Travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet unveiled in February its new e-commerce site at Shop.LonelyPlanet.com. From more personalized options for shoppers to using responsive web design, the new site is a huge improvement for Lonely Planet, which was long overdue for a website overhaul, says Mike Nelson, global director of e-commerce and commercial partnerships at Lonely Planet.
“We’ve always tried to lead the way in technology,” Nelson says. Besides the travel guides offered on its e-commerce site, Lonely Planet provides two travel guide apps: Guides—launched in 2016—serves as a resource before and during a trip, and Trips—launched in 2017—complements Guides with a way to share photos and videos with friends, family and fellow travelers.
“People would come to our shop and see that this website was not as cool as the apps,” Nelson says.
Lonely Planet built its first e-commerce site in the early 1990s on an in-house system built with Java and Netsuite’s enterprise resource planning. Now, its e-commerce platform is built on WebLinc’s Workarea platform.
“It was jarring to go from one to the other,” Nelson says. “We overhauled the whole thing instead of Band-Aiding the old site as much as we could.”
Although the new e-commerce website only launched in February, Lonely Planet is already seeing an uptick in conversion and mobile users. The new site uses responsive web design, which is a design technique that formats the size of the page to the screen the consumer is viewing it on. Because the old website lacked mobile responsiveness, bounce rates were historically “not great” on mobile, Nelson says.
Since the launch, bounce rates have decreased by 89%, Nelson says. Not only that, but in just a few weeks, Lonely Planet is seeing a 195% increase of products added to cart. How that translates to sales is still too early to tell, Nelson says. Additionally, the past three weeks have had an 11.9% increase in visitors compared with the prior three weeks to launching the new site.
“With all things considered, this is specifically good as February and March are typically slower months in the travel industry,” Nelson says. “While we have seen a dramatic improvement in bounce rates on mobile, the additional hits have been pretty even between desktop and mobile.”
Lonely Planet is expecting a 10% lift in growth in sales in 2018 overall, which is consistent with 2017 over 2016’s growth, Nelson says. However, he declined to share a specific sales figure. “We haven’t even started promoting the new site yet. So, once we start doubling down and increasing that, we’re confident sales will increase,” Nelson says.
Old to new
Lonely Planet enlisted omnichannel consultancy firm FitForCommerce to consult on its new site. “Lonely Planet’s website was built to support the business at the time, but with increased and aggressive plans, the site was becoming a risk,” says Arthur McManus, senior vice president at FitForCommerce. “We identified the need to have more ‘self-sufficient control’ of landing pages, navigation and content.”
FitForCommerce assisted Lonely Planet in developing a plan to not only help with mobile optimization, but to integrate the e-commerce site—including its design—with the main content site at LonelyPlanet.com, as well as develop a significantly enhanced and efficient checkout process.
Prior to the overhaul, the checkout process was very limited. After a shopper added items to her cart, she was pushed off to Lonely Planet’s payment processor’s portal. When this happened, the company lost all tracking within the checkout process and only saw the success of the order if it came back to them, Nelson says. “We can now see every step—personal info, shipping info, payment options—which helps us understand where there may be potential fallout in the future. It also allows us to test different content ideas at each step, or combine steps in the future,” he says.
“Lonely Planet had aggressive plans to increase the revenue of the e-commerce site and to focus on the e-commerce division from a technology, growth and customer experience perspective,” McManus says.
Nelson says Lonely Planet’s e-commerce department started working on the website overhaul about two to three years ago and finished in February 2018. He declined to say how much the website overhaul cost.
On the old site, Lonely Planet offered several different guides for the same destination or city with no real explanation or differentiations. For example, it has a London city guide, a Best of London guide, a pocket London guide and more. “It was confusing people on which guide to get,” says Nelson.
With Lonely Planet’s new recommendation engine, it will look at both the shopper’s behavior and how consumers in the same market behave and then recommend the best titles. The program is still learning, as it only has a few weeks worth of data, but it will become much more dynamic as it gains more actions within the site, Nelson says. The customer profiles are tied into LonelyPlanet.com, allowing the e-commerce site to serve the best personalized recommendations as it uses data from a shopper’s behavior on Lonely Planet’s forums, destination pages, video portal and apps.
“Our website crowdsources what’s trending right now, based on other users, and we display that to people in different markets,” Nelson says. “We give you the best experience in that sense.”
More to come
The e-commerce website overhaul isn’t nearly over, however. The next version, which it hopes to launch later in 2018, will incorporate a business-to-business website so that B2B retailers can easily place orders on the site rather than calling one of Lonely Planet’s representatives.
Also coming soon to the site is more videos on the shopping part of the site, so shoppers can see exactly where they’re going in a video and image format. Nelson says the new website will incorporate shopper profiles as well, so shoppers can sign up and save travel destinations, and Lonely Planet will recommend guidebooks based on those. It will also focus on its Guides and Trips apps.
We haven’t even started promoting the new site yet. So, once we start doubling down and increasing that, we’re confident sales will increase.
The overhaul of its e-commerce platform is all part of Lonely Planet’s turn to “double down on digital,” Nelson says.
“We want to better understand the behavior of our customers and what they’re looking for,” Nelson says. “We want to break the bounds of a publisher. We’re not really a book company but a content company.”
Going the extra mile
Not only does Lonely Planet sell travel guides, it also shows flights, hotel accommodations and travel insurance on the thank-you page after a shopper makes a purchase.
Other vacation-planning websites such as Trip Advisor offer flights and hotel suggestions, but none of them offer physical guidebooks like Lonely Planet, Nelson says.
Unlike e-book retailer Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, Lonely Planet allows shoppers to “piecemeal their own journey” by purchasing and downloading individual chapters of e-book guidebooks, Nelson says. For example, a shopper may be interested in the Western USA travel guide, but only wants to explore the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. She then can purchase and download those specific chapters for $4.95 each rather than purchasing the entire print guidebook for $24.99 or downloading the full e-book for $17.49.
“We’re pinpointing where people are going, the content we have and how we can provide it in the simplest form,” Nelson says.
Founded in 1973, Lonely Planet has 31.5% of the global guidebook market, according to Lonely Planet, and to date, it has printed more than 148 million books.