Working with people who love travel was a big drawcard for Michael Pearson to join Expedia.
The Australia and New Zealand director of product and e-commerce spoke to Computerworld Australia about social media, customer relationship management (CRM) and the challenges he faces in the role.
What does your role as director of product and e-commerce involve?
In Australia I look after everything that happens at the point of sale. This includes merchandising that we do on the website, regional updates and retail planning.
What are some of the technology projects you have been working on?
We’ve been migrating our platform to a new user interface (UI) Java-based platform to give us a lot more flexibility in how we update the website. That should be complete next year.
We’ve also been working on mobile optimisation so the website pages work on smartphones and tablets. We want to provide the best possible browsing experience for customers.
From a retail perspective, we’re building pages that engage the consumer during their planning process. For example, we have a section called Short Breaks with a bunch of ideas such as flying to Auckland, New Zealand, for the weekend. Australians would sooner jump in the car and head away for a weekend so we’re trying to educate the market.
In terms of customer relationship management, we do actively market to customers via email using an opt-in system.
On Facebook, we’re more interested in creating an active travel community rather than posting marketing material because we don’t want to burn the relationship we have with our customers. For example, a customer can ask the community about good hotels and things to do in Fiji. About six months we launched Facebook Connect so customers have the option of signing into their Expedia account using their Facebook credentials.
Twitter lends itself quite nicely to micro blogging about travel deals. In times of crisis, Twitter is also a good medium to get messages out there.
What are some of the challenges you face in the role?
One of the challenges is geography. We are a global organisation and have product teams based out of the US and UK. As you can imagine, trying to communicate with two different time zones presents a number of logistical challenges in conference calls at odd hours. At Expedia, we use smart tools and instant messenger to have conversations without resorting to phone calls.
What are the issues facing e-commerce managers today?
The barriers to entry for competitors are getting lower and lower because of cloud providers providing hosting services. There are a lot of start-ups who are nimble and have some smart solutions, they can nip at your ankles or take market share.
What is your favourite gadget?
I love my iPhone because it just works. I can see what time my train is coming in and approve someone’s expense account while walking from my car to the train station.
Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick