Take a look at this quote from the Chairman of China Eastern Airlines, Liu Shaoyong.

“If we can’t get creative with information technology, we will always be at the mercy of domestic e-travel websites”

Recently in my post titled “The Future of Airline PR” I hypothesized about the payoff for an airline from having a reputation for innovation in their direct sales channel, but I don’t have any hard proof to back up this assertion. 

Opponents would claim that they’ve never seen Ryanair win any prizes for a good website UI, but people still flock there – I suppose this isn’t too different to the Chinese $2 stores where you have to walk over boxes just to get down the aisle, or where stock is piled up the roof based upon the discount retailers mantra of “stack ’em high and watch ’em buy” – what they lack in best practice merchandising, they more than make up for with a reputation for extremely cheap prices, and the customers do indeed buy, buy, buy. But for the rest of us, I prefer the opposing shopkeepers mantra of “retail is detail.” This is a much more appropriate basis upon which to run anything other than the lowest of low cost airline websites.

But the question remains, has anyone seen a study or know of any numbers to back up my view that the positive spinoff for establishing a reputation for online innovation and best practice user experience is much greater than could be shown in a standard business case. I was speaking to the head of e-commerce for a small airline around 8 – 10 weeks ago and he was telling me how his competitors on most routes were two large airlines. In his opinion, the biggest weakness he faced was that they both had website budgets he couldn’t match and consumers in that market had been “educated” or become used to, a level of website sophitication that he was never going to be able to compete with. The inference was that consumers on most of his routes associated a cutting edge website with a better quality airline, and that if he couldn’t match the online functionality of his two competitors then consumers were less likely to even look at the fares on his website. This is very anecdotal evidence and I’d never infer a general trend based upon a sample size of one, but it is an interesting thought nonetheless.

If anyone has seen research or has personally studied the positive spinoff from a reputation for innovation into an increased likehood to search and buy online, especially if it is from an airline environment, I would very much love to see it.