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Airport Parking Booking Insight

Comparing the booking processes of leading airports and companies

Created by Al Mackin

Why study airport car parking booking processes?

Car parking is a significant revenue source for airports. For consumers, it's a critical component of an exciting part of their lives. The importance to both the consumer and the provider mean that a good booking process can generate revenue, and customer happiness, whereas a bad process will lead to lost revenue, and a customer who is unhappy before they arrive for their flight.

Arranging airport parking can be a complex process, with most providers offering multiple parking options. Potential customers may not have all the information required to hand (like flight number, flight times or car registration). The combination of choice and questions mean that booking forms can be a pain for potential customers. They may put the booking off for another day, or they may end up booking from another provider.

Airport car parking is a competitive space, with car parks and aggregators targeting the same users. The value of a customer goes beyond the cost of the car parking, as many providers also upsell the customer with lounge access or fast-track tickets. Getting the customer to convert at their first attempt is more important than ever.

Longer, more time consuming, booking processes will frustrated customers. This leads to:
Increased Abandonment Lower Conversions Higher Marketing CPAs

Our Analysis

I carried out this analysis in October 2017. I created a persona that was used across all the parking websites, meaning that the information I entered was standardised across all the booking processes.

In my analysis I counted only the required fields, so optional fields were noted but not included in my numbers.

Finally, when an average number is stated in this report it is a median average unless explained otherwise.

  • I analyzed and tested 52 airport parking websites

    I reviewed the booking processes for every major European airport

  • 52 metrics were used to measure performance

    My research is focused on every aspect of the form, from the form elements, to the timing and mobile usability.

  • I ranked and rated each booking process

    I scored each form based on critical factors that will increase user frustration and decrease conversions

Four Key Take-aways

The best-performing sites cut the booking process down to the bone. Reducing the number fields means less effort, and less abandonment. The top five sites have a mean average of 14.2 fields, compared to 30.6 fields for the bottom five.

Advanced postcode lookup will save considerable time. Entering an address takes time. Postcode lookup improves that, but the next generation postcode lookups (driven by a single text field) make it easier, and the booking process appears shorter. 63.5% of parking booking processes don't have a postcode lookup, with just 1.9% using an advanced lookup.

The lack of inline validation is making the UX worse. 50% of booking processes have no inline validation, with just 7.7% notifying the user of success and mistakes in fields. The remaining 42.3% notify just on mistakes. Guiding the use through the process will help you get more potential customers to convert, and notifying users of issues as they complete the process will help reduce abandonment. Notifying users when they have successfully completed a field will give them more confidence in their efforts, and have an impact on conversions.

Text fields take more time, the highest performing sites use them less. Typing in a field takes more time than clicking a field, and I saw the highest performing booking processes using text fields less. 31.4% of the fields used in the top five sites are text boxes, compared to 51.9% in the bottom five. The higher scoring sites prefer to use drop downs, radio buttons and tick boxes as users will find them faster, and the time to complete a form has an impact on conversion rates.

Parking booking forms are significantly different in length

Each step or block in a process is a new page or new section for a potential customer to absorb. There's no magic number of steps that will lead to a higher conversion rate but there's likely to be drop off if the process gets too long.

Over my years of optimising forms I've seen that splitting, or combining steps, can have both a negative and a positive impact. It's an unpredictable optimisation, and often the changes require significant development resource.

If you're looking to optimise and are considering changing the number of steps that a user has to complete, then firstly take a look at the market. If everyone else is doing something different, then you're either beating the market or performing worse than it. In my research Avinor and Rome Airport are enough above average that they should consider the number of steps. Schipol has a high number of steps but they're using a typeform style process.

If your booking process has an average number of steps, then consider other optimisations first. It's likely that they'll be easier to deploy and you'll be able to complete a good number of form optimisations in the same time that it would take to expand or decrease the number of steps a user needs to take.

