Sokos Hotels, a long-time operator in the Finnish travel industry, was looking for a solution to stop customers from getting snapped up by the international online giants and to increase business in their own channels. A transformation of the entire organisation’s operating methods led to the renewal of online services and record results that do not pale in international comparison. Today, Sokoshotels.fi is not just a hotel booking site but Finland’s best online shop.
Praised by users, proven by top conversion rates
more sales in a difficult business environment
more sales through mobile channels
sales conversion rate
(the average for the Top 25 online shops is 5.31%)
STARTING POINT: DIRECT SALES INTO OWN CHANNELS
The hospitality industry is one that has been most disrupted by digitalisation. As sales have moved online en masse, the competition for customers has become fierce and the OTA channels (Online Travel Agents), such as Hotels.com and Booking.com, have snatched up a large portion of hotel reservations. The OTA channel fees eat into hotels’ revenue, making it not only strategically important to grow the sales of their own channels, but also very difficult.
The Sokos Hotels chain needed to catch up to their OTA competition by challenging their internal operating models. In 2017, the work based on an agile organisation model and continuous optimisation of the online service yielded remarkable results: Sokoshotels.fi had developed into a Finnish online shop with one of the best conversion rates.
CREATIVE IDEA AND STRATEGY: AGILITY AND THE POWER TO CHANGE
SOK Corporation’s travel industry and hospitality business (“Mara”) management decided that one way to remain competitive in a rapidly changing business landscape would be to seek more agile operating models, allowing quick changes of direction and the improving of results as part of the value stream. The challenge brought on by international OTAs was met through agility-orientated measures, meaning that things went beyond revamping the online service and into transforming the whole organisation’s operating methods.
SOK Mara decided to change their operating model and not use the previously agreed upon projects laid out in the annual operating plan as the model for development. The new way of thinking is that no development target goes into implementation just because it is in the annual operating plan, but because it will further a strategically chosen objective that can be measured. Measuring allows the direction of development to be identified, enabling corrections. An agile organisation has more tools for transparency and making an impact, as its results do not wait a year to be reviewed and analysed for cause and effect.
Clear objectives with measurable indicators were determined for the development of the Sokoshotels.fi website. The work began with a small and agile team and the goal of growing the online shop’s customer volume and the number of repeat purchases.
The development of SOK’s S-identification service raised the conversion rate of customers logged in as co-op members to 18 per cent, meaning nearly every one in five made a reservation.
IMPLEMENTATION: NO PROJECTS, JUST CONTINUOUS DEVELOPMENT
In 2017, the most important objectives for the development of online services were
- growing the number of reservations from co-op members
- improving the usability of the service on mobile devices
- making the reservation pipeline seamless
- enhancing discoverability through search engine optimisation.
The development and growth of the Sokoshotels.fi online service are based on continuous optimisation, analytics monitoring and site testing. The multitalented team from Sokos Hotels and Solita decide together on the development measures that will best serve the current objectives for the online service. The direction of the continuous development is also guided by customer surveys and quick tests. This operating model has made the team’s everyday work more agile.
By developing SOK's S-identification service, the conversion rate of customers logged in as co-op members was raised to 18 per cent, meaning nearly every one in five made a reservation.
GROWING THE NUMBER OF RESERVATIONS FROM CO-OP MEMBERS
One of the key objectives for 2017 was to make it easier for co-op members to make a hotel reservation and to improve customer identification online. By developing SOK’s S-identification service, the conversion rate of customers logged in as co-op members was raised to 18 per cent, meaning nearly every one in five made a reservation.
IMPROVING THE USABILITY OF THE SERVICE ON MOBILE DEVICES
As the number of smartphone purchases continued to increase, the Sokos Hotels online service needed to become more user-friendly for mobile users. Numerous measures to improve mobile use yielded amazing results: the reworking increased online mobile phone reservations by 55 per cent.
ENHANCING THE RESERVATION PIPELINE
Another clear objective for 2017 was to develop the reservation pipeline to be a seamless and user-friendly system. The aim was to make it even easier to reserve a room and compare options, and this paid off: over 60 per cent of the Sokoshotels.fi users who move to the reservation pipeline from the availability search will also reserve a room.
Among the most popular starting pages for the customer path are the city pages that were also radically updated. Now the city pages allow the viewing of a city’s offering at a glance, and the results page allows the user to compare rooms with prices and features without loading separate pages. One tool used in the development of the Sokoshotels.fi online service is A/B testing. The test versions have produced significant improvements in, for example, turning offer page views into reserved rooms and increasing the probability of a user filling out a form on a page.
The updates make it easier for users to make their purchase decision and guide the user in the decision-making process step by step. This also streamlines the customer experience, as the user is not forced to compare options by switching back and forth between pages.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
Search engine optimisation (SEO) has been an important part of the Sokoshotels.fi website development process. Every time a new page structure or template is designed, it is optimised for search engines. This means taking into account technical factors and analysing the users’ needs.
By analysing users’ searches in search engines, terms and word pairs important to customers have been discovered and used as guidelines in website development. Popular search terms like “hotel + check-in” and “hotel + parking” have prompted the creation of matching pages on the website. The layout of the website has also been changed so that its users can find their most frequently sought things through the user interface without using Google.
Content creation also takes SEO into account: content is created based on users’ search terms for hospitality industry content online.
Over 60 per cent of the Sokoshotels.fi users who move to the reservation pipeline from the availability search will also reserve a room.
Over 60 % of the Sokoshotels.fi users who move to the reservation pipeline from the availability search will also reserve a room.
RESULTS: CONTINUOUS DEVELOPMENT ENSURES CORRECT DIRECTION
Instead of a one-off renewal, the website undergoes continuous development, which in 2017 resulted in several important targets being reached and even exceeded. The agility that the whole organisation’s new strategy was aimed at was achieved online through continuous analysis, development and monitoring. The exceptionally remarkable results for the industry and the positive reception of the users attest to the success of the work done, and show that Sokoshotels.fi has grown into a world-class online shop.
"Functional reservation system. Good info on hotels!"
"Now I can see where a city's prices start at. Excellent!"
more sales through mobile channels
of users starting a reservation also complete it
conversion rate for S-identified users
more traffic in the meetings and parties section post-update
visitors are returning users
conversion rate for logged in S-Card users