How Priceline's Error Almost Kept Me From Booking A Hotel

For a few years now I have exclusively used Priceline’s Express deals to book hotels. A few weeks ago I needed to book a hotel for my trip to San Fransisco. Typically there is no problem, but a few months ago I moved. So I changed the address for my credit cards, etc. If you have moved you know the pain associated with updating your billing information each time you check out online.

I went through the hotel search and selection process like normal. After finding the best hotel for the best price I decided to book it. Then my credit card fails. I know the issue is the billing address, so I poke around to find how to update my payment options.

Before I get to the real problem, let me sidebar about a user experience suggestion. When a credit card is declined the bank returns a reason. E-commerce sites should use this code to help the user make the best descision with the least amount of friction. In this case Priceline would have received some sort of invalid address code from the bank.

In my case, they should provide a link to verify or update my payment information. Instead you just get a generic transaction has failed message. This is not that helpful to me or anyone else. The cognitive load rises and is only compounded when I am on a mobile device. So if you are designing a checkout process, make sure you offer to help customers in these situations.

Now, back to the story. After finding how to update my payment options I find my card and go through the address update process. The problem arose when I tried to submit my address change. It was rejected, and not in a good way. I got a generic message telling me the form could not be submitted.

I checked and double checked my address information and everything was correct. I tried several times to update the address, but no luck. I decided to come back a few days later and try again. Same thing. I was frustrated and began shopping on competitor’s sites for hotels.

Never give up I say and I went back for a third time. Same issues of course, but this time I decided to look at the entire page. The problem was not with the address information I was entering, but rather Priceline pre-filling form fields for my e-mails.

Remember I was trying to update the billing address for my credit card. However the way Priceline structures the form it includes your entire profile. My name, phone number and e-mail address were also part of the form. Worse because the form was long those fields had scrolled out of view when I updated my card’s billing address.

Priceline Rendering my E-mail in the Phone Extension Field

Scrolling out of view is not the main problem. The data they were pre-populating mapped my e-mail address to a phone extension. How that happened I will never know.

The form submission was validating the data, which is a good thing, and expecting a number was seeing an e-mail address. This mean the form was invalid and of course blocked me from updating my billing address.

After clearing the phone extension field I was finally able to submit the address update and book my hotel.

So let me recap the issues with Priceline’s profile update user experience.

  • The Form is too long
  • The Form includes information not related to my task
  • Validation is being performed, but the user is not properly informed of the issue
  • Data from the server is being mapped to the wrong field or stored improperly (a data integrity issue)

I hope Priceline corrects this issue. I am sure it is costing them large sums of money. It almost caused me to use a competitor. The moral of this story is properly define your user stories, ensure your data integrity and properly notify a user of invalid data in a form field so they can quickly correct the problem.

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