In conjunction with World Usability Day, Human Factors International (HFI), TechSmith Corp., and Michigan State University today announced the findings of their usability study of online travel sites, which indicates that Internet users prefer to book travel on Orbitz.com rather than auction site Priceline.com or airline site Southwest.com.

The theme of World Usability Day 2005 is "Making it easy!" Based on the results of this study, Orbitz was best able to achieve that goal. Sixty-three percent of study participants ranked Orbitz as the easiest to use - that figure was consistent across both novice and experienced users. Sixty-seven percent of participants, regardless of their Internet skill level, ranked Southwest as the hardest to use. Ninety-five percent of participants would recommend Orbitz, while Priceline would be recommended by 79 percent of participants, and Southwest would receive the recommendation of nearly 38 percent of participants.

"Travel is the largest sales category in online commerce, and millions of new users come onto the Internet each year," said Katie Hill, Certified Usability Analyst, Human Factors International. "Companies that want to grow significantly beyond their most loyal online customers must fully understand the user experience created by their Web sites. With more 80 million Americans booking travel online each year, the ROI from conducting usability studies is enormous."

The joint online travel study is based on extensive usability study data collected by testing 24 adult Web users from around the United States as they were interacting with the sites. The study was conducted using Morae, an all-digital solution from TechSmith that captures user and system data during usability testing. The data includes audio and video feeds of the users as well as system performance and interactive steps, such as page navigation, keystrokes, cursor movements and menu selections.

"The technical aspect of capturing and analyzing the way customers use Web sites has been transformed by Morae," said Shane Lovellette, Product Manager at TechSmith. "Usability testing is now easy, fast and very effective. Any company that transacts business on the Web now has the ability to understand how and why customers use and interact with a Web site. This helps companies turn a Web presence into a competitive differentiator."

Study participants were asked to book a flight and a hotel room on Orbitz, Priceline and Southwest. The results were striking. While 75 percent of novice users were able to book successfully on Orbitz the figure dropped to 66 percent on Priceline and 17 percent on Southwest. For experienced users, 100 percent were able to book successfully on Orbitz, 83 percent on Priceline, and 33 percent on Southwest. Orbitz was the preferred site by 67 percent of all users.

"This study clearly showed where users struggled and where they were successful," said Sarah Swierenga, Director of the Usability & Accessibility Center at Michigan State University. "Organizations need to constantly evaluate their Web sites to ensure that they are easy to use and meet customer expectations. This can improve the trust and confidence that consumers have in a company, and positively impact the image of a company in the eyes of target customers."

Some of the top usability issues that all participants encountered included:

- Lengthy checkout processes – Participants grew frustrated with multiple confirmation screens and the cross-selling of unnecessary items that delayed the completion of transactions at Orbitz.com.

- Changing search parameters from flights only to flight/hotel packages – This type of change can alter the way Priceline.com users must enter origin and destination details. In many instances, this caused users to book hotel reservations in the wrong city.

- Lack of flexibility – Southwest.com requires users to purchase flight tickets before searching for hotel rooms. This eliminates the chance to book packages, and requires users to "do the math" in order to calculate the total cost of a trip.

World Usability Day is an international series of events organized by the Usability Professionals’ Association to raise awareness of the benefits of usability engineering and user-centered design.

A summary report of the online travel study, along with video samples of participant feedback, can be viewed at:

Related Link: World Usability Day - Online Travel Study