Anne Majumdar

Flight Centre’s pure online offering Aunt Betty launched with surprisingly little fanfare earlier this year but is definitely “still a work in progress”, the company’s head of e-commerce has admitted.

Speaking at the Traveltech conference in Sydney yesterday, head of digital and e-commerce Sean Sutherland told delegates the site would take some time to get right.

“Go to the website, she is ugly and nowhere near where we’re taking her,” he admitted.

Air was the first area to be tackled, with the others to follow, he revealed. But there is still a “long way to go.”

“Progress is not perfection, we wanted to get her transacting – she should be good to go in a few years.”

auntbettylogo

 

Sutherland branded the in-store experience as “very personal but very inconsistent”, while online is more focused on being “full transactional”. Aunt Betty’s aim is to act as the middle ground between the two, he revealed.

 

The project was born of Flight Centre’s need to establish a “third pillar” to stand beside its already strong retail and corporate channels.

The company already has a couple of online ventures under its belt – Travelthere.com and Quickbeds.com. But both have suffered as a result of the company’s focus on its store network, according to Sutherland.

As a result, rather than beginning work within the existing framework, the Aunt Betty team decided it would benefit the project if it retained a strong degree of independence.

“We decided straight away there was no way we could do it in the Brisbane head office,” he said. The company instead operates from the Gold Coast with no intention of moving to the new premises when the company relocates next month.

“We tried to question everything and not go with status quo of what always done,” Sutherland said.

Image credit: Traveltech

Image credit: Traveltech

Flight Centre’s relationships with its suppliers was one of the main issues.

“It tries to have fewer suppliers to maximise margins because it has to give fees to the stores and all other bits of the business along the value chain,” he explained.

“But what I need is the best deals in market or product I can’t get anywhere else.”

To keep costs down, the company has as few staff as possible with a call centre in Manila.

“The motto was think like a start-up, which is really difficult when you have a rich sugar daddy up in Brisbane who has really big pockets.”

The company also brought in experts from outside to advise with things like branding.

Although the site was originally going to be called Flights Plus, the team decided to ditch the name in favour of the quirkier Aunt Betty, inspired by a company night out where a number of male senior managers dressed up as women.

“We were heading down this path and just went oh my god shoot us now if we have to launch another travel company that sounds like every other travel company in Australia,” he said.

“We wanted to do something a little bit different.”

Have you checked out the new site yet?