Orbitz and Mac Users: Analytics Gone Wrong or Analytics Gone Just Right?
Mac users are sometimes shown pricier search results when shopping for hotels on Orbitz, according to a recent report. They can choose cheaper deals, but pricier options are sometimes given more prominent placement. Is the site using what it knows about its customers to shrewdly market its services, or is it making too many assumptions?
06/26/12 11:47 AM PT
Mac users who search for hotels on Orbitz get different results than PC users, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Often the results for Mac users display pricier options more prominently.
Orbitz has reportedly found that Mac users spend US$20 to $30 more a night on hotels on average than PC users, and Mac users are more likely to book a four- or five-star hotel than PC users.
The news has upset Mac users, some of whom have threatened to quit using Orbitz in response to the article.
"I think The Wall Street Journal certainly stirred up a hornet's nest there," Andrew Eisner, director of community and content at Retrevo, told MacNewsWorld. "The typical Mac owner is used to paying a premium for Apple products, which are of very high quality, so it makes sense to assume they'd be willing to pay a little more for a somewhat better hotel room."
However, "it's a question of how you execute these techniques," Charles Nicholls, founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy, told MacNewsWorld. "You really have to have the consumer's interest at heart. The profitability in e-business comes from repeat business."
What Orbitz Apparently Did
Mac users apparently don't always get different results from PC users. Tests conducted by the Jouranl in a number of U.S. cities like Orlando, Fla., and Boston gave the same results for Mac and PC users, while a search in New York offered the more expensive hotels for Mac users only after the first 20 results had been listed. On the other hand, searches by Mac users turned up results that were more expensive than those for searches by PC users in places like Miami Beach, Fla., and Baton Rouge, La.
The differing results are apparently the result of data mining, which Orbitz CEO Barney Harford made a priority shortly after joining the company in 2009.
Hardware used by customers when conducting searches on its site is reportedly only one criterion Orbitz uses in determining what results to serve up. Other criteria include a hotel's overall popularity and promotions, the site from which searchers log into Orbitz, their booking history and other previous activity on Orbitz, and their home city.
The report sparked a tweeted rebuttal from Orbitz CEO Harford. The publication's subscription pay wall and confusing headline added up to a distorted message, he wrote.
Orbitz did not respond to to our request for comment for this story.
It's Just Business
Orbitz's approach is "all part of the science of marketing and applying analytics to boost conversion rates and get people to buy more," Retrevo's Eisner remarked. "I'm sure all the big shopping sites are probably using analytics to optimize sales, and Mac users were happily paying the price asked for their rooms up until The Wall Street Journal drew attention to this matter."
It's possible that Mac users are upset "because they're being given the good stuff by default," Eisner surmised. Customers would "prefer to state their preferences by themselves rather than having the site set them."
Back in May, Orbitz's Harford wrote a column in USA Today in which he said that the site can make more personalized recommendations to users conducting searches by analyzing variations in user and session attributes. iPad and Mac users, he added, are in general more likely to book higher-end hotels, and he said Orbitz would use that information in its search results.
"In general, there's a trend towards personalization within the industry," SeeWhy's Nicholls observed. "If you're a consumer and are served stuff which is relevant to you, then it's a good thing and is viewed positively. But the negative side is that this can be creepy, so it has to be done in an appropriate way."