How rigorous testing helped Marriott deploy responsive design
By Mark Hamstra
August 15, 2014
PHILADELPHIA - Marriott International’s multi-year effort to create a comprehensive testing program for its digital efforts paid off during its recent implementation of responsive Web design.
The global hotel concern just unlocked most of the responsively designed pages in June after extensive testing helped uncover some flaws in the original design. Now about 90 percent of Marriott’s Web pages use responsive design, including the path to booking and most of the key pages consumers use for research.
“There are still some performance issues, so we’re still working on trying to improve performance, especially around things like large pictures,” said Lee Carson, senior manager of digital experiments at Marriott International, Bethesda, MD.
Mr. Carson spoke at a session called “How to Scale Your Optimization Program Across Business Units and Brands” at eTail East 2014 in Philadelphia.
Marriott only generates a very small percentage of its $2.6 billion in annual revenues via mobile, Mr. Carson said.
“For mobile, it’s really more about people looking for information,” he said. The company has seen “tremendous growth” in tablet use, however. “We are starting to see some of the desktop business migrate to tablets,” Mr. Carson said.
While the mobile Web is not a key business center for Marriott, the company does have a very large base of rewards-program members who use its mobile app.
Marriott’s digital testing team was launched in 2005 and now conducts about 60 tests a year. It helped Marriott implement responsive design by uncovering some flaws in the ways the home page was rendering on mobile. For example, it found that a key menu on the home page was obscured on mobile with responsive design during early testing.
“We saw a dramatic decrease in click-throughs to reservations,” Mr. Carson said.
Among the links that were obscured before the site was released to the public was a link to group bookings, which is a key revenue generator for Marriott. The end result on Marriott’s testing of responsive Web design was that it was neutral in terms of its impact on customer draw.
Other functions that the testing team has experimented with include digital advertising effectiveness and the rendering of photography on the Web site.
Mr. Carson said one of the keys to testing digital functionality and new digital products is to maintain a highly disciplined process for conducting tests. Marriott deviated from that process as it ramped up its testing, and had to return to the rigorous testing procedures that produce actionable results.
One of the challenges, he said, is that digital product teams often take testing lightly, but the testers themselves need to maintain a high level of discipline.
“Now, our tests are more rigorous than a product launch,” Mr. Carson said.
His first recommendation for marketers testing new digital products was to focus on the tiniest details, or as he put it, “sweat the small stuff. He also recommended planning for the future of where the business is headed, and maintaining a focus on the business goals.
“It’s easy to drive clicks,” Mr. Carson said. “It’s much harder to drive revenues.”
Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Marketer, New York