ing process is not what they are used to, and that it takes too long to be con­cluded, they will give up and book a hotel room.
Bel­low is a com­par­a­tive analy­sis of both book­ing mod­els as well as an overview of the com­pe­ti­tion. But first there a few terms and con­cepts that need to be defined.

Def­i­n­i­tion of terms

Direct online book­ing model is a book­ing model sim­i­lar to the ones used by hotels. Guests are able to book a prop­erty online, pay for it, and receive a book­ing con­fir­ma­tion instantly. In this book­ing model the Web site charges a com­mis­sion from the hosts per night booked. This book­ing model is very fast com­pared to the inquiry-based book­ing model described bel­low, as well as very sim­i­lar to the online book­ing con­ven­tions estab­lished by the exist­ing hotel and flight ser­vices. How­ever, in this book­ing model the chances of book­ing can­ce­la­tion by the host after book­ing con­fir­ma­tion is higher than on the book­ing request model due to the fact that direct online book­ing relies on the property’s avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar being up to date at all times.
One of the many ben­e­fits of stay­ing at a vaca­tion rentals is the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing with hosts directly, receiv­ing per­son­al­ized treat­ment, and hav­ing ques­tions answered. The direct online book­ing model does not change that. The dif­fer­ence is that all com­mu­ni­ca­tion must be made through the inter­nal mes­sag­ing sys­tem of the Web site. For those who try to cheat and close deals out­side the Web site, there is a con­se­quence: they will not be able to get reviews from guests who did not rent their prop­er­ties through the Web site. Guest reviews is a very impor­tant fac­tor for those look­ing to find their next vaca­tion rental and it is also an impor­tant fac­tor when cal­cu­lat­ing the search rank of a property.

Inquiry-based book­ing model is the book­ing model being used by the large major­ity of Web sites that list vaca­tion rentals online. In this model the guest chooses a prop­erty and sends a book­ing request. The host receives the request, checks the avail­abil­ity of the prop­erty and responds to the request accord­ingly. Once both par­ties agree on the book­ing, the guest sends pay­ment accord­ing to the pay­ment con­di­tions of the host. In this book­ing model, the Web site charges a monthly or annual fee from the hosts in order to keep their list­ings online. This book­ing model is very slow com­pared to the direct online book­ing model, as well as very dif­fer­ent from the online book­ing con­ven­tions estab­lished by hotels and flight ser­vices. How­ever there is a lower chance that the host will can­cel the book­ing after the book­ing confirmation.

Merit-based sys­tem is a sys­tem that pun­ishes hosts who can­cel book­ings after the book­ing is con­firmed by low­er­ing the search rank­ing of those hosts, and con­se­quently reduc­ing the chances of their prop­er­ties being booked. The objec­tive of this sys­tem is to moti­vate hosts to keep their property’s avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar up to date, and con­se­quently reduce the chances of can­cel­la­tion of book­ings by the owner.

Can­ce­la­tion of book­ing by the host usu­ally hap­pens when the owner receives a book­ing noti­fi­ca­tion and real­izes that the prop­erty is already booked for those dates but the avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar was not up to date. This sit­u­a­tion is the main rea­son the inquiry-based book­ing model is more widely used online than the direct online book­ing model. This sit­u­a­tion is also more com­mon amongst prop­er­ties man­aged by own­ers than amongst prop­er­ties man­aged by a prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany for obvi­ous rea­sons. Web sites who use the direct online book­ing model do not refund their com­mis­sion fees to the hosts when there is a can­ce­la­tion by the host. There are steps that a host needs to take when a can­cel­la­tion is inevitable, includ­ing try­ing to find another prop­erty nearby with equiv­a­lent ameni­ties and rates.

Com­pe­ti­tion overview

Cur­rently the major­ity of vaca­tion rental list­ing Web sites uti­lize the inquiry-based book­ing model.
How­ever, Book​ing​.com uses the direct online book­ing model and AirBnB​.com uses a com­bi­na­tion of the inquiry-based book­ing model and the direct online book­ing model. These two Web sites uti­lize dif­fer­ent strate­gies to avoid over­book­ing and con­se­quently can­ce­la­tion of book­ing by the host.
Book​ing​.com will charge a com­mis­sion fee per night booked from the host when­ever there is can­ce­la­tion due to over­book­ing.
AirBnB​.com uti­lizes a merit-based sys­tem in which hosts with a good accep­tance rate of book­ing requests will be able to opt for a direct online book­ing model. Can­ce­la­tions by the host are pun­ished with fees and low­er­ing of the search ranking.

