As people rely more on smartphone apps to plan trips and vacations, navigation apps are leading the travel apps industry, while airline apps are lagging behind, according to a new report by ARC. ARC is the research arm of Applause, an app quality and testing company that offers insights and data on the apps economy
In the report, Applause analyzed nearly three million app store reviews of 122 major travel brands. Based on a scale of zero to 100, navigation apps are the best apps, with an average score of 65, while the lowest average score belongs to airline apps at 34.
Ben Gray, the digital experience analyst at Applause, observed how insane competition among travel apps has become. “There are more than 30 million apps worldwide and there’s a lot of growth in the travel industry,” he said. “The travel industry has lots of room to improve and delight customers, and the airline industry has biggest growth opportunity.
In 2015, Applause only profiled a small subset of the industry, said Gray. “This year, we expanded travel to include the eight different actions that travelers might make throughout their journey: Explore, Fly, Stay, Book, Cruise, Drive, Navigate and Ride,” he said. “This allowed us to provide a more robust perspective via the customer journey in the physical and digital world. “It’s a chance for brands to see how customers receive their apps.”
The travel apps economy is incredibly competitive and is only becoming more crowded. To make sense of the landscape, Applause categorized apps into eight distinct actions a traveler takes on their customer journey. The Fly category included airlines, the one industry that’s unable to keep pace with traveler expectations, said the report. But six incredibly popular apps earned above average scores based on more than 50,000 reviews:
Booking.com is most frequently praised for its performance and stability. Groupon wins kudos for its usability, satisfaction, performance, and pricing, while Waze is known for its content and interoperability that stand out among its competitors. TripAdvisor was lauded for its content and elegance and Yelp was noted for its ability to delight (i.e., satisfaction) and its usability (i.e., usefulness, simplicity, and elegance).
But when travelers feel well-served or underserved, they have a channel in app stores through which to share experiences—good and bad. Just seven profiled apps with more than 10,000 reviews have mobile sentiment scores less than 50, and two were airlines: Delta Air Lines (35.5) and Southwest Airlines (25.5).
The legacy airlines have faced challenges including consolidation and competition with low-cost carriers that don’t have the complexity of older carriers, said Gray. “I’ve had conversations with legacy airlines like Delta and American, and they appreciate the fact that their digital experience isn’t quite at the capability that they expect, but they are genuinely working hard to keep pace with industry leaders like Alaska Airlines,” he said.
Alaska Airlines stood out head and shoulders above the 18 domestic and international brands, said Gray. “One reason is that Alaska is the most in touch with the needs of its customers. It’s done a phenomenal job listening to the of voice of the customers in the form of social engagement,” he said. “But I also see brands like United, Delta and American realizing that success and evaluating what they can do to achieve parity in the next 18 months.”
Some airline apps have been negatively impacted by the progressive capabilities added by their competitors, said the report. For instance, British Airways offers a simplified search and booking experience while JetBlue offers a redesigned iPad interface and improved stability. “The likes of Qatar Airways, Air France, Air Canada and KLM have some ground to cover to achieve parity,” it noted. No matter the company’s industry, geography or reputation, app users are vocal about their experiences. It’s time for travel brands to embrace digital-first strategies that raise the bar for quality to ultimately deliver richer customer experiences across customer journeys.”
Gray’s advice for the airline industry? “Look at the leaders across other parts of the travel industry and see which ones are the most successful,” he said. “Understand what the traveler’s journey looks like. There are dozens of touch points where customers interact with airlines and each one has the opportunity for airlines to delight customers and deliver consistently through the brand experience,” he said.