NGS: The level up we’ve all been waiting for
After listening to the industry in 2020, the Next Generation Storefront™ is back to level up the retailing game. Get the details on the program that’s energizing the industry’s path forward.
Despite recent advances in airline retailing, the airline shopping experience is still limited compared to other industries. ATPCO’s Next Generation Storefront (NGS)™ is solving this problem.
NGS is a program that levels up the flight shopping experience, making it possible for travelers to shop for the products they want in a familiar, modernized way.
NGS has evolved significantly in the past two years based on industry feedback. Today’s NGS is focused entirely on enabling innovation with airline industry standards and reliable underlying data.
A core aspect of NGS is the capability to shop by attribute and comparison shop with accurate and consistent results. Because the data comes from ATPCO, shopping results are more useful and contextual for the shopper. Airline product attributes are fundamental ingredients to airline retailing and to the NGS program. NGS also supports the concept of shelves, which channels can use to organize different products in ways that suit their customers.
These data elements uniquely define and differentiate an individual airline’s service or product, along with optional visual content. Here’s how it works:
- Airlines participating in NGS file with or receive their data from ATPCO.
- Next, NGS channels bring airline product attributes to life in the form of inspirational shopping experiences.
Any channel that uses ATPCO data and standards to evolve beyond single product shopping and enables consumers to shop for the products they want is an NGS channel.
NGS principles are live in action today, as demonstrated by a growing number of OTAs and corporate booking tools.
Hey, everyone. Welcome to NGS: The level up we've all been waiting for.
I'm Seth Anagnostis. I'm the head of content strategy at ATPCO, and I'm joined today by my friend Sophie Carkeek, who's a content strategist, senior content strategist with ATPCO.
We are both speaking to you from New Jersey today. Our superhuman identities here have been provided as a result of the excellent water and 24-hour diners that we offer in our state.
So we are very much looking forward to walking you through NGS and how it is going to change flight shopping.
We're going to start with the journey of the airline offer, the sad journey of the airline offer, and how it gets from the airline to its home in the flight shopping process, where it's ultimately presented to the traveler.
Now as many of you here at Elevate know firsthand, a lot of work goes into creating the airline offer to drive revenue and create happy customers, ensuring that you're making the right offer for the right price in the right channel with perfect alignment to what a particular traveler wants. And of course, we all know that airlines have invested heavily in the last few years to make sure that the offer is far more than just a price and a schedule.
And so every airline wants to ensure that offers successfully reach the traveler no matter where they happen to be shopping, but this is where the offer's journey often becomes very sad. Because after all that work up front, all too often the airline offer ends up incompletely represented by a channel and the flyer has no way to either find the product they're looking for or to explore for what the potential options are.
Check out commoditized flight shopping, the way that flight shopping looked for a long time. Price, schedule, maybe a couple other little numbers here and there, but really nothing else. Quite the missed opportunity. The flyer or the agent knew virtually nothing about the flight.
And that's not a problem just for airlines because in the game of commoditized flight shopping, it's one where everybody loses. Flyers, who should always be our focus, face a frustrating shopping experience that looks and feels nothing like any other form of online shopping that they experience in any corner of the Internet.
Even the most experienced flyers can't easily find or buy the products that they need. Meanwhile, airlines are dealing with lost revenue combined with reduced customer satisfaction and loyalty all because their fantastic offer that they take so much time to create was not communicated effectively in the channel.
And speaking of channels, they're also losing. Supplier relationships are strained because they're often limited in how they can showcase the airline's offer in a compelling way. Channels don't want to be stuck retailing in an old-fashioned way, and we want to help. In fairness, distribution channels have made a lot of progress in recent years, starting with the work of Routehappy and continued today by ATPCO.
We do see a lot more rich content featured in flight shopping, both in indirect channels and on a growing number of airline websites, which is awesome. But even in most of those cases, travelers cannot really shop for what they want.
We might see a filter here or there floating around in the night air, maybe for the number of stops or for airline preference or something else pretty basic. Every so often we'll see different offers for sale, though not always with a way to easily understand what's included in each, beyond seeing the name of what the brand is. I can buy this brand, I can buy that brand, I really know it's included in each all the time.
There's no easy way in many cases to truly make a comparison or to filter by product attributes up front like you would if you were shopping for almost anything else, jewelry or clothing. The shirt that I'm wearing today, I can choose that I want a checkered shirt made of cotton or polyester that fits true to size and it's free-shipping eligible. I think this one took five days. I wish it had taken two or three, but at least I was able to filter for what I wanted.
