What are the business models and value propositions for this site? Who are its competitors? How does this website relate to other channels for this company?

Yahoo's FareChase is a search engine for travel deals. Travel search engines search the web for flights, hotels, and sometimes car rentals on airline, car rental, and hotel websites (such as Hilton.com, Radisson.com, etc.) as well as online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Orbitz. FareChase's customers compare rates of different flights or hotels and once they decide what they want, they are linked directly to the travel provider's site to complete the transaction.

In contrast, competitors to FareChase such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity have deals with hotels, airlines, and car rental agencies directly and "inventory" (such as blocks of rooms) that they are selling off. Interestingly, Yahoo's general manager for travel Yen Lee has said that FareChase is an "unbiased way to search across [travel] sites" [2]. Yahoo does not receive payments from travel suppliers as a part of search, instead, like Yahoo's search engine, FareChase follows an Advertising Model and relies on pay-per-click advertising revenue that appear next to search results. However, in the searches I initiated for both hotels and flights, FareChase did return 'sponsor' results first (usually Orbitz) and the other results were marked as 'partner' results. This suggests that sponsors are paying FareChase to have their results returned first.

The Value Proposition of searching for travel on the Internet is well known. Customers can search whenever and nearly wherever they want (provided they have Internet access), 24/7; customers put in their own criteria to search and can easily find prices from a variety of providers to compare, and customers have a one-to-one relationship with the sites - they don't have to rely on a phone agent or in-person travel agent to do the searching for them (and sometimes get a commission on top of it!). Additionally, if customers are thinking about planning a trip but want the least-expensive price they can find, FareChase offers a Widget for download that will show you the best price found recently on FareChase for the flight you want. FareChase also customizes its interface and offerings as it gets to know you, on my return visits to the site, it told me current rates for flights from Chicago to San Francisco (a search I had previously initiated) as well as flight prices from Chicago to other cities.

Travel Search Engines:
Kayak
SideStep Inc.
Mobissimo

Online Travel Agents:
Orbitz
Expedia
Travelocity
hotels.com
priceline.com
hotwire.com
Cheaptickets.com

Who are the intended customers for this website?

FareChase's intended customers are those who already use the Internet to book online travel, which at this point is a large and diverse amount of people. FareChase has features that are more flexible, dynamic and immediate and have a web 2.0 sensibility, so they may in particular be appealing to those who like to have features like navigable maps showing the hotel results and nearby attractions built into their search results. Additionally, Yahoo has a travel channel for fare searching, travel planning, user reviews, etc, and FareChase is included as a benefit of this travel channel.

According to a research study by EMarketer Inc., for the first time this year, "a majority of online households will book travel plans online"[4]. Fifty-two and a half percent (52.5%) of all online households will use the Internet to book travel plans. The audiences are booking for pleasure and business travel alone, as couples, or with families or friends. Customers might be skewed toward younger or more tech-savvy people who trust using the Internet to book multi-hundred or thousand dollar travel plans online. Because FareChase culls the inventories of airline and hotel websites in addition to OTAs, it may appeal to customers who are interested in booking directly with the company whom they will be flying or staying with because of trust issues; a quick search on the internet turns up stories of OTA reservations being lost in the system or not what people expected, and people like to avoid such stress - especially where vacations are concerned!

As for those who won't use this website, Forrester Research found that those who don't book travel online are concerned about "credit-card security, website performance issues and limits on the actions they could take online" [1].

How does this site market and advertise itself to attract consumer interest? (Attract)

Many customers will find FareChase because they already use Yahoo as a portal, search engine, or for email accounts. Searches for 'Travel Deals' in Yahoo, Google and Ask.com's search engines yielded no results within the first 5 pages from FareChase, so I imagine much of the interest in the site is coming through word of mouth users or Yahoo users themselves. Word-of-mouth shouldn't be underestimated on the web because there are many online communities where people talk about finding travel deals or ask questions about booking travel, and users are more than happy to list the sites they use.

Some hotels and airfare companies such as Southwest Airlines and JetBlue choose not to have their flights and rooms integrated with Online Travel Agents' inventories because the OTA then has the relationship with the customer rather than the service provider itself - in the future perhaps more companies will join JetBlue and Southwest in wanting to retain their customer relationships, and will support Travel Search Engines such as FareChase rather than online OTAs.

How does this site present its content/catalogue to attract different types of users/shoppers? How does this site support different types of online purchasing behaviors? What tools for advice does this site use? (Interact)

FareChase supports Impulsive, Patient, and Analytical buyers. Analytical buyers looking at hotels on FareChase have the opportunity to search, sort the hotels by price, popularity, distance, or name, and view all the hotels on a map next to the results. They can also rest assured that many sites are being searched for the most recent and best fares available - however for some this may not be enough - FareChase offers a list of sites that are searched, and it certainly doesn't cover all of the travel sites available on the web. Analytical buyers may want to explore other sites before settling on a fare found through FareChase and may also use sites with hotel reviews, such as TripAdvisor to search for hotels of their choosing before settling on one found randomly through FareChase. Buyers also aren't able to choose to search for flexible dates, so all types of buyers who may be looking for the cheapest rate whenever they can get it may be disappointed and go elsewhere.