The total fields in booking processes vary significantly

Decreasing the number of fields in a process is a predictable optimisation. There's likely to be a relationship between the total number of fields and the conversion rate. Predictability is critical to an optimisation process, as most organisations have limited resources.

In my research the difference between the highest and lowest number of fields across all the booking processes is significant, with SkyParkSecure and AirportParking.co.uk requiring the user to complete 34 fields, and Aena requiring just 13. That's a large difference in time and effort required to complete the form, for what is ultimately the same process.

The average number of fields across all booking processes is 21.5. A potential customer who sees a shorter form is more likely to start, and complete it, and the time required to complete a shorter form is less. Aggressively reducing the size of the form, and reducing the effort required to complete it, will have a positive impact on conversion rates.

If reducing the number of fields that a user has to engage with is key, then how do you achieve this? The first pass is to remove any optional fields, unless they have significant value. Next, consider fields that are useful, but not vital to the process. Understanding what information is absolutely needed will highlight the fields that can be removed.

Reducing the number of fields can be achieved by changing the way you ask for information. A postcode lookup will reduce, for most users, the address process from around six fields, to just two (postcode, and house number). Advanced postcode lookups that ask the user to start typing their address in a single text box, then use pattern matching to find the address, reduce the six fields down to one for almost all users.

Most parking processes ask for vehicle details, which can be up to four fields. Using a vehicle registration lookup could reduce this to one. These examples of field reduction are just a starting point for the process. As you reduce the number of fields in your form and see the correlation with conversion rates, you will likely spend a large part of your optimisation time on field removal and simplification.

Read about my company. The rest of the research continues below.

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How long does it take to complete a parking booking process?

The longer it takes to complete a form then the greater the chance of abandonment. Potential customers will get bored of a long process, or they may have time restrictions, and then they may give up.

On average it takes a potential customer 100.65 seconds to complete an airport car parking booking process, with the best performer (Aena) taking just 64.3 seconds and the worst taking 164.9 seconds.

Apart from the time that it takes the user to input the information there are other factors in the total time to complete a process. They include the time to read and understand the questions, and when a form has more than one step, it will take additional time for that step to load, and then for the user to understand the mechanics of the next step.

The main factor in form completion time is the number of fields, with a general trend of a lower completion time when there are fewer fields. A secondary factor in time to complete is the type of fields used: text inputs take up the most time, followed by drop downs, then radio buttons and finally tick boxes. Radio buttons take an average of 2.8 seconds to complete (from absorbing the question, to selecting the answer) compared to 3.6 seconds for drop downs. Not only does a higher number of fields mean more time required entering data in the field, but also time between the fields, as the user completes one question and moves to the next one.

Comparing the average time per field for San Diego Airport and NCP Airport Parking shows the importance of choosing the right field types. Both forms have 25 fields, but San Diego has an average field time of 4.68 seconds, whereas NCP an average of 4.89 seconds per field. San Diego are using field types that are faster for the customer to complete, and their form is 3.5 seconds faster to complete than the NCP process.

Why Radio Buttons save time

Radio buttons trump Drop Downs for two reasons. Firstly all of the potential options are visible and readable by the user on a radio button. A drop down requires the user to click and then read the options.

Secondly, the user has less total interaction with a radio button than a drop down, a drop down requires a minimum of two clicks versus the single click for a radio. With a form that has a significant number of fields then saving the user fractions of a second will add up to a good time saving, and a greater likelihood of conversion.

Engagement examples: radio vs drop down

From our aggregated timing data on forms (Formisimo tracks engagement with fields with millisecond accuracy) I can see that the time spent on a radio button (taken from the time of the interaction with the last field to the first engagement with the next field) is 2.8 seconds, whereas a drop down is 3.6 seconds.

Which field types are used the most?

How The Top Five Use Field Types (vs Bottom Five)

The field types used in a form can make a significant difference to the frustration that a user feels, and the time that they take to complete it.