But when I'm buying a transpacific flight, flying for 15 hours, spending many times more dollars, I can't say, show me flights without change fees, with extra legroom, without really jumping through some hoops. The bottom line: airline retailing needs to be better.
But the good news is that it can be. As an industry we need to, and can, level up.
This is the whole reason behind the Next Generation Storefront. NGS is an ATPCO program designed to allow flyers to shop for the product that they want in a way that feels very much like what they do when they shop for other products in other industries.
Shopping behavior can be complex. Some shoppers know what they want, and they want to find it really quickly. Other shoppers enjoy the process of browsing, of discovery, considering many different options and thinking about what they might be like, researching, comparing, exploring across providers, seeing what's out there.
Most shoppers like to view all the available options and then make a personal decision that might factor in the benefits of convenience, value, and quality, which might vary today versus tomorrow depending on the day or the time or the trip or who you're flying with or what the purpose of travel is or a thousand other reasons that you might come up with for why you might care about one thing today versus why you might care about a different thing on your next trip.
To let me as a business traveler find the things that I care about so I can be productive, which are totally different than me as a leisure traveler. ATPCO's Next Generation Storefront is designed to meet the needs of all of these shopper personas. NGS powers airline retailing across the entire supply chain so that flight shoppers can both see a host of attractive offers and follow through with their purchase thanks to accurate and consistent information.
At the simplest level, airlines ensure ATPCO has robust content to represent their products, and ATPCO as an honest broker in the airline industry, is the logical entity to receive data from the airline and make it available to the entire supply chain, distributing data into all corners of the flight shopping world, ending up in NGS channels for flyers to access and enjoy and purchase.
Now, what is an NGS channel? Any channel that uses ATPCO data and standards to enable consumers to shop for the product they want, not just the lowest fare, is an NGS channel.
This is the essence of our rebooted NGS program. It's focused on enabling innovation for channels who are using robust airline offer information, backed by industry standards, to innovate the flight shopping experience.
So from here we want to show you what NGS looks like, but first let's give some context to what NGS is today versus where it started, because that story has evolved.
The goal of NGS has always been to enable distribution channels to better filter and present airline products and services in the context of a modernized flight shopping experience and to allow travelers to clearly understand their diverse options and find the right product for their needs.
We met with the industry frequently in design teams to figure out how to do this, and based on feedback from those discussions, we've evolved how NGS works.
NGS started with the idea of a prescriptive algorithm for flight shopping displays that was data agnostic, but after much discussion over many, many months, there was insufficient industry consensus about how to do that. And so we revised NGS, and the changes we made address head-on the concerns that we heard from you. Here was some of the feedback.
First, flyers are not all looking for the same thing.
Second, different airlines provide value to customers in different ways based on their business models.
And third, channels were looking for more freedom to innovate, organize, and present offers based on their particular customers’ needs and what they know about them.
And so as a result of all that feedback, and after listening to your industry colleagues, we pivoted NGS from an algorithm to a proper program that focuses purely on enabling innovation with industry standards and reliable underlying data. That is our value in the industry and is the center of who ATPCO always has been and is today.
The good thing is we're not starting from scratch. Fortunately, we have some great sources of inspiration because the shopping experience that NGS enables is new to air but is not new to travel. Offers are already quite robustly shoppable in our sister industry. You already see in this hotel search, which was for my summer vacation, had a great hike in the Pacific Northwest and needed to figure out where to stay for a few days. This had many of the elements that were effective for shoppers and that NGS will now bring to air. Check out the detailed filters I was able to use allowing shop by attribute, sorting by something other than just the price or the travel date, and giving me as the traveler the ability to compare different offers to see what's right for me on this particular stay.
We can see here how standardized content is so reliable that the visuals on this page are a critical, can't-imagine-life-without-it part of the shopping process, not just a little throw-in. That's what we're doing with NGS.
We're going to now walk you through some examples that outline a few of the many ways to apply NGS principles in air travel.
A core aspect of NGS is the capability to shop by attribute and comparison shop. We can see here that NGS supports the ability to filter so that flyers can say, only show me the offers that contain this product that I care about for today's purchase, immediately making the results much more useful and contextual for the flyer.
