United revamps mobile experience for greater contextual relevance
October 31, 2013
United's iPhone app
LITCHFIELD PARK, AZ –A United Airlines executive at the Mobile Shopping Fall Summit gave a sneak peak at a new digital redesign rolling out that includes mobile, Web and in-airport kiosks.
The “Reducing Friction To Create A Smooth Sales Journey” session gave attendees a sneak peak at a few new initiatives that United will be launching this fall. The session also outlined how United has used mobile in the past few years to improve customer service and streamline the booking process.
“This fall, in about two to three weeks, we have a total redesign coming – 2.0, so it will be in the market very soon,” said Jeff Ulrich, senior manager of emerging technology at United, Chicago. “We’re testing like crazy right now.”
“We’ve really redesigned the whole experience,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very nice – as we move forward, what we’re seeing is these devices and I’ve heard it time and time again, they’re all so personal, it’s my device, I never share this device.”
United’s upcoming mobile refresh will make it easier for consumers to find relevant information without digging through an application.
For example, if a device can detect that a consumer is traveling, pulling up a mobile boarding pass similar to how Apple’s Passbook works automatically gives mobile a contextual edge.
In addition to mobile, United is also launching a new Web site homepage and new in-airport kiosk screens.
Last year, United was primarily focused on getting all of the back-end mobile services together.
This year, the airline has invested in redesigning its digital channels, including mobile.
In July, the brand refreshed the mobile app with cleaner graphics and a crisper look. The app’s new design also got rid of some of the buttons that stuck out on the page.
According to the United executive, tablets are closely related to desktop, and falls in line with some of the PC activities that take place farther out from the actual trip, such as researching and browsing.
“What we’re noticing – that is holding true for us also – and it tends to be higher revenue bookings because at the last minute, if I need to get somewhere, I don’t care, it’s an emergency or I have to be at this meeting or whatever, I’m just going to pay for it, and I’m going to pull up my device and book it at that point,” Mr. Ulrich said.
Despite the different use cases, it is critical that prices match up across all different devices for United since prices can often fluctuate.
A screen shot of United's current iPhone app
Previous to the United and Continental merger, Continental was one of the first airlines to roll out mobile boarding passes in 2007. The boarding passes were geared towards BlackBerry users, but 2007 was also the year that Apple’s iPhone launched, which gave marketers more opportunities with mobile.
By the end of next week, Mr. Ulrich said that mobile boarding passes will be in all of the airline’s domestic airports.
In 2009 and 2010, United and Continental did not have a solid mobile strategy in place and decided to prioritize a mobile Web site as a first stab into mobile.
By 2010, United’s mobile app was launched, which was completely done in-house and is focused around giving travelers a distinct experience from the mobile site.
Now, the company’s mobile strategy is engrained into multiple facets of the company and there are more stakeholders and opinions on what should be rolled out within the app.
“Now my list is huge, and I’m trying to prioritize what gets in there along with things that just have to get in there, either from DOT or company initiatives because we’re constantly trying to match if the dot-com team is doing something, they can’t go out with something without you going out with it, and if they change some of the services on the back end to enhance something, then it’s going to break this over here, so there is a lot of coordination going on now,” Mr. Ulrich said.
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York
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