Comparing the top five booking forms (ranked using our scoring at the base of the page) you can see how the top five performing processes have a greater percentage of drop downs, radio buttons and tick boxes than text boxes.

Radio buttons (where the user has a choice between two or more items, presented as items that are clickable) are much easier to complete than drop-downs, they're not ideal for when there's a lot of options but when a user has to make a choice between two to four options it allows them all to be presented to the user without them having to click.

There are three field types that should be considered when you want to swap field types: radio buttons, drop downs and tick boxes. In certain scenarios you can change the field type from one to another, with the aim of making it faster for the user to understand the question and all potential answers, and faster to select the right option.

Comparing the UX of a text box (open, requires typing), drop downs (closed list, requires clicking and reviewing) and radio buttons (closed, all options visible) the radio button wins on total interaction required. A radio button requires a single click on the right option, whereas a drop down requires a minimum of two clicks, with an unfurling of the options that will then need to be read and absorbed.

If you see value in asking multiple choice questions then using radio buttons will help speed up the time for a user to complete.

Mobile Friendly Keyboards

The prevalence of mobile usage presents new user experience challenges for forms. Beyond the way that a form is presented there's a second challenge of how the user enters data, and dealing with the complexity of data entry compared to entering information on a desktop.

The use of keyboard types on mobile devices makes it easier for potential customers to complete a form as it shows them the most relevant keyboard for the data input. As an example a number or telephone number field should show just the number keypad, rather than the full keyboard. A field that asks for an email address can show a keyboard that makes the "@" symbol visible without having to press the shift key. Adding this functionality to a field is relatively easy, and it generally has a positive impact on conversion rates.

Only 38.5% of booking processes sites use the "email" keyboard type. Deploying the email keyboard type is one of the easiest optimisation opportunities.

Marking required fields makes it easier to complete forms

Marking the fields that a user has to complete will save them time. It guides them to which fields they absolutely have to enter information into, and which fields they can ignore (there's a question over whether you should have any optional fields in your process). A simple asterisk or similar notation will help the user understand how they can fast track the process.

My research shows a high proportion of sites mark required fields, with just 21.2% not marking them.

Not Validating Inline Is A Missed Opportunity

Inline validation is a good way to highlight issues as a user moves through a form. When you have a form with complex questions this becomes a necessity. Showing errors whilst the user is engaging with a question is better than presenting them with a list of all their mistakes after they click submit.

Exactly 50% of sites have inline validation of some type, but just 7.7% tell the user when they have entered data successfully (as well as when they have entered it incorrectly). Looking back at the last seven industries that I have analysed, this is the lowest uptake that I've seen.

There is a significant optimisation opportunity for the 92.3% of providers that don't tell the user when they have successfully completed a field. Although a marginal gain, it is a relatively light touch way to impact on conversion and form completion rates.

Validation - Gamifying Long Forms

Website visitors have all experienced frustrating forms and when they start to engage with yours they are carrying baggage from the times when a form has been annoying. The length of most booking forms suggests that it will be a painful process for them.

A good way to keep users motivated, and to challenge their belief that the experience will be painful, is to use positive validation as they enter data. This is often in the form of a tick box next to a field, and is shown as they exit the field and move to the next one. This positive validation keeps the user happy, and helps them believe that when they click the "submit" or "next" button that they will be successful.

Showing errors in-line is equally important, as the user doesn't have to wait until the end of the step to see if they have made mistakes. A good inline validation process will not only show the user if they have entered incorrect information in a field (and so so as they move out of the field) but it will also explain what they need to do to correct it.

Example of Inline Validation

An example of insurer AXA using full inline validation. They highlight when information is correct and also when a user makes a mistake (along with a full explanation of what the mistake is). In the image above I have left the postcode field blank, and then moved to the next field.

