Pay to Play

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Expedia are the latest business to incorporate a ‘pay to play’ model of sorts: Pay more to appear higher up the search results as reported in Tnooz this week:
Good for all and win/win right?

I’m not so sure.  Over the past few years there has been much hype over personalisation, user tracking across device, maximising conversion etc.. nothing new here.  Doesn’t much of that go out of the window in Expedia’s new ‘Accelerator’ model?  The new model seems to me a bit ‘don’t worry about the customer, who cares about search, let the hotels bid for the top spots and we can earn more cash to satisfy our shareholders’.   Or maybe the team thought the current search engine results listings weren’t meeting customer needs anyway and thus the ‘top slots’ can be compromised and given to this who pay more.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh but it’s true that search positions are no longer wholly controlled by Expedia, they’re controlled to some extent by their inventory partners.
The paradox is, the model only works with scale eg: hotels will only engage because Expedia can drive so much customer traffic.  But if customers are visiting and the search results don’t match expectations customers will go else where.  Over time the model falls flat because relevancy has been compromised.
This isn’t new of course.  I looked at introducing this model back in 2009 at my former employer, Travelrepublic.  We decided not to go ahead as we felt the impact on user experience was too great.  Having said that, this was seven years ago and much time has passed giving far more knowledge regards user behaviour and date I say it, conversion optimisation.
Regardless I still feel priority one has to be protect search relevancy.  Is this ‘Accelerator’ model in line with that philosophy?  No.  One assume Expedia must have a different philosophy or, they have nailed the placement of the hotels e.g.:  matching hotels to customers they believe will make a booking, if so then i am very wrong and this is a step forward regards personalisation.
I’ll be keeping an eye on the quarterly reports with interest.

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