Com­par­a­tive Analysis

Advan­tages of Direct Online Book­ing Model:

For the hosts:

  • Cer­tainty of pay­ment and faster book­ing process.
  • Bet­ter place­ment of list­ing due to merit-based system.
  • Smooth tran­si­tion from the hotel online book­ing model for new users of vaca­tion rentals.
  • This book­ing model offers a solu­tion for one of the com­pet­i­tive advan­tages that indi­vid­ual home­own­ers have over prop­erty man­agers that use the inquiry-based book­ing model. Indi­vid­ual home­own­ers can receive book­ing requests and close deals at night while prop­erty man­agers usu­ally do that dur­ing busi­ness hours. The direct online book­ing model can­cels that com­pet­i­tive advantage.

For the guests:

  • Faster and more con­ve­nient book­ing process.
  • Smooth tran­si­tion from the hotel online book­ing model for new users of vaca­tion rentals.
  • Uni­form terms of ser­vice and can­cel­la­tion policy.
Dis­ad­van­tages of Direct Online Book­ing Model:

For the hosts:

  • Home­own­ers who like to pick and choose who can stay in their prop­er­ties will be pun­ished by the merit-based system.
  • Bro­ker fee added to the daily rates.

For the guests:

  • Higher chances of can­cel­la­tion of book­ing by the owner after book­ing con­fir­ma­tion. (Book­ing can­cel­la­tion by the owner is also a pos­si­bil­ity on the Book­ing Request Model)
Con­se­quences of Direct Online Book­ing Model to the Web site:
  • Guest accus­tomed to hotel’s online book­ing model will not have to learn and adapt to a dif­fer­ent online book­ing model, mak­ing the book­ing process for vaca­tion rentals more smooth.
  • Hosts that do not keep their avail­abil­ity cal­en­dars up to date will have their list­ings place­ment sys­tem­at­i­cally low­ered due to the merit-based sys­tem in place. Con­se­quently the Web site will become a venue for hosts who always keep their cal­en­dars up to date and the over­all chances of can­cel­la­tion by the host will decrease.
  • This book­ing model rep­re­sent a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage since the major­ity of vaca­tion rental list­ing ser­vices cur­rently oper­at­ing online use the book­ing request model.
Advan­tages of Inquiry-Based Book­ing Model:

For the hosts:

  • Con­cerned home­own­ers have the pos­si­bil­ity of pick­ing and choos­ing who stays in their properties.
  • Cus­tomized Terms of Ser­vice and pay­ment conditions.
  • No bro­ker fees added to daily rates.
  • No merit based sys­tem to pun­ish out­dated cal­en­dars and can­cel­la­tion of book­ing by the owner after book­ing is complete.

For the guests:

  • Lower chances of can­cel­la­tion of book­ing by the host after book­ing is complete.
Dis­ad­van­tages of Inquiry-Based Book­ing Model:

For the host:

  • Learn­ing curve for guests not accus­tomed to the this book­ing model.
  • Pay­ment of a fixed monthly or annual fee even if book­ing fre­quency is low.
  • Pay­ment con­di­tions are not stan­dard and guests have a higher bar­gain power over payments.
  • Same book­ing model as the major­ity of online ser­vices cur­rently oper­at­ing, which means a lot more competition.

For the guests:

  • Slow book­ing process.
  • Learn­ing curve for new users of this book­ing model.
  • Terms of ser­vice, pay­ment and can­cel­la­tion poli­cies are not standardized.
Con­se­quences of Inquiry-Based Book­ing Model to the Web site:
  • Web site’s reli­a­bil­ity is affected by how up to date the listed property’s avail­abil­ity cal­en­dars are.
  • Com­pe­ti­tion is a lot higher because the major­ity of vaca­tion rental list­ing ser­vices cur­rently oper­at­ing online use this book­ing model.