Users can zoom in & out and drag the map to specific areas they want to look at, and hotel search results will update on the map to reflect the area they are looking at (such as hotels near the Moscone Center in San Francisco). Additionally, users can toggle checkboxes below the map to see nearby Attractions, Entertainment, Restaurants, and Airports - although in my tests, the restaurants returned were few and far between and couldn't be clicked on to go to their site or find out additional information. The best - and sometimes the most annoying - thing about the map is that it moves down the page as a user scrolls down to look at additional hotels. It's a good feature, but at times distracting. Additionally, when the casual user returns to the site, recent flight/hotel searches and deals are remembered and can easily be clicked on to re-initiate a search.

The shopping experience at FareChase is mostly utilitarian, although it offers some arguably hedonic features. It's easy for a customer to initate a search, choose a hotel or flight, and get directed to the provider's site, or a customer can choose to stay a while, tweaking the search criteria, navigating the map, and looking at nearby restaurants and attractions. The hedonic features would offer more if they linked directly to the listed attractions and restaurants, or offered reviews, or even included pictures and information about the hotel (possibly along with reviews, like TripAdvisor) so that users have some time to get invested in certain hotels or experiences based on visual input or information from others.

How does this site process order placement and payment? (Act)

Order placement is done directly with the airline, OTA, or hotel website that the results came back from - FareChase is merely a conduit to providing fares and mapping them on the site. When a customer wants to find out more about a hotel rate, for example, they see in green what website the rate came from, they click on the hotel name and a window pops up with more details of the types of rooms offered and different rates available. When a customer is ready to make the purchase or explore more, they can click on a link to "book on orbitz.com" (or wherever that rate is coming from) and finally a FareChase message pops up that solidifies its relationship to potentially confused customers "You found this great rate at Yahoo! FareChase // Now taking you to orbitz.com to book it", then Orbitz' loading/waiting window pops up, and at last, the hotel you were just looking at.

How does this site handle delivery, shipping and return? (Act)

Delivery is outlined in the previous section - in this case it is the delivery of customers to the websites their rates came from. All additional travel inquiries relating to their bookings will go directly through the website they booked with, be it Hilton.com or cheaptickets.com.

What types of support services does this site provide? How responsive are its customer services? (React)

This site provides travel search services - it is a conduit to the sites that will fulfill hotel and flight requests. It also provides a map that easily places locations of hotels with nearby attractions, restaurants, etc. and remembers a user's 5 previous searches so that they can be revisited when a customer returns to the site. Maps can also be viewed as satellite images or hybrid images. The main point of the site is that it will be time saving - users don't have to visit several different hotel chain sites or several OTAs to compare prices and availability and see who has the best deal. FareChase does maintain a comprehensive help section that serves to answer questions about booking hotels and flights and its role as a search engine.

What unique user interface features does this site provide?

FareChase uses some interesting features to enhance the user experience. As mentioned previously, a map shows hotel locations, nearby restaurants, and other attractions and 'follows' the user as they scroll down the page. When a user moves her mouse over the list of hotels that have been returned, those locations are highlighted on the map. Additional search options such as neighborhoods, price range, and amenities are also presented on the left side of the page, making it easy to refine the search without leaving the current page.

As customers initiate a search, they are shown a progress bar for the duration of the waiting time, and a scrolling list shows which websites are currently being searched, with the 'Lowest Fare' updated next to the scrolling sites so users have a ballpark idea of the fares being found before the results return.

FareChase uses simple tabs to choose between 'Hotels' and 'Flights' and the interface is very simple compared to its OTA competitors because it is all about the search engine and not special deals, customer service, or account information.

How well does this site apply usability guidelines to the site design and development? (Usability)

Usability-wise, FareChase is a pleasure to use. The site is primarily for search and that focus is clear - directions are given regarding the purpose of the site and the way to initiate a search, however the site is still attractive, with subtle gradients and glossy buttons and graphics giving it a sleek Web 2.0 feel.

Errors such as forgetting to fill out a field are dealt with using red text and highlighting the field where the error occurred before the user can move forward. When a search is initiated, the progress bar and scrolling list of sites being searched give users an immediate sense of feedback and understanding of how the site works and where they are in the search process. If a customer chooses a flight or hotel to their liking, FareChase does a good job of indicating where they are in the process as the user waits to be transferred from FareChase to the provider, helping to drive home that FareChase is just a search engine, if the user is confused.

The map also adds a great touch to the usability of the site, helping the consumer to visualize where each hotel is - one downside is that the map is graphics-intensive and users with slower DSL or dial-up internet connections will have to wait frequently for the graphics to load - an 'updating results' message pops up frequently as the page or map changes.

References

[1] Dubie, Denise. Five reasons consumers don't book travel online. NetworkWorld.com, March 19, 2007. http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/031907-consumers-dont-book-travel-online.html?t51hb

[2] Hicks, Matthew. Travel Search Prepares for Takeoff. Eweek, April 1, 2005. http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1781817,00.asp

[3] Smith, Brian. Yahoo's FareChase: The Stealth Disruptor? Search Engine Watch, April 27, 2006. http://searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=3601971

[4] Travelers shift their purchasing to the Internet. Internet Retailer, April 10, 2007. http://www.internetretailer.com/dailyNews.asp?id=22014