Four Seasons $18m Redesign Is Taking a Lot of Heat

Four Seasons recently launched a massive overhaul of their website(you can read the econsultancy.com piece here).  E-consultancy readers everywhere immediately chipped in their critiques of the effectiveness of the $18m expenditure. Needless to say, there was a lot of cynicism.  Not content to let everyone else have all the fun, we asked one of our usability professionals for his take on the new Four Seasons website redesign.

Our Take

While the new look of the Four Seasons site is certainly polished with large, high resolution images of exotic destinations, it’s hard to believe a polished look was all they got for $18 million dollars. Yet, after going through the reservation process and reviewing the site at a cursory level, it seems functionality and intuitiveness took a backseat to flashiness.

Homepage Functionality

Starting with the homepage, it seems bothersome that you can’t hover over an image in the carousel to pause it, much less click it to view more information or begin the reservation process for that destination. The images are lovely and certainly draw users in, but with no controls or functionality, an immediate opportunity for conversion is lost.  Furthermore, there are several images in the carousel rotation, yet it is nearly impossible to tell how many. If there is a destination/image of particular interest, there is no way to click back to it for further studying. People like pictures and the images used here are top notch, which is why they are a prime area for additional interactions.

Map Features

Although the map feature for the regional options is commendable, the small map pins make it difficult to differentiate which location is a ‘hotel’, ‘resort’, or ‘coming soon’ (terms based on the key). Upon mouse-over of a pin, they all look the same. A more intuitive interaction would be for the enlarged pin (upon mouse-over) to represent the key icons as opposed to the current functionality.

Reservation Process

A positive feature of the reservation process is that the carousel images update to display those relevant to my selected destination. Again, the use of high quality images is a plus! The fact that the images continue to rotate in the background when the calendar light box appears is somewhat of a distraction. It would have been better served to pause the carousel rotation to allow customers to focus on the task at hand – selecting his/her desired reservation dates.

Once reservation dates are selected, the customer is then taken to a clean, yet standard room type selection page. The expand/collapse functionality for each room type is clean, but could be overlooked, as the ‘+’ icon is subtle. Another feature that could easily go unnoticed is the calculator icon next to the rate per night. There is no hover or change of the cursor upon mouse-over, making it easy to miss.  Luckily there is a ‘Convert Currency’ drop-down at the top of the list, but it too may go unnoticed because it is not within the primary area of the user’s attention. The ‘See More Information & Photos’ feature is disappointing. For the amount of money spent to revamp the site, one would think there would be additional images for each room type, and perhaps a 360⁰ viewer…no such luck.

How Do I Get Home?

There is no ‘Home’ button or noticeable icon/breadcrumbs to return to the homepage for the main Four Seasons site once in the reservation process, which is also user-unfriendly. Making the user hunt for a way to return home or utilize the browser ‘Back’ buttons is never a good thing.

Wrap Up

Overall, it’s hard to believe that $18 million dollars was spent to spruce up the site. While the visuals are attractive, the functionality and user friendliness of the site leaves something to be desired. One can’t help but to ask, how did Four Seasons spend so much money to upgrade a site, yet miss such obvious opportunities to improve the user experience?

Comment below and let us know your opinion of the Four Seasons website redesign.

Tony Moreno, Senior Usability Analyst

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13 comments on “Four Seasons $18m Redesign Is Taking a Lot of Heat

  1. Chris Rourke says:

    There are several shortcomings in the world of web accessibility. A review http://bit.ly/w7KnoI showed some very basic errors made – eg missing alt tags. Not sure if accessibility is considered important for commercial companies in the US but these errors are basic – especially considering the cost.

  2. Isabel says:

    “Starting with the homepage, it seems bothersome that you can’t hover over an image in the carousel to pause it, much less click it to view more information or begin the reservation process for that destination.”

    You click on the location name! Eg: if you’re at the image of Sydney, you click the words “Sydney” and it brings you to a whole page about the Sydney Four Seasons. How did you miss that?

    • Yes, thats true but it would make more sense to click on the picture as well as the city name. Why force the user? You can create for experiences, but you can’t create experiences. Most people would want to interact with the image. I certainly did. I thought “wow that’s pretty I wanna go there,” and clicked but couldn’t… and then the next image popped up. It wasn’t a huge deal, I found the city name to click, but that extra second or two of thinking can be frustrating. especially when its in a constellation of other small minute frustrating things—which may or may not have been the case with this site for some people.

  3. Claudia says:

    “Starting with the homepage, it seems bothersome that you can’t hover over an image in the carousel to pause it, much less click it to view more information or begin the reservation process for that destination.”

    You can click the name of the location on the image to go to that location’s page.

