Are you buying or shopping?

Is there a difference you ask? Apparently, there is, according to the latest retail research. You would assume, because of the tremendous success of companies such as Amazon and Ryanair that all your typical consumer is interested in is priced and whilst that may to true to a certain degree, the reality is a lot more nuanced than that.

It would appear, however, according to research conducted by Salesforce and others that quality and experience come very high up the list of what consumers are looking for when they shop — particularly online. Salesforce found that 50 percent of customers will choose a new brand to shop with if a business doesn’t anticipate their needs, and as many as 70 percent of consumers report that technology is making it easier to shop elsewhere. Technology is driving another trend as well — customers expect constant availability, with three-quarters of respondents indicating that having a salesperson available when they need one is either absolutely critical or very important.

To understand more fully what’s going on here, you need to zoom out for a moment and take a helicopter view of what’s going on in the world of travel these days. Increasingly, in recent years, travel has been undergoing a quiet revolution that has caused a phenomenon called ‘stratification’ to occur. This stratification of travel manifests itself as two distinct layers. The main layer represents those products or services, which by their very nature, have been susceptible to commoditisation — that is to say, that price is more or less king. Such commoditised travel sectors include low cost carriers, car hire, travel insurance, accommodation etc. Companies have opted to go down the route of selling more for less because such ‘products’ are sold in volumes that can justify lower margins being applied.

The other strata within the marketplace covers those products/experiences which, by their very nature/complexity/price point, don’t lend themselves to being ‘stacked high, sold cheap’. Such products/sectors include (with some notable exceptions), cruising, experiential travel, cultural/gastronomic tours, long-haul itineraries, honeymoons and bespoke travel in general. Such travel products are, by their very nature, resistant to being commoditised as they require considerable knowledge and expertise to both curate and arrange; are complex in nature and thus much more susceptible to amendment or change due to the myriad external factors that affect international travel nowadays; are intrinsically expensive, both because of the quality of the product being assembled but also because of the high labour content involved in putting such itineraries together in the first place. Think ‘hand-made’, as opposed to ‘mass-manufactured’.

The type of consumer who is in the market for the latter kind of travel product appreciates quality; values expertise; desires authenticity and is willing to pay a premium to satisfy those needs. Large OTA’s like Expedia or can provide the price-sensitive stuff but if you’re looking for something a bit more personal with a higher level of handholding and advice/guidance and most of all — service — then there is simply no competition. A traditional travel agent will win out every single time. In a recent survey carried out in the UK by Which?, Ryanair was rated as the worst for customer service in which consumers were asked about 100 well-known brands. Respondents cited ‘feeling undervalued’ by unhelpful staff and terrible complaints handling. Indeed, travel agents in general were found to have an average customer service score of 75% as opposed to the 60% service score enjoyed by airlines.

So, to come back to the original question posed in the title of this week’s Blog, you’re shopping when you’re in research mode; evaluating what’s out there and comparing one product/destination/price against another and it appears that more and more consumers are beginning to realise that the shopping experience they have when they include travel agents as part of the process, greatly enhances the likelihood that they’re going to enjoy better outcomes when they get to the buying part of the process!

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The art of getting a quote that is both competitive in price and relevant to your needs starts with gathering all the right information about what you want to do (or think you want to do!).