For example, here's a shopper who knows that she wants flexibility to change her dates and will need to check in one bag and carry on one bag for today's flight. She only wants to see fares that include this, so we've immediately filtered out the ones that don't. Now that she's filtered, she's presented with a variety of options that meet her criteria shown along vertical shelves.
She's a leisure traveler so her budget doesn't allow for her to consider these great lie-flat options today on the luxury shelf, though seeing what options look like above economy was interesting to her. She could of course choose to further filter at any point if she sees things that she didn't even realize she cared about until meeting the moment of flight shopping.
For channels that do decide that they want to use shelves like these to organize different products, they can be grouped according to whatever parameters the channel chooses, potentially based on one or more of the seat attributes but not necessarily.
Channels are the best experts on their customers and know best what they are likely to want. ATPCO does not take a position on influencing shelf placement, or even saying that shelves are needed, but for channels that do like the concept, the principle is to use data that flows through ATPCO to show a broader set of airline offers compared via criteria that the channel chooses based on knowledge of their shoppers.
So in this example, let's say that the flyers decided that they're looking for a standard product and even though our last line on this example is Thunder Road Airlines, named after New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen, that's personally what I have selected, this particular flyer has decided that the Air California option on the top row is the line that works
best for her.
Let's dive in and see what we see next when she selected that. Now, here is where airlines can really differentiate and where channels can help ensure that flyers get access to the products that they want.
This flyer only knew from the search results that the price range and experience of the standard grouping for Air California worked for her, but initially she had no idea that there might be multiple options for what she could buy that would meet that criteria. In fact, in this case there are four different offers within a few hundred dollars of one another, and the flyer can see all of the options associated with the flight that she's selecting. We call this the drawer because you can open it for more information and truly find the product that is right for you.
You'll immediately, here in the drawer, see a home for so many of the concepts that we talk about at industry conferences. Here's one this flyer initially might have been intrigued by, the buy up from no frills economy to economy or economy extra, wanting a few of the things that are included in the higher brands that aren't included in the lower, but actually, wow, she sees something super exciting available in this case that she didn't even know was a thing in flight shopping. A special offer that the airline is making available to this channel, via what the flyer just sees as a special offer, but we know in the industry as being an NDC connection. You can see here that the NDC offer provides truly outstanding value to the flyer for just a few extra dollars, so many extra features are included.
Let's zoom in a bit further and see the home that NGS gives to NDC offers. You can see for 14 extra dollars you get lounge access, you get an extra checked bag. 14 extra dollars, that kind of seems like a no-brainer that the flyer would want to buy up in this case, and we gave them that option by giving them that home in NGS. Now, if the flyer decided this was too much of a splurge, she'll still be able to see that even with some of the less expensive offers here, the airline makes some features available separately as ancillaries.
What a great opportunity to prime the customer to know that there is more stuff available that they might want to think about later to improve their experience, maybe in a post-booking offer closer to the flight or maybe even later in the same booking flow if the channel has a way to sell that.
Beyond NDC and ancillaries, thinking about the future, this can go so much further. Think about the worlds of dynamically generated offers and personalization and how those can fit in here. The flyer is literally asking you to show them what you have to sell them, please, airline and channel, pitch me. Show me your products, tell me everything that there is.
What an amazing opportunity as industry standards evolve and as we continue to innovate together to get even more granular and targeted in giving the flyer exactly what is right for them. This is just the beginning as there will be so many more innovations to come.
Maybe filters, shelves, and drawers are not the only mechanisms to help shoppers find what they're looking for, and there are others that are waiting to be dreamt up. We cannot wait to see the way that channels innovate to surprise and delight both suppliers and their shoppers.
Behind this innovation, though, there needs to be robust, reliable data and standards so that this experience can happen.
My friend and colleague Sophie will now walk you through what data NGS requires in order to effectively support airline retailing.
Thank you, Seth.
So let me explain airline product attributes. These are the merchandising elements of an airline offer and they are critical to offer differentiation.
They are as essential as price, availability, and schedule; moreover, they are the most flavorful elements. They go a long way towards making each offer distinctive with its individual profile. A vital part of NGS which makes it a uniquely ATPCO program is its focus on standardized data definitions for these core retailing attributes.
Here we at ATPCO come into our own and excel at what we do best. You know us, you trust us, we wear the hat of an honest broker, so you can be confident that the data powering NGS is primary, consistent, the single source of truth.