  4. d_rek says:

    Minor technical flaws and price tag aside, the website ‘redesign’ is a beautiful piece of marketing for the Four Seasons hotel. While beauty is subjective, i’m willing to bet those ‘flashy images’ are going to help customers ease into a decision whether or not they want to stay at the hotel.

    It’s also a good thing that the usability experts didn’t get to design this website, otherwise it might look like this blog. It’s the same reasons they don’t let engineers design products. Instead of that beautiful iPhone/smartphone you take for granted every day that was meticulously designed by an industrial designer we would probably be walking around with hard-edged bricks. Yeah, they would probably do what we want them to but they would be uncomfortable and ugly as sin.

    I also didn’t find the website nearly as cumbersome as you purport it to be. Registration was relatively painless as was navigation for the rest of the site. You’re pulling at straws here. I think you forget this is 2012 and that users need not be handheld across the internet anymore.

    Your usability ‘expertise’ is highly questionable.

  5. […] Seasons recently updated its website. As Tony Moreno at Usabililty.com notes: “Overall, it’s hard to believe that $18 million dollars was spent to spruce up the site. […]

  6. […] Four Seasons $18m Redesign Is Taking a Lot of Heat « Usability.com. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark […]

  7. Tony Moreno says:

    Thanks for all the comments so far. I wanted to take a moment to respond to a few. Regarding the clickability of the location names in the carousel on the homepage- at the time this evaluation was written (January), the names of the locations were not clickable. I attempted to access several different locations in the carousel via the images and the names, but to no avail. I’m glad they implemented some interaction into these image locations since I last reviewed the site.

    @d_rek: While I agree with some of your logic, keep in mind that I’ve worked with several travel and hotel websites and spoken with hundreds of users regarding the hotel booking experience. My thoughts are based on what I’ve heard from users time and again as well as actionable recommendations we’ve made to our clients that have shown improved conversion on their sites. Yes, in 2012, folks are more internet savvy. However, we still find users don’t want to hunt for certain features and info, which is why some of the “straws” were pulled in this evaluation.

    Thanks for the comments so far everyone! Please keep them coming!

  8. marcalamari says:

    For a blog that places the site ID on the right side of the page, you miss a lot stuff on the this. I’m not sure I would grant you any credibility.

    The site logo is a web standard as a home button and there are breadcrumbs with a home link on every page.

    • @marcalamari, we fully agree with your assessment of our logo not being an active link and since we were not able to change the wordpress.com template to make it active we chose to put it out of the way. We will be moving to a hosted wordpress solution in the future with the branding and usability able to be taken into consideration since we will have full control on the layout of the site.

  9. Anthony Lane says:

    I think you made an oversight saying the carousel images aren’t clickable…click the name of the location on the photo and you’re brought to its respective page where you can then make a reservation.

    The logo takes the place of a ‘Home’ link/button…pretty common these days.

    You really think the + sign for expand on the reservations page is too subtle? I beg to differ. It’s at least half the height of the C2A button for selecting a room, any larger and it might be too large. Perhaps they could’ve used the whole height of the room container to create a sort of tall and narrow + button rather than stick it in the upper right corner.

    Cost doesn’t equally aesthetics. Think about databases for all of these respective sites within Four Seasons, tons of data, tons of management. You have to know that money goes elsewhere besides the visual UI and UX of a site. Content strategy, copywriting, strategy, etc.

    Sure, there are some things that seem to have gotten missed in the QA process but that happens, overall I think the site is decent from what I’ve seen; by no means is it perfect.

  10. Perhaps a good chunk of the cost went toward the administrative side of producing the site and its content, and not the actual development and implementation. They could have spent a lot on design iteration, professional photography, infrastructure, etc – the hidden costs. The site content seems to go pretty deep, so internal bureacracy could have contributed a lot of cost to the project.

  11. Tony Moreno says:

    Please refer to my earlier comment regarding the ‘Home’ button and interaction with the carousel images. When the Four Seasons site was reviewed back in January, much of the functionality I blogged about was not integrated. It looks like the designers have gone back and implemented things like clickable destination names and breadcrumbs, which is great!

    With that being said, I still think there are some fundamental usability issues. For instance, once a destination is clicked, the ‘Make a Reservation’ module is the most noticeable page element, save for the large image carousel. This could cause users to overlook the rest of the info on the page such as the property images, list of amenities, etc. Yes, they can be accessed from the black navigation bar at the bottom of the carousel, but the bar is not visually prominent. It’s design elements such as these that could cause new users to miss various info important to making a booking decision.

    Great points around the costs going towards other aspects of site development besides the visual content. I’d love to see a breakdown of how the $18m was allocated to determine where it actually all went.

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