Airbnb has been very successful, to say the least. Of course, a disruptive business model has been a big factor, but a great user experience has played a big part.
While travel brands have. in general, been slow to adapt to the web, brands like airbnb (and booking.com) have shown the way in terms of UX.
So, here’s a selection of UX delights from airbnb…
Easy search box
When you head to the airbnb homepage, user attention will tend to focus on the search box.
It’s simple to get started too: enter destination, check in/out dates and number of guest and you’re in.
Compare this to the ibis homepage (both shots show what’s visible above the fold). The search box doesn’t stand out against all the other elements on the page.
Search results pages
The presentation of site search results is very important. The ease of use, ability to tailor the selection to your needs and find key information can drive more bookings.
Here, the presentation is clear, and there are plenty of ways to sort and filter the selection of homes on offer.
The ability to search by moving the map
I love this, as it suits the way I like to search. Let’s say you want somewhere near the centre of town (Seville in this case) or perhaps near a beach or other attraction – this feature allows you to search around that area without having to start again or amend your search radius.
It also works well too, loading new results quickly and allowing a quick preview of the apartments helps.
Mapping results is a key feature of most travel sites, but airbnb does this as well as any.
Airbnb uses urgency well.
This is a useful tactic, as it pushes the customer to come to a decision on whether or not to make a booking.
Here, when looking for a place to rent in New York next weekend, I’m warned that just 11% of homes are left. This means I need to make a decision quickly to secure a booking.
Urgency should be used in moderation – use it too much and customers will learn to ignore the message.
It should convey useful information, like this note telling me I’ve found an apartment which is usually booked up.
Social proof helps to persuade potential customers through the wisdom of the crowds.
So, in this case, if other people have booked here and enjoyed it, then that’s a big push for the potential customer.
Here, it also acts as a quality control mechanism for airbnb, as bad reviews will help to weed out the poorer rentals, while the need to attract good reviews offers a powerful incentive for people to ensure their customers have a great experience.
Airbnb works around images. The homepage is image-heavy, but the most crucial use is in apartment listings.
Many travel sites used to expect that a couple of small images would work, but people want to see detail. It’s a huge part of the decision on whether or not to book.
It’s up to the homeowners to take and show a good range of images, but airbnb ensures they are presented well.
There are a few key features here:
- Plenty of images.
- Images showing views from apartments.
- Images showing key features – beds, cooking equipment etc.
- The presentation. By showing in a lightbox like this, airbnb makes it easy to browse photos.
Clear presentation of information
Home listings require detail – number of bedrooms, cooking facilities, wifi, proximity of local amenities etc.
Presenting this detail without cluttering the page or making it difficult to scan and understand is important.
Airbnb uses features like symbols and bold highlighting to help users scan, while information is laid out with plenty of space.
Price bar chart
This subtle price range chart allows users to instantly get an idea of the range of prices available for their search.
It means they can narrow the price range while ensuring they will generate a good number of results.
This is a great feature, and very useful for visitors unfamiliar with a particular destination.
The hosts have recommended cafes, restaurants, great places to shop in the area near their apartment, shown on this map.
It’s useful when deciding whether to book, but also when you arrive, so you can find a good restaurant without having to gamble.
Forms are well presented with lots of white space and clear information around fields.
There are reminders of total cost, while errors are flagged immediately and field requiring attention are highlighted clearly.
It’s not all rosy, and there are a couple of features which could annoy users.
This bar encouraging me to sign up for instance. It can’t be closed and is big enough that it obscures a good part of the screen.
Perhaps users want to browse first, then sign up if they want to. This gets in the way of that.
Then there’s this, in a similar vein. This time it takes over the whole screen. Maybe airbnb has tested these popups and found they increased the number of logins.
They can work, when applied well, though it’s hard to measure the number of people who are deterred by intrusive methods like this.
The sheer number of adblock users is testament to the dislike for such tactics.
As a user, I’d be happy to sign in if I decide to make a booking, but I’d rather do this when I’m ready, rather than being hounded into it.
Airbnb should rely on its reputation, UX and sheer range of properties to convert customers, rather than intrusive formats like this.
The last gripe aside, airbnb is a great site to use.
The key processes of searching, viewing and making sense of results, and finding information on rentals is as good as any site I can think of, and better than most.
Airbnb’s General Manager James McClure will be speaking at our new Shift event in London, 24-25 May.
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