We understand that innovation and flexibility provide oxygen for our industry, and that being locked into an algorithm would be stifling and wouldn't allow for innovation, and that's why we eliminated the idea of prescriptive algorithms.
But ensuring that the right and complete data are powering industry innovation is essential so that airlines and channels both know that airline offers are represented accurately. These are the 16 underlying retailing attributes that we're starting with, recently approved by ATPCO's Offer Content Council including airline as well as system and channel representatives. We're fully defining what these are, how channels should apply them, and how airlines can most efficiently push their data into ATPCO systems to ensure that their offers are fully shoppable and transactable.
Part of this involves figuring out how we can simplify the process for the industry over time. Some data are complex and many attributes have a variety of possible sources, some for good reason and others based on capability, and in other cases for historical reasons. In the short term, we will guide you towards the best data sources and help airlines ensure their attributes are available through ATPCO to the channels consuming this content as efficiently as possible.
In the long term, we will evolve our products and standards as new attributes are added and the existing ones evolve. In short, by focusing on the attributes and engaging the industry through our design teams. We are rolling out a new set of NGS standards focused on the data, both how to access it today, and how you want to be able to access it tomorrow.
We also have an eye to the future, how to expand this set of attributes based on the evolving needs of the flyer and airline products. There are three main stages or steps to organizing your airline's offer within the NGS framework. First, for certain attributes ATPCO gives the industry a head start as we provide baseline data, as for amenities such as Wi-Fi, entertainment, and more.
Other attributes require airlines to file the appropriate content in our Branded Fares, Optional Services, and Fares and Rules programs. Having your data in ATPCO ensures compliance with consumer disclosure and regulatory requirements, so it gives you less to worry about. While a Next Generation Storefront is possible via these standards and content alone, the last step really enhances the offer because adding visuals and messaging crystallizes it, brings it to life for the shopper, and enables the channel to show fresh, visually appealing content.
So let's look at an example, refundability. This whole area of changes and refunds has always been complex, but it's been especially hot over the last 18 months of the pandemic and recovery.
This slide is the highest level look at the binary data processing behind this one NGS attribute. It appears simple, is the fare refundable? If yes, is it free or at a cost?
This data is essential for the channels, which can then build shopping filters or shelves and drawers that reflect the airline's offer.
Here's how the data looks within ATPCO systems and tables fed by filing into our various programs, as mentioned, Branded Fares, Optional Services, Fares and Rules, etc. You can see that for this attribute there are various properties, each with its own data, so that airlines can ensure their products are represented accurately and channels can make the essential details available. But let's remember, we are ultimately supporting a retailing process here, so all of this data needs to roll into something appropriate for a shopper.
Routehappy UPAs offer visuals and messaging that are associated with the underlying data. As you can see from this fantastic example with Austrian Airlines, rich content adds clarity and visual interest. It lays out the parameters of the attribute in a clear, easy-to-digest manner, and there is a practical application here. We know from discussion with airlines and channels that many shoppers don't read all the details.
Using visuals, whether that be photos or even icons, catches the eye and enables shoppers to assimilate the data that we work so hard to provide, while also bringing the airline's brand to life. We mentioned earlier how if commoditized shopping were a game, everyone would be a loser. With NGS, the whole ecosystem wins. The data works to provide everyone with what they want and need, resulting in happy flyers and increased revenue.
Flight shoppers win because they have more control over finding what they're looking for, and shopping becomes easier and better.
Airlines win by communicating their policies in a consistent way that speaks to their customer base and ensures the many ways they've innovated their product offering are shoppable.
Channels win because they can serve their shoppers better with a modern experience aligned with leading e-commerce practices and grow great relationships with airlines as strategic partners. And technology providers win by having standards to help them innovate at scale.
This is the entire goal of NGS.
And with that, I'll hand it back to Seth to close.
Here is a really exciting point to close this out. This stuff is real. Many of the principles that we discussed are already in action today. While we at ATPCO are in the process of working with the industry to ensure that consistent data definitions are available and to finalize the NGS data standards formally through ATPCO’s industry engagement processes, many great flight shopping channels are already applying NGS principles to provide outstanding experiences to their customers. In this example on Trip.com, our partners selected a few of the attributes that their customer base most cared about and created an innovative way to shop. You'll notice here that this is a filter- and drawer-based display, technically using tabs because of how it looks, and this display helps the flyer compare different offers. In the coming months, we'll highlight more great examples as our partners innovate, and we cannot wait to finalize the NGS program with the industry to see this type of experience become more wide-fred.
