Car hire companies revamp their websites
Hertz and Sixt in 2008, Avis in June 2010 and Europcar in September 2010, the Big Four, as they are called in the car rental industry, have quite nice websites and advanced booking paths comparing to other players of the travel industry.
In fact, the 3 main pages of the booking process, the ones leading the customer to a booking are very instructive.
Home Page: search form and marketing content
In the home pages, two elements are taking almost all of the space: the search form (or booking pod) and the marketing content.
The search forms take from 1/3 (Hertz and Sixt) to 2/3 (Europcar and Avis) of the width. All the rest of the space above the fold line is filled with marketing content (promotions, lead-in prices, special offers…).
The classic three column design that was dominating is now changing. The tendency is more to an interface with two large panels on the top of the page with 3 columns below. Only Hertz still has three columns but it is the older of the 4 websites.
Concerning the search form, it is quite interesting to notice the number of functionalities offered by the car hire companies. Each one has a different approach.
Avis has the most basic one, which is in fact not the most attractive, neither the most user friendly. Systematically, it displays a list of rental stations related to the user query or redirect the user to a map.
Hertz has an interesting suggestion engine. In fact the user can enter what he wants in the field, after the third letter a suggestion list will appear. The engine is quite intelligent because it is able to suggest countries, cities, rental stations, and when there is no match it suggests alternatives that could be related to the query. So the user never ends with an empty field or an error message.
Europcar has a suggestion engine like Hertz but without the fuzzy match. The interesting functionality is rather the map in the search field. In fact, in the suggestion list there are normal links to select a station and there are destination links that allow the user to choose a rental station on a map without leaving the suggestion list.
Finally what we can retain from Sixt is the simplicity and the adaptability to the user. In fact the same search form allows two different usages. The very classic one, where the user selects a country and then selects a station from a list. Or using the same fields, the user can type what he wants and the field behaves like a suggestion engine. This is very interesting because all of the users don’t have the same internet background.
Concerning the marketing content, we have to notice that the use of carousel is very popular. Europcar, Hertz and Sixt have one in their home pages. The main advantage is that they can display several ads above the fold line.
Results page: tabs and filters to maximize the number of vehicles displayed
The results pages of the Big Four are all quite similar.
Avis, Europcar and Hertz have long pages of results with tabs and filters to help the user to choose. Consequently to make the booking process seamless, there is a booking button on every products (product = vehicle).
Sixt does quite the same, but in a very compact version. In fact there are less results and the product has to be clicked to view more information. This could be less convenient for the user, but presents two advantages: first with a correct tracking it allows Sixt to know exactly which vehicles have been seen before booking (or leaving the website), from the user point of view this enables to display more information without loading a new page, opening a pop-up or an overlay.
Ancillary products related to the hired vehicle
By looking at the booking path, we also notice some improvement in the selling of ancillary products. In fact, it seems that there are two schools of thought: the very integrated version and the one more step version. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Avis and Hertz have one extra step, that makes the booking process a bit longer but they can display more additional products and more information about each one. The main advantage is that all the customers will have been informed about the additional products and there is enough space to explain to the customer why he should add equipments, insurances…
Europcar and Sixt have integrated them in the results page. Europcar’s website presents a drop down list displayed if the “extras” button is clicked. On Sixt website they are all the time displayed but each additional product has only one short line of text. So to compensate this, Europcar and Sixt also offer extras on the top of the payment page. That allows them to feature specific products and make sure that the customer has been at least exposed to the 2 items displayed.
Travel agencies are supposed to be website optimization champions and airlines are since shortly quite crazy about selling ancillary products. But in fact, nobody seems to watch enough what is happening in the car rental industry. These players that have less connectivity issues than the others producers and that are working in a very competitive environment are becoming very good in the online field. They all have (the Big Four at least) performing booking paths, advanced user experience and interesting approach of ancillary revenues.
Have a look at them!