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  • Writer's pictureJana

Usability test: Hotels.com

Today’s review is for an online booking website. I used to travel a lot so I used this website to make bookings but things might have changed (improved, I hope) and I might have forgotten how easy or clunky it is to book a hotel, so let’s do it.

User Persona

  • Woman, 35+;

  • Online savvy;

  • Appreciates being able to book services online;

  • Lives in Switzerland, pays in CHF, prefers English or French (to German);


User Task

To find an accommodation:

  • For 1 night;

  • 2 adults and one 3-year-old;

  • In Zermatt (Switzerland) or nearby;

  • For under 250 CHF per night;

  • Wifi, breakfast and parking included.


Homepage



  • The first thing I have to do (can you hear my frustration?) is change the website language. This is no surprise to me, because most websites default to German language when they detect that a user is located in Switzerland. At least the currency is already set to Swiss Franc.

  • I wasn’t really sure how to change the language until I decided to try clicking on the flag. The flag usually indicates changing the website completely – I expected to be redirected. Actually, it’s just language change. Slightly confusing but it looks like my only choice so yes, I did get to switch to French.

  • I’m slightly put off by the fact that my current location was detected (Saint-Cerge, as you can see in the search field). I don’t usually allow my location being tracked and I didn’t get a pop-up asking my permission. Perhaps this is something I’ve done in the past and it’s still picking up? I personally don’t like it. More importantly, I don’t see how setting my current location helps me in the process – I just need to delete what’s written in there, in order to input where I want to go. How many users search for an accommodation only when they’ve already arrived at their destination?



  • Whoa, lots of destinations contain the word “Zermatt”! Hotels.com did well to at least sort them by most probable, as well as by category (towns, sites, points of interest etc.)


Search results



  • After selecting the right destination, number of guests and check-in and check-out dates, I land on the results page. The top bar is taking too much space – it basically contains the information I just submitted and another “Search” button. This could be reduced to a single-row with a less obvious button that says “Edit your criteria”. A quick fix would be to put a “collapse this” into the bar corner. That would leave more space to the search results.


Filtering results



  • The filters on the left side are worth having a closer look – they are fantastic. Well categorized, and since there are so many, they give you a sense of saving a lot of time by not having to browse through all the results. I selected “free wifi”, “breakfast included” and “free parking”. I’ve also adjusted the price range to max. 250 CHF per night.



  • On to the actual results now. I appreciate the “ideal for families” note. I’m not sure what that mean specifically but I assume I can find out more if I click on one of the results, for now this helps me filter through results even more.

  • Why on Earth is the third result – hotel not available – even there? I’m trying to come up with an explanation (just to understand why this would be beneficial) but I can’t think of anything. Basically on a big desktop screen, I only see two hotels available above the fold.

  • The second result, a hotel with a pool, looks nice. I almost click on it, being half-decided this would be the final choice, when I see that it’s 18 km away from Zermatt?? Abort, abort! Why don’t you serve suggestions that are 100 km away and I can just stay at home? If there aren’t any results in Zermatt (or up to 3 km outside), then either display this note prominently and ask me to expand my search and list the results below with a note that those hotels are a little further away but might still be interesting to me. I feel I was mislead and that I have to take two steps back and course correct. Gah.



  • I scroll up to find some more filters at the top, so I click on “Distance”, only to find a list of points of interest? I thought this would be distance compared to what I’m looking for (e.g. 5 km from Zermatt, etc.). Disappointed, I close and click on the left-side option to display results on a map.



  • Much better! Visual representation of my search vs. what’s available – nothing. That’s fine, at least I can adapt filters and see immediate availability.

  • The green icons for mountains on the map are misleading – green is usually an indicator of availability on such maps, so this should be adjusted.


  • I expand my price range to up to 350 CHF and I now have one single result (Zermatt is expensive!).

  • Clicking on the hotel name takes me to the hotel description page, in a new tab (which I like because I don’t lose this map if I want to come back and adjust my search).


Hotel description page



  • The top bar is becoming annoying to the point that I take a closer look and see that I can actually collapse it by clicking on the black field). So the functionality is there but it’s not obvious. It would be best to test if having this collapsed by default is better than expanded.

  • The ‘meat’ of the page, hotel description, starts quite low on the page. There are a lot of text links on the page but I ignore them to scroll further down.


  • Clean and clear! A list of features, a special list of family features and a bullet-point list of things to see.

  • I can’t not mention the “Fantastic 8.6” score. If that’s fantastic, what’s 9.5? Super-duper-magnifique?

  • The three features in green, above the list, I assume are their top 3 features? These could be merged by having them pop out of the list below. No need to repeat unnecessarily.

  • There’s lots of action links on this part of the page but no “Book”. A floating (or at least a fixed) “Book” button at the bottom of the screen could be tested.


  • Scrolling further down I get to booking options. Considering that there are many bits of information that need to be communicated, this presentation isn’t so bad. There seems to be some level of visual structure.

  • The “mountain view” green button at the top left is actually not a button so it should be re-designed (simplified). It’s not the most important information anyway.

  • There are additional options available (a crib, folding bed) but it’s not clear how those can be selected. A small (i) icon could be placed next so that those who are interested get a mouse-over notification explaining how those options can be booked.

  • I opted for the refundable option (320 CHF) and clicked Book to get to the next step.


Booking page



  • This page makes my head spin a bit. I have to focus on ignoring a lot of the notifications, blurbs and symbols surrounding the most important part of the page – fields asking for my personal and payment information. I do appreciate the summary of my booking (on the right).


  • Lower down the page, there’s more head-spinning information that needs to be mentally crunched in order to assess whether it’s important or not. I can think of one other website (for booking flights) where I’ve made a mistake in the booking because of the information overwhelm!! Less important information featured, more important information buried. It certainly created more work for the customer support team.


  • At the bottom of the page, I reach the final “Confirm / Book” button! I made it! It’s just that I have a lot to digest first, to know what’s going to happen when I press the button. And which of these is the actual button? Green makes you think it’s a button, but the tick makes me think I’m subscribing to their newsletter? Of course, these thoughts happen in a very short amount of time, because once you read what it says, you realize it’s just a notice. But I shouldn’t have to read to eliminate it as “not the right thing to press”.

  • The blue button is consistent because of the blue color on the previous “Book” buttons but the lock makes me think it’s just a security notice? Nope, it’s the button. Another tick on the left of the button distracts me, oh, and there’s another one above it, green again. I figured where to press to finish booking but my eyes are tired by now.


Conclusion

My overall experience with online booking (hotels, flights, car rentals) is a mixed one. It’s mostly been an OK experience, as in, no issues, but the 3 times (which is 3 times too many) when I’ve had issues and contacted customer phone support, it’s been an absolute nightmare. Hotels.com have been ok so far, so I haven’t had to contact their support team, but the booking experience could be … lighter! There are too many notifications, information blurbs, callouts, sidenotes, footnotes etc. that it’s hard to distill what’s actually really important at the moment of booking. And because nobody wants to be surprised at the time of check-in, it feels like we should actually be reading all the information that’s served, so that we end up booking exactly what we want.

Basically the experience felt like going to a buffet table at a hotel to get some food, slowly cruising among proposed options, visually narrowing down choices, but being constantly interrupted by waiters left and right talking in my ear, asking what I want to drink and if I have any allergies, only to arrive at the end of the buffet table with something on my plate and be asked again if I’m sure I don’t want coffee with that, and reminding me not to forget to take my umbrella on the way out…

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