Eye tracking grows KLM conversion rate

For the redesign of their electronic booking tool, KLM adopted a user-centered approach in their testing. The usability research was boosted using eye tracking. Despite the economic downturn at the time, their new online travel ticket system increased KLM's conversion rate by about 30%.

Objectives of usability study

For KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the main source of sales for consumer tickets is their website. Users have become more web savvy and accustomed to online services, so it is imperative to the company to keep up with technological advances to meet user demand. As a result, KLM is in a state of continuous development for their electronic booking tool.

In 2009, KLM launched a redesign of their online ticket-buying interface. Valsplat, KLM's preferred usability and user experience consultants, conducted research both during the development of the new system and after its launch. Their team used eye tracking to fine-tune the design of the electronic booking tool.

The goal of the usability studies was to find any issues in the overall flow of the buying process, to check comprehension of the individual steps, and to discover room for improvement in both areas.

Usability testing with eye tracking gives us the insights we need to keep improving our designs for KLM.com.

Marlies Roodenburg, User Experience Manager for KLM.com, E-commerce

Tools and methods

Valsplat conducted usability tests with eye tracking on a mock-up of the redesigned electronic booking website. A Tobii T120 eye tracker was used to record participants' gaze patterns. The researchers analyzed data and created visualizations with Tobii Pro Studio software.

All of the studies were conducted with a minimum of 20 participants. They were selected based on typical KLM customer demographics and whether they had any trips planned in the near future.

Researchers asked the subjects to go online and book their upcoming trip. The task took about 45 minutes to complete and consisted of several steps (from finding all possible flights to actual payment and confirmation).

The retrospective think-aloud (RTA) method was used at the end of the task supported by gaze replay in Tobii Pro Studio as a memory cue for the participants.

Using RTA was important to the process because booking a flight can be complicated resulting in a rather substantial cognitive workload. The Valsplat team did not want to strain participants even more by forcing them to voice their thoughts while completing this task. Furthermore, the concurrent think aloud method can affect the eye tracking data by distracting the subject from their natural behavior.

Besides drawing conclusions based on observed behavior and feedback from the retrospective interviews, Valsplat analyzed eye tracking gaze plots for all of the redesigned webpages.

Analysis of eye tracking data proves valuable in finding very specific and detailed design issues, which would very likely have gone unnoticed. These issues, albeit small, can make the difference between a sale and a disappointed customer.

Joris Leker, usability specialist at Valsplat


Eye tracking data is extremely valuable when it comes to spotting very specific and detailed design issues. Valsplat came across several of these in the KLM usability studies. The following example is just one of several details they found by applying eye tracking to their research.

An essential part in completing travel plans online is selecting the preferred departing and returning flights from a large set of possibilities. This happens on one page (Select Flights) that lists all possible departing and returning flights, as well as their price, schedule, stops, and carrier.

Gaze plots of early designs of the Select Flights page showed a lot of saccades between the flight price and its schedule (pictured below). These specifics were positioned at exact opposite sides of the flight details. Participants were obviously trying to make a choice between price and schedule, but the layout of the information was not conducive to their decision-making process.

Following these findings, the order in which flight details were presented on the page was changed. Gaze plots from the redesigned website's usability test showed participants had an easier time making their choice between price and schedule, even participants who were really looking for the optimal flight (see figures on the right).

During the summer of 2009, KLM launched their new travel booking system in 75 countries. All of the usability research and testing paid off. Despite the economic downturn at that time, the redesigned ticket-buying tool dramatically increased the customer conversion rate: 30% more users moved on from searching for flights to actually booking tickets in the new version.