Con­clu­sion and recommendation

These are some of the rea­sons keyzz​.com should adopt the direct online book­ing model. That way it will ful­fill the needs of a niche of hosts that pre­fer a more auto­mated book­ing process, spe­cially prop­erty man­age­ment com­pa­nies. And it will ful­fill the needs of most guests who only use the inquiry-based book­ing model because they do not have a choice.
On a per­sonal note, using the online direct book­ing model will make my grad­u­ate the­sis project more inter­est­ing and answer ques­tions like: “What makes your project unique?”, “Why com­pet­i­tive advan­tage do you have over the com­pe­ti­tion”, and “Why would the user choose your Web site?”

UX Design Notes: Content Inventory


Class
  • Pre­sen­ta­tion: Noodlepedia

Feed­back

  • The prop­erty list­ing task on my project is too long. Come up with a solu­tion to make it more engag­ing since it is an essen­tial task for one of the tar­get audiences.
  • The solu­tion I came up with was to have a “com­plete­ness sec­tion” that tells the user how much of the list­ing is com­plete and what he should do next. An exam­ple of this fea­tures is the one used on LinkedIn.

Due Next Week

  • User test­ing plan
  • Mood­boards and Mind Maps
  • Use cases for all impor­tant tasks on the web application

UX Notes: Use Case Scenarios & User Interviews

Use Case Sce­nar­ios Report — First Draft


User Inter­views

Script A — VRBO Users/Renters

Hi, I am a grad stu­dent at the Acad­emy of Arts Uni­ver­sity and my major is Web Design and New Media. My final project is about a Web site to find and list vaca­tion rentals. I would like to ask you a few ques­tions about your habits when it comes to find­ing and book­ing vaca­tion rentals online. There is no right or wrong answers to these ques­tions. You can talk as much or as lit­tle as you want about your expe­ri­ences. And feel free to share any ideas or ques­tions that you might have about the subject.

  • Can you tell me about your expe­ri­ence using vaca­tion rentals?
  • When search­ing for an accom­mo­da­tion, what cri­te­ria do you con­sider more impor­tant? (date range, price, num­ber of guests, loca­tion, other)
  • When you are faced with a list of results from your search, what infor­ma­tion is the most rel­e­vant when you are mak­ing a deci­sion about which accom­mo­da­tion to stay? (reviews, price, loca­tion, other)
  • What aspects of the book­ing process are more incon­ve­nient in your opinion?
  • Is there any­thing you would change in the book­ing process if you could?

Script B — Prop­erty Managers

Hi, I am a grad stu­dent at the Acad­emy of Arts Uni­ver­sity and my major is Web Design and New Media. My final project is about a Web site to find and list vaca­tion rentals. I would like to ask you a few ques­tions about your habits when it comes to list­ing and man­ag­ing vaca­tion rentals online. There is no right or wrong answers to these ques­tions. You can talk as much or as lit­tle as you want about your expe­ri­ences. And feel free to share any ideas or ques­tions that you might have about the subject.

  • Can you tell me about your expe­ri­ence man­ag­ing and list­ing vaca­tion rentals?
  • Do you use any kind of soft­ware or online ser­vice to help you man­age your property(s)?
  • What cri­te­ria do you take into con­sid­er­a­tion when choos­ing an online list­ing service?
  • Can you describe the usual book­ing process that you are used to?
  • Is there any­thing you would change about the process if you could?
  • How much time do you spend on the com­puter man­ag­ing your property(s)?
  • How impor­tant do you con­sider updat­ing the avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar of the property(s) you manage?

Inter­views Sum­mary — VRBO Users/Renters

The fol­low­ing notes and con­clu­sions are a result of inter­views with 3 users made between Sep­tem­ber 30 and Octo­ber 3, 2010:

