I just read the Androidcentral article on the new “amenity” features offered by Google Flights in partnership with Routehappy. In practice Google Flights will soon display additional details for each flight, listing all the amenities they offer on board (in-seat power, WiFi, legroom etc).

Routehappy + Google Flights

I find it great and I am quite confident that these so called amenities (which deeply impact quality perception) will take more and more space on the booking flow and will greatly impact tomorrow’s airfares strategy.

While reading the news, I thought it would have been interesting to talk for a second about this need that is evidently incessant in our lives (nowadays we’re just creating more tools to exploit it). I’m talking about the need for a sense of control, which translates into a compulsive desire to predict any outcome.

// If we wanted to deep dive in the subject we could add that what matters most to us is the actual ‘sense’ of control and not the REAL control we have on outcomes (i.e. when we trust someone to do something), but this wouldn’t be a short article anymore, so let’s stick to the plan. If you want to adventure more, this and this are good starting points. //

So: we seek a sense of control; we feel like we want to know in advance what is going to be (be it an inflight experience or tomorrow’s weather), leaving the smallest possible room for unpredictability. This becomes important not only on a level of self-understanding, but it gives a huge insight into how to effectively design products that help us alleviate any stress related to seeking control. Products should work for us, giving all the necessary information to make relaxed decisions.

This is a controversial point (at least in my mind). More and more I see products serving the card of scarcity and trying to cultivate stress in order to generate purchasing decisions.

A couple of examples?

Let’s say I am planning a trip.

mmm. maybe few days in London?

Booking Recent Bookings

Booking Rooms Left

What about a week in Tuscany?

Airbnb Listings Left

Airbnb Fantastic Mansion in Tuscany

I am not saying this doesn’t work, on the contrary, I am sure it’s very effective, and often it is an important alert for users (I am thinking about the Booking.com example where ‘last room available’ literally means ‘last room available at this price on Booking.com’), but leaves the user with a bitter taste right after a purchase. The risk has been overcome, for now, the cheap price has been assured, the sense of control is restored, but what a stress!

Wouldn’t it be better a different approach which actively safeguards the users’ interest?

I’m now looking for a flight for my trip.

Google Flights

We said that we seek control, the broader, the better. Comparison websites satisfy this deep need of having everything laid out perfectly in front of us. Google is an artist on this too, in a matter of 300-400 pixel it displays all you need to make an informed decision, saving tips included.

I love the part when it acknowledges its lack of automatic EasyJet fares parsing and invites you to check them on the bottom of the page, this is like control freaks’ heaven :) (yes I’m one of those, if you were still wondering at this point).

Now, it’s clear that Google has no pressure to conform to any airline, on this. Booking.com and Airbnb, instead, have to satisfy the interest of both hosts and guests. Can you imagine if they implemented a “TIP” section on a host profile, and were suggesting alternative destinations (within their existing database) with similar characteristics and cheaper price? All the hosts would go simply mad and would leave the platform, it’s already enough to compete on map and listing, no need for a trojan horse on their property’s profile page.

I argue there is another way, one where it is possible to apply the ‘relaxed purchasing’ feeling that Google Flights undoubtedly generates, while safeguarding everyone’s interest.

The feeling of being in control, for instance when booking a hotel room, moves from the idea that given some specific requirements (i.e. double bed, in-room minibar etc.) all the possibilities have been evaluated and the resulting filtered choices are there, ready to be booked.

So why are Booking.com and Airbnb using scarcity alerts to assure bookings?

To gently push users on a decision, since filtered results might be too many or too few.

Too little choice is risky because the available results could be booked by someone else (stress here is ok, this kind of alerts provide a good UX, so let’s call it good scarcity). On the opposite, too much choice paralyses, so scarcity alerts introduce that light stress which promotes a prompt decision (this is what I argue should be eradicated, let’s call it bad scarcity).

In the first case there could be still room for improvement by providing alternative solutions to those users who, post-filters, have limited booking options available. Maybe a close enough destination? (Booking.com is already doing this and I bet is very effective).

In the latter case, the way to get rid of unneeded stress for the user while boosting bookings might pass through a better filtering tool, which would allow a prioritisation of requirements. As previously said, everyone of us has specific needs when booking a room. What about allowing users to tell you the order in which these requirements are important to them? This facilitates a smarter filtering system, able to relax requirements which are less of priority (still letting the user know about that), in order to provide enough choices to make the booking a relaxed experience and not a race against other users.

No alerts on the number of people who viewed one of his choices and didn’t book, no fear of missing the perfect spot, no sense of scarcity involved. Just a smarter filtering system which learns from users. (just a thought, drag-and-drop to prioritise requirements could be a good and quick UI trick here). Users will purchase having the feeling that the platform was actually helping them to find the best option and not pushing them towards a quick purchase: they will feel understood. On the long run, this pays way more than some compulsive purchases.

So what should be the takeaway from all this?

Try to feed users’ sense of control while providing a relaxed user experience, where purchasing keeps being a pleasure and not a way to dissipate stress induced by a deliberate manipulation of their sense of control.

Products should work for us, saving us resources which can be used for what matters most.