Travel technology: inventory monitoring on the site, confidence in lost sales reduction grows

Date: 25th July 2011
Author: Deri Jones

It’s funny how things connect, and serendipitous outcomes result.

Tesco are not in the travel sector: but our website Load testing team completed another project last week for them: and in wash-up discussions afterwards we drifted into the growing power of our inventory monitoring services : and I was reminded of the discussions we had here in the past that kicked the concept off.

Back to the supermarket website some years ago: where we found an interesting, and costly bug.

Basically, our client support team were running a dynamic User Journey of 7 or 10 steps: that was logging in, and doing a search for a product and adding to basket.  We discovered that 2% of cases, the site would wrongly respond ‘Nothing matches your search’, when in fact there were products that did match for sale on the site.  Very bad.  Lost sales.

The team would not have found that bug, if our script had been taking the simplistic approach that some websites over-state as User Journeys:  just hit a series of preset URLs one after the other.

Instead, the script, like the bulk of our dynamic User Journeys,  has no preset URLs, it looked into the live page at each step, and pulled out from that a choice, or a product, dynamically in real time – and found the URL to that, and followed it.

Because of that, our script was effectively mapping out over time the entire inventory of the store! Huge.  Choosing a different product every 5 minutes.

So we started to realise that by using our dynamic approach on a wider range of client sites – that it was not only more accurate of Customer Experience because it only found products the site was actually offering right then and there: but it was also more helpful to the IT opps team; because it proved that some of the so called website errors that our tool was detecting, were actually Inventory errors!

The client’s web IT team were not to blame for them, they couldn’t fix them: only the inventory team could fix them.

That was the serendipity moment!  The keynote realisation was: our Website testing was testing the inventory systems too.

That led to us to offering more inventory monitoring intelligence to clients in our website User Journeys, and hence we have clients who have saved good sums on lost sales; and with minimal staff effort been able to nail down nasty inventory issues, both internally, and and from 3rd party feeds.

If you have complex inventory on your site, confidence across the business that you have inventory bugs under control will grow when you monitor them, and put the real-time results up on big plasma screen on the wall for all staff to see. (many of our clients use wallboards like that, so that people in all teams walking past, see the same single point of truth, about what is happening on their site).

Outside of the travel website sector, we’ve helped clients fix such website inventory problems as:

  • some items of the inventory change name when added to the basket
  • some items can be found, but cannot be bought – bugs in the in-stock figure passed from inventory to website were corrupted

But the most deliriously happy clients have been in travel, because of it’s complex travel inventory management challenges. We’ve helped find and fix problems such as

  • hotels findable, but never with a  room for 2 adults:  (hotels at one resort had non-standard database values in one particular 3rd party feed)
  • packages that change price when added to the basket
  • prices different between the Brand website, and the B2B Travel Agent portal
  • hotels showing as ‘Nearby choices’ when they were actually right there in the desired resort
  • searches that return 10 matching hotels, all 10 of which have no rooms available

Those inventory intelligence features in our services are still expanding: our agile software development approach means that every 2 weeks new features, however bite-sized, are released to clients.  With the powerful, flexible platform our clever R&D guys have built up, we’ve put in around 9 man-years of improvements the last year.

And credit to our expert team of User Journey guys and the client liaison guys: who together work with clients to decide on the best design of journeys for their needs: with the appropriate  inventory management included at each dynamic step.

PS – if your website really does need to monitor the same product every time, or the same holiday package search – then of course we can do that kind of non-random website monitoring too!

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