  • All users inter­viewed have used vaca­tion rentals before either for fun or for work. They all had very good expe­ri­ences but know of cases where guests were not so lucky.
  • They all agree that using vaca­tion rentals is some­thing that most peo­ple are afraid to do because of the risks involved and because of the book­ing process not being as direct as in a hotel booking.
  • When choos­ing a web­site to search for vaca­tion rentals they always go for the more pro­fes­sional look­ing web­sites instead of the smaller ones. And pic­tures are the most impor­tant thing when com­par­ing properties.
  • One of them said that he does not make a final deci­sion until he talks to the prop­erty owner or man­ager on the phone. Only that way he feels he can trust that it is not a “lemon”.
  • Another said that he usu­ally prefers to rent from indi­vid­ual own­ers rather than from prop­erty man­age­ment com­pa­nies because that way he can nego­ti­ate the rate directly.
  • They all agreed that the book­ing process can be frus­trat­ing because of all the book­ing requests that come back denied because the prop­erty is already taken. One of them said that he once gave up and stayed at a hotel after the third book­ing request being denied. Only later he real­ized that the best thing is to try sev­eral dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties and not put all your hopes on any sin­gle one.
  • They also men­tioned that once they find a prop­erty that is avail­able they think there should be a more direct way to com­mu­ni­cate with the man­ager other than e-mail.
  • Finally they all agreed that user reviews are essen­tial and one of the key attrib­utes to be con­sid­ered before choos­ing a property.

Inter­view Sum­mary — Prop­erty Managers

The fol­low­ing notes and con­clu­sions are a result of inter­views with 3 users made between Sep­tem­ber 30 and Octo­ber 3, 2010:

  • The busi­ness of vaca­tion rental man­age­ment is very com­pet­i­tive and eas­ily affected by the over­all econ­omy of the country.
  • Expo­sure and traf­fic are the most impor­tant things about a list­ing ser­vice accord­ing to the users inter­viewed. All of them use more than 1 list­ing ser­vices and they all con­sider the price of these ser­vices high.
  • The book­ing process is sim­i­lar for all users inter­viewed: the guest chooses a few prop­er­ties and sends book­ing requests for them. The man­ager receives the request and if the prop­erty is avail­able on the date spec­i­fied he answers the request with a con­fir­ma­tion e-mail. If the prop­erty is not avail­able he answers the request by offer­ing other prop­er­ties of sim­i­lar price range or on the same area. The guest receives the con­fir­ma­tion e-mail with a con­tract and pay­ment instruc­tions. The guest pays and signs the con­tract and then returns it to the man­ager. The man­ager receives the pay­ment and sends a wel­come kit to the guest with all nec­es­sary instruc­tions and rules, includ­ing check-in info, deposit refund rules, etc. The man­ager then updates the property’s avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar to reflect the new booking.
  • Updat­ing the avail­abil­ity cal­en­dar is impor­tant but also very time con­sum­ing when there are many prop­er­ties to keep up to date. Cal­en­dar out­dated are every­where and one of the users has a the­ory about it: he says that those with many prop­er­ties listed don’t gain any­thing from keep­ing their cal­en­dars updated because if a guest requests a book­ing on a prop­erty that is already occu­pied they can always respond the request by offer­ing other prop­er­ties in the same area or in the same price range. That is one advan­tage that mul­ti­ple prop­erty man­agers have over sin­gle prop­erty owners.
  • A mobile appli­ca­tion to help on the prop­erty man­age­ment would be very help­ful for those who have reg­u­lar day jobs and need to answer book­ing requests while at work. For pro­fes­sional prop­erty man­age­ments it would not make such a difference.
  • The users did not have any good idea about how to improve the book­ing process. They com­plained that some web­sites are too expen­sive, which keeps them from try­ing other web­sites in order to avoid more costs.

Class
  • Pre­sen­ta­tion of my project: Keyzz
  • Lec­ture about use cases and user interviews

Feed­back

  • Feed­back on scope of my project: num­ber of fea­tures is not as impor­tant as imple­ment­ing fewer fea­tures with a good user expe­ri­ence. The final project should reflect my abil­ity to cre­ate and imple­ment a web­site with the best pos­si­ble user expe­ri­ence, and not with the best busi­ness plan.
  • The review sys­tem on the web­site should be hon­est and par­tial to the guests who rent the prop­er­ties, not the prop­erty managers/owners.
  • The main­te­nance man­ager and the pos­si­bil­ity to list the prop­erty on other web­sites should only be imple­mented if there is enough time to do it because they are not essen­tial for the web application.

Due Next Week

  • Inven­tory Report