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Expedia's new innovation lab to understand psyche of Asian travellers
Yixin Ng, Singapore, April 10, 2017

Science will speak where consumers can’t at Expedia’s first innovation lab in Asia, which will replicate the capabilities of earlier labs in London and its Bellevue headquarters in Seattle but with an added focus on mobile use.


At the launch of the lab in Singapore last week, technology to delve into user behaviour was demonstrated, showing how responses indicating delight, frustration and tension in test participants were matched to their various interactions with the site.


Arthur Chapin (far left), Dara Khosrowshahi and Jonty Neal (far right)


Expedia has been fine-tuning its study methods, from using heat maps to identify parts on the webpage users focus on to now bringing the more precise eye-tracking technology combined with facial electromyography to its Singapore lab.


But why go to such lengths when more primitive feedback methods are readily available? For Arthur Chapin, Expedia’s senior vice president for product and design, it is often more practicable to identify and remedy pain points than to simply ask consumers what they want.


The innovation lab hence serves as one of the engines powering Expedia’s test-and-learn culture, which Chapin said has given it the competitive advantage of speed. The company, which champions the “try fast, fail fast, learn fast” mantra, now introduces one or two changes to its sites daily.


In particular, the Expedia executives see Asia teeming with potential for online travel. “In the region, online travel is about 36 per cent of (bookings). This is a good number but certainly (lags behind) what we are seeing in America so there are opportunities for growth,” said Jonty Neal, CEO of Expedia Asia.


Neal further shared that Asia is leading in mobile use, as mobile roomnights grew more than 65 per cent in 4Q2016. But with greater traffic on mobile than the transacting site, there is work to be done “to push people through the funnel and transact on mobile.”


While taking a harder look at Asia and mobile behaviour through the lab in Singapore, Expedia will also continue working to better understand its unique markets. “In regions like Europe... you can afford to have commonalities in a single city to run the European business. Asia's very different. The localisation and understanding of customer experience and expectation is critical in defining how we look at our product," Neal said.


"(Beyond the) three innovation labs, we will occasionally go around the world to set up labs and work with partners to gain insight on different consumers,” he added.


Commenting on staffing plans to back its technological drive, Expedia's president and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said: “Technology has been one of our fastest-growing areas of spend and will continue so globally. (In terms of engineering manpower), India will be a big centre and continue to scale. We will also hire more in China and Singapore…. We are looking at another 5,000 (engineers) in the next five years and a significant number will be in Asia.”


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