Widespread! Wide-fred is not a word.
Here are a few more live examples. Big leisure channels like Expedia and Kayak as well as forward-thinking smaller channels like Alternative Airlines are empowering their customers by providing filters for attributes like baggage, flexibility, advanced seat selection, and more.
We see here that PSNGR1 has included onboard amenities like Wi-Fi.
There are other good examples in the corporate space as well that are starting to pop up as well as the new needs of the business traveler become clear.
And in fact, there were just a few more write-ups in travel media this week about this. All together, we see this as a great start. We have not yet seen examples though of channels using airport attributes like priority boarding or lounge access, other on-board examples like meals, whether alcohol is offered for free or for a fee, and more.
There's so much more that is not yet being fully leveraged.
In short, we have a great start but there is plenty more to do in this space. So where do you go from here?
For airlines we want to make this easy for you. Have your team get in touch with us to find out where your airline is in terms of having a complete set of attribute data filed with ATPCO. This is an excellent opportunity to cut across departments at your airline as modern flight shopping involves a mix of revenue expertise, onboard product knowledge, distribution passion, and marketing. We'll guide you on where there are any gaps in your data.
We have over 450 airlines’ worth of content for some categories, but for others, airlines need to up their game to make sure that their products are fully shoppable.
And if you as an airline have products that you don't think can be adequately reflected in today's world, we can guide you on how we can work together to address that because we know it's not going to stay the same forever. Beyond that, we encourage you to get involved as well with our design teams.
Evolution like this doesn't just happen from looking out for your own back and making sure that only you have the right data, but rather in using that as a platform to engage the industry to ensure that any challenges can be brought together, can be addressed broadly as we bring together the industry.
And if you're not a Routehappy content subscriber as an airline, get in on the game. Many channels, even those without NGS data, show airline visual and messaging content to make their content and products sing and dance in front of the shopper, but this becomes even more important in the world of NGS, since it complements a deep sea of standardized data for channels and systems.
Maybe you're already doing some of what you saw in this presentation, like building filters for bags or refundability. If so, congrats! You're already in the game and have laid the foundation to become a Next Generation Storefront.
Maybe you weren't aware of all the content that you can access directly through ATPCO or via your technology partners to provide your customers with a modernized flight shopping experience. Maybe thinking about filtering, shelves, or drawers has ignited a spark in you. If so, we're here for you. We can guide and coach you to use the data in whatever formats you devise to help shoppers really shop.
And similarly, our design teams and councils are open to channels and systems too. If there are products you want to make sure flyers can shop for but you're having trouble doing that, we need to know so that we can evolve our data definitions and products so that you can use them fully.
And for everyone else in the value chain, we want to hear from you as well. We encourage you to get involved and share your feedback online or directly with one of us. In corporate travel in particular, with business travel looking so different now than it did a few years back, we need to figure out together how we can deploy NGS so that the industry in 2021 and onward is getting what it needs.
ATPCO’s Next Generation Storefront is the key to unlocking the next level of flight shopping experiences for our industry. With NGS, you as an airline or channel win, but most importantly, flyers across the world do.
Thanks so much for joining us.
Elevate 2021 is a virtual conference that powers the exchange of ideas for the future of flight shopping.
Head of Content Strategy, ATPCO
Seth is ATPCO's Head of Content Strategy, where he focuses on enabling airlines to get all content into all channels, in particular by driving industry efforts to enable modern airline retailing like Next Generation Storefront™. Seth joined ATPCO via its 2018 acquisition of Routehappy, where he was an early employee. Before Routehappy, Seth was a management consultant, where he eventually realized his favorite part of the job was getting on an airplane. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and enjoys food tours, Rutgers sports, reading, and mixing cocktails.
Senior Content Strategist, ATPCO
Sophie works with airline clients to create accurate, relevant, and inspiring merchandizing content that captures the uniqueness of each airline’s brand. She also works with the industry to evolve content and its distribution—all with the aim of giving travelers a more comprehensive, customized experience when flight shopping. Sophie is an experienced writer with an adventurous spirit. Born and raised in the UK, she has lived and worked in various countries, speaks several languages, and now calls New Jersey home.