Ryanair Holdings chief executive officer Michael O’Leary (pictured) spent all of last year befriending the discount carrier’s clients. Now he wants to get to know them really well.
After decades preaching the “cheap and nasty” approach, Ryanair is angling for a new generation of fliers. The pitch? Taking a cue from retail giant Amazon.com with one-click buying, recommendations based on past purchases and personal info miraculously auto-filled. All available via smartphone.
The airline has doubled the size of its digital-technology team in six months in a project dubbed ‘Ryanair Labs,’ and is combing through customer data in advance of the rollout of a new website in October. The surge in activity comes as O’Leary targets a 30 per cent increase in passenger numbers to 120 million by 2019, seeking to out-pace rivals led by EasyJet.
Ryanair chief commercial officer Kenny Jacobs, speaking from the company’s new creative-friendly base in Dublin, says Europe’s No. 1 discount carrier has previously been more focused on attracting new customers than retaining existing ones.
“That approach was a bit like saying, ‘it’s a bucket with lots of leaks, just keep pouring more water in,’” Jacobs said. “We’re now saying ‘let’s shore up the leaks.’”
The digital push follows 18 months spent repositioning the brand to appeal more to families, the middle classes and business travellers by emphasizing quality and reliability and serving bigger airports, while remaining a market leader on pricing in the manner of retailers such as Aldi, the German discount grocer that’s perfected the art of no-frills shopping.
The carrier has recently embraced social media, joining Facebook Wednesday after establishing Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts and opening a YouTube channel.
Carriers from Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. to Gulf No. 1 Emirates are refining digital strategies, focusing on mobile-first websites and personalizing data, said John Thomas, head of L.E.K. Consulting’s global airline practice in Boston.
“Enhancing the passenger experience picks up customers,” Thomas said. “People don’t like to travel because they lose control, so anything airlines can do in terms of giving them choice is important in maintaining a direct relationship.”
The carrier has already made website changes and pared the number of clicks needed to buy a ticket, boosting U.K. user numbers 10 per cent year-on-year, according to Hitwise, which collates digital visits. The all-new website will be built with mobile devices in mind, reflecting a shift in how users buy flights, with features like fare comparisons and one-click purchasing for passengers who repeatedly fly the same routes.
The aim is to customize the sales process and make it as relevant to the individual user as possible, said Dara Brady, who heads up digital experience at Ryanair Labs. Passenger preferences and credit card and passport details saved on MyRyanair will allow for further customization and streamlining.
Bloomberg News, edited by Hospitality Ireland