Five digital innovations from Eurostar

Eurostar’s in-house development team has been hard at work over this last year replatforming its transactional website. Head of digital, Neil Roberts, speaks to Essential Retail about this journey and what is next on the to-do list. We pick out our five favourite digital innovations.  

1. Fully responsive website

Over the summer, Eurostar completed its eCommerce replatform to become a fully responsive website, ensuring customers receive the same experience irrespective of device. It was a large-scale project, which involved running and maintaining the legacy platform while migrating existing customers onto the new system. As Roberts said: “Anyone will know that’s far from straight forward.”

Different from online retail, Roberts described how travel is a considered purchase which takes customers a lot longer to convert, which means Eurostar still sees 80% of its bookings coming from desktop devices.

“With bookings it’s slightly more complicated than a retail purchase. Compared to Amazon’s One-Click, which can be done between stops on the train, a leisure purchase is more elongated, a lot of research is done in those snacked moments while travelling or during an advert break, but commitment to purchase is a more stationary environment.”

That said, he explained how ten years ago Eurostar’s biggest booking day of the week was a Monday or a Tuesday, but recently he has seen that shift into the weekend. “Our theory is you have the emergence of tablets and mobile and people are having that discussion with the people they’re travelling with and booking from their device on a Sunday.”

2. Segmentation and personalisation

Now the website is responsive, Roberts said the technology team are in a period of continuous improvement by using analytics from exit surveys to make improvements to the user interface.

And the next big project for Eurostar is to develop a process for segmentation and personalisation of the eCommerce journey.

“There are elements of our product and service which is specific to customer profiles,” explained Roberts. “The Eurostar experience for completely new customers would be different from those who travel ten times a year.”

He said the company could include an option to speed up the booking process for repeat travellers. “Do you want to book that Monday trip again? But for a first time family to Avignon, you probably need to go into a bit more detail about passport requirements and information about the best place on the train for people with buggies.”

3. Keep offering the app

Eurostar finds that its repeat customers are more likely to reuse its mobile application, which it has offered for a number of years, allowing customers to receive push-notifications about real-time train information and barcode mobile tickets, as well as Apple Wallet compatibility.

Roberts said while the first stage of the replatform was to roll out the new website, its mobile app is about to go through the same upgrade onto the new platform, which was built in-house. And next year, it plans to really exploit the app as the lifetime value of its app customers is much larger.

“We do a lot of consumer research and we have a delicate balance to play as we have a diverse customer base adopting technology at different speeds,” he said. “That’s why we have different methods of getting your ticket. There’s a bit of paranoia around flat batteries and data roaming which makes people nervous about using digital tickets and we need to be conscious not to force a customer down a route they don’t want to take.”

4. Virtual reality

While Eurostar has been working hard on improving its back-end functionality to support the increase in sales coming from mobile devices, that’s not to say it hasn’t had time for a little bit of fun. This summer, Eurostar launched its virtual reality experience, Odyssey. Roberts described how the idea came from a customer who left feedback saying their children were disappointed they couldn’t see the fish while travelling underneath the Channel.

This led Eurostar to create a VR experience for customers so they can see marine life surrounding them as they travel underwater. All customers have to do is log onto the entertainment system using their smartphone device and place their phones in the cardboard headsets provided by Eurostar.

Roberts said: “The really interesting bit [about my job] is the mix between the physical and the digital – how can you use digital to improve the physical travel experience and enable people to do something they couldn’t do before?”

5. Using tech to improve the station experience

With a lot of digital efforts going into the booking and on-board travel experience, it is sometimes easy to forget the hassle of moving through the station in the hours before a train’s departure.

Roberts said the company is now looking at technologies, such as pressure pads, to understand customer flows at different times of the day, which might simplify the journey for travellers through its stations.

He also pointed to the biometric passport controls many travellers are now familiar with at immigration points today. But while UK passengers must carry their passports, enabling them to use this fast-track technology to pass through, many of their European counterparts only travel with an ID card.

“We could inform them if they used their passport they could move through the station quicker.”