Here’s the Answer: I’ll state right up front — The Secret Ingredient is …. FUN!
The Scenario: Recently I was researching a trip for my son. He’s in Cairo for a semester abroad, but rather than coming straight home from there for the Christmas holidays, he’s decided he wants to go to London for two weeks (ok, I can’t blame him). But he’s a poor college student, so he has to do this as cheaply as possible. I was on video chat with him, and we’re discussing possible dates, itineraries, etc. I had to be able to search all these different options quickly. First I used Expedia, and then I used Travelocity. They were so slow, and ponderous, and had numerous usability issues. Why is it so hard to choose one-way or multi-destination? Why are the date pickers so hard to use? I was getting more and more frustrated and then somehow (I don’t even remember how or why), I ended up at Kayak.com.
Is it Usability or is it Fun?: Now Kayak is much more USABLE than the other sites. And that was wonderful, but that’s not what made me stay at Kayak for the rest of the research. And that’s not what made me go to Kayak since then to look up all other kinds of travel. Kayak is FUN. If you don’t know Kayak, then go try it out right now and then come back and finish reading the blog. Really. Go now and then come back.
So What’s So Fun?: When you enter your search criteria into Kayak and press the Search button things happen… you don’t just go to a screen with a progress bar, or an hourglass, or a funny picture of William Shatner… you stay on the same screen, but there are things happening… there is some kind of word unscrambler that is scrolling through word combinations. I don’t even know what that thing is, but I swear I can feel excitement mounting as it is cycling through until a word or phrase appears. And the results! The results of your search, with cities, and prices starts populating right away. It starts at the bottom of the screen and works up. So first you see a bunch of flights for $775, and then the price dips and you see a bunch of entries scrolling by of $585, then $356, and WOW, it stops at $272… I WON! Now I’m not a gambler, I don’t play slot machines, or even the lottery, but I”m telling you, this gets me every time. I find this website fun. Instead of dreading checking out flights I look forward to it. After I find the flight I want I am just one click away from Expedia or Travelocity or whomever else I want to use to actually BUY the flight. It will come up immediately with my flight info right there and I can purchase right away. This is great.
Fun + Usable = Trust?: There’s another subtle psychological shift: I trust the info at this site. I used to go to Northwest or Travelocity or Priceline, or all of those, because I didn’t trust that I was getting ALL the flights. But because Kayak.com is EASY and it’s FUN… I trust it.
The secret ingredient: FUN.