Reducing form length by using address lookup

Entering your address should be easy - consumers will enter that information multiple times per week. The challenge for companies is that addresses are spread out over multiple fields, and consumers may have complex addresses (e.g. "Flat 31, Blue Building, Boxworks, Castlefield, Manchester") that require more fields. Address entry has to cater for the worst case, meaning that the maximum number of fields needed are visible to all.

Entering your address is also time consuming. Browser auto-fill may help, or hinder. So how can you optimise this group of fields?

Basic address lookup (where the address is formed from the postal code, and the house number) can save time for users if they're executed correctly. An even better optimisation is the smart postcode lookup, where the user enters elements of their address in a single text box, and they're presented with potential options. Smart postcode lookups will use the IP address of the user to prioritise addresses that are close to you, and that match, making it even smarter. That process will be faster for the user to complete, and reducing the time to complete will help improve conversion rates.

My research has shown how underused postcode lookup is on parking booking forms, and how big the opportunity is. A single implementation will allow you to reduce your form by around four fields, perhaps more.

In the chart below I've broken down the different types of postcode lookup used, and in the "Not relevant" pie slice I've marked companies who don't require the address at all.

Removing this "Not relevant" element from the chart below shows that 86.84% of providers have no address lookup, with 10.53% deploying a simple postcode lookup, and a single provider using a smart postcode lookup (representing 2.63% of providers who require an address).

Deploying any postcode lookup is a medium-sized optimisation. Although it's not a quick win, it will allow you to dramatically reduce the size of your form and decrease the time to complete. Both will impact on conversion rates positively.

Email - to confirm or not confirm?

Email addresses are a critical part of the parking booking process, as the user will get sent important information. This could be a receipt, but is usually instructions on how they can park. Getting consumers into your car parks as easily as possible will help improve margins, as less telephone, email, or in-person support is required.

Asking the user to confirm their email reduces the chance that they will submit with an incorrect email. However, asking users to enter their email address a second time means the form is longer, and they have to complete an extra field.

The chart below shows how the market deals with email confirmation, and it's split almost 50:50. If I split this data out to look at the top five sites and the bottom five sites then I get the same split. 20% of the top five sites ask for email twice, as do 20% of the bottom five sites.

The desire to remove the email verification field is driven by the need to reduce the size of the form, and the impact that this may have on conversion rates. This is a margin gain, with a potentially negative impact outside of conversion rates, so if you do decide to go to a single email field I'd suggest deploying a simple javascript solution to look at what the user has entered and check for common misspellings (e.g. hotnail, instead of hotmail) and to offer to correct this for the user.

Explaining Fields to improve form completion speed

When you ask for personal information from a customer, such as address or telephone number, the user may question why you need it. Explaining why you need it will give them confidence during the booking process. Some fields may just need a short explanation so the user understands the formatting, with address fields being a good example of this.

The explanations don't need to be long, nor take over the UX. They're there as a light touch way to customers who are curious, or concerned, about why you need specific information from them.

Let customers know they can contact you (if they really need to)

Adding customer service information to a booking process gives potential customers confidence that if they have an issue then they can contact you directly. They're unlikely to need to contact you, although some may have issues that you can help them with, by displaying phone numbers, or a livechat link, this boosts the confidence of the potential customer.

Scoring All Airport Parking Websites

To score each parking website I generated a ranking out of 58, which took into account the number of steps and fields (related to the median score for each) and scored companies based on the percentage they were above or below this. I also scored companies based on the removal of unnecessary obstacles, and the mobile friendliness of each form based on the usage of mobile keyboard attributes. Other form features that I considered to be critical to conversion rates, such as inline validation, were also part of the final score.

The aim of our scoring was to take into account attributes of the form rather than the look and feel. Some booking forms were more attractive than others, but as design is subjective I chose not to apply any marks for forms that I felt looked better or worse.

See a full league table of airport parking websites with deeper scoring data and read about the methodology behind my scoring by entering your details:

ratings of all parking booking forms

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