Ryanair quietly launched their first mobile booking website last month. This follows CEO Michael O’Leary’s announcement in his most recent 2014 annual report that the carrier will no longer “allow” competitors to “develop better websites and mobile platforms than those at Ryanair”. The ambitious plan is backed by a “serious” investment in Ryanair Labs – a “tech startup within the airline”, according to the Irish Independent. Clearly, the Irish LCC wants to put an end to the days when Ryanair scored last in website usability reviews.
Are these investments in Ryanair website usability paying off on mobile? We ran a brief live user test to find out what potential customers think about the site.
We recruited a random internet user through the UserTesting cloud, who accessed the Ryanair mobile booking site through an Android smartphone over the 3G network. We asked him to surf around the site for a few minutes and report on his impressions – all the time, the smartphone display was recorded on video. Feel free to watch the 9 minute video, before jumping into the analysis:
His conclusion: “I like the clean design”, but he ran into serious difficulty booking a flight – clearly, “the site needs a lot of work”. He raises many issues affecting the industry broadly, such as poor site performance and inability to discover the best route. In addition, the tester’s patience is tested by many usability glitches.
Let’s dive in to the mobile usability review:
First impression: Slow to load, but like the simple homepage
Ryanair first loads the full desktop homepage, before presenting a popup asking the user to choose either the native app (“I’ll ignore that”) or the mobile site. He chooses the mobile web, and after several redirects and some loading spinners, arrives on his intended site – 50 seconds into the test! “A little slow to load“, indeed.
The “nice and straightforward” layout of the home page is well-liked. The tester clearly understands that this site is about planning a trip, and also notices the ancillaries – hotels and care hires – which are “always useful”.
On the desktop, the Ryanair homepage experience is of course still radically different – the user is bombarded with an array of offers, warnings about current flight interruptions, and petitions to sign. It would be interesting to test how well a similarly streamlined homepage would fare on the desktop. But back to the mobile experience – let’s try picking a flight!
Route Discovery: Want to go to Amsterdam, settle for Berlin
Based in Cambridge, our tester fancies a getaway to the Dutch capital Amsterdam. Attempts to type “Cambridge” as departure city lead to an error message, but the user knows – from prior experience – that London Stansted is the most convenient airport for him.
The destination selector is slow to respond – while the interface is lagging, the user accidentally selects the wrong city. On second attempt, he notices that Ryanair does not fly to Amsterdam; pragmatically, our tester decides to move forward with a flight search to Berlin. Would a real consumer be just as flexible with the destination choice? Hard to tell.
Shockingly, Ryanair could offer a decent connection but it is impossible to discover on the mobile site. The best option the airline has for our tester is to fly to Eindhoven, and then take direct shuttle bus to the center of Amsterdam, which takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. In other words, a pretty standard trip for the consumers of the “ultra low cost carrier” who still relies heavily on secondary airports. It’s a small consolation for Ryanair that few airlines get route discovery right.
After some issues with the date picker (defaulting to one month too early), we are ready to find the lowest fares. Or are we?
Fare Calendar: Promises lower fees than it can deliver
The fare calendar receives the harshest criticism in the test. The lowest daily fare highlighted at the top “does not relate” to the actual flight fares being shown below. Our tester was promised to get a flight for GBP 77.50 – but the flight offers he can choose from cost nearly double that price. “Quite irritating” it is:
To pick up on the new company slogan, that’s neither “low fares” nor is it “made simple”.
Scrolling through flight offers is not exactly easy – because “it is making me click on things” (a modal showing the benefits of Business Plus) which is “rather awkward”. All of these problems are compounded by slowness of the interface.
When picking return flights, our tester is presented with a “sorry, we don’t fly on these dates” error message. Now, his patience is exhausted: “it seems I can’t get any further” – no sale this time.
Conclusion: Needs a lot of work
The unclear price communication on the fare calendar triggers the tester to abort the booking process, which in this case seems to be driven by a software bug and not a hidden pricing ploy. Before this final hurdle, the tester already had to jump through hoops of the interface for nearly 10 minutes.
These results show how much potential for usability improvement there is in the airline industry – even for leading players who put executive backing and serious resources behind their digital strategy. Improving the user experience starts with an airline usability audit. It continues with a regular process, where usability metrics are tracked in clickstream data and live experiments are performed continuously – more on this is in a future post.
In spite of all these problems, the decision to launch the mobile website was surely the right one – it provides a better user experience than the desktop version could on the mobile device. It is well integrated into Ryanair’s Navitaire platform, containing the key booking and reservation management features. But at 40 million visitors per month, each minor user annoyance can have a serious impact on the bottom line.