In today’s fast-paced society, on-the-go consumers have become accustomed to taking care of most business matters on their computers, smartphones, and tablets. From making restaurant reservations to shopping for clothes, booking flights, and even paying bills, consumers can achieve instant gratification right at their fingertips and at any time during the day or night. Picking up a phone is becoming less common, and the phrase “call during business hours” can be downright frustrating, especially on weekends and off-hours. As a result, many spas have added online booking to their websites, so clients can browse and make appointments at their convenience.
According to data recently released by Shortcuts Software, the number of spa and salon clients booking online increased by 46 percent from December 2012 to December 2013, and the value of bookings to the businesses jumped 55 percent, from just more than $5 million to $7.8 million. What’s more, nearly 70,000 of those bookings were made during non-business hours. “Clients are looking for the ease and convenience of booking spa appointments online,” says Amanda Wisell, marketing manager at PAR Springer-Miller, makers of SpaSoft. “They’re accustomed to purchasing goods, services, and travel online, and they want that same access to spa appointments.”
Online booking benefits both spas and their clients. According to Fred Helou, CEO of the software company Vagaro, it saves clients time when scheduling, because all services, prices, and times are available in front of them, and employees don’t have to spend time answering calls or confirming appointments. “Everything is automated and customized for each service professional and customer,” he says. “The service professional may want a push notification on their phone and tablet when someone books, while the customer may want a text or email reminder for their appointments. Each person can choose how they would like to be contacted. But most of all, everything is done when it is convenient for that person.”
Online booking also allows clients to view their personal purchase history, including the name of their service provider, service descriptions and timing, what products were purchased, and even loyalty points, says Tanisha Foster, director of vertical markets at SpaBooker. It also allows for a more streamlined operation and can result in fewer errors made by the staff. “Online booking helps the spa by reducing labor costs, and putting control in the hands of the consumer results in fewer errors and more efficiency,” says Kosta Gara, CEO of Vionic. While Vionic does not offer online booking, its Deal Maker option lets businesses publish deals and promotions on Facebook, and spa owners can then utilize the platform in conjunction with an online booking software, so that clients can set up an appointment after purchasing a deal.
Justin DePasquale, co-owner of DePasquale, The Spa (Morris Plains, NJ), believes online booking has a long way to go but does recognize its benefits and how it has helped his spa’s business. “We answer an average of 500 phone calls a day and reserve an average of 350 appointments daily,” he says. “Alleviating the call volume by having guests reserve their appointments online helps us create value in many areas, such as convenience for guests who know what they need. From an operational aspect, online reservations can help keep payroll in check, alleviating manpower when possible.” The spa encourages clients to book online by offering an incentive through its Luxe Rewards program. Guests who are enrolled in the program receive 25 bonus points when they book online.
Some businesses hesitate to offer online booking, because they fear a lack of control over their schedule, but that worry is unfounded with today’s innovative spa software. “It’s true that the appointment book is at the core of a spa’s operations and represents the revenue potential to earn each day,” says Foster. “The adoption of online booking doesn’t translate to a lack of control of running a business. In fact, it can actually add more customization to the scheduling process.” Spas can opt to turn on appointment approval, which means that when a client requests an appointment, the spa has the opportunity to approve, deny, or suggest an alternate appointment time. Vagaro, for example, offers spa clients the option to receive alerts only when a request is made by a new client or one that has previously canceled or not shown up. An option offered by many spa software companies is to require a credit card when reserving an appointment to mitigate cancellations and no-shows, and spas can even disable the feature that allows clients to cancel or reschedule their own appointments online. “What you want, as an owner, is control,” says John Harms, founder and CEO of Millennium Systems International. “You want to control what guests, services, employees, and times are bookable online.” Therefore, it is essential that the service menus and service providers’ available hours that are listed online are accurate and up-to-date, and certain services, like laser treatments, are kept off of the online menu, as they require a consultation prior to the treatment. Also, when offering services like massages, be sure to list add-ons, like aromatherapy, separately so clients have more options for personalizing the service to their liking, says Helou.
According to Harms, a spa has a better chance of attracting new and first-time clients when they have an easy-to-use and up-to-date website and online booking feature. It’s also important that you provide a booking engine that is accessible from a variety of platforms. “ResortSuite provides a very visual and easy booking experience for the client,” says Frank Pitsikalis, founder and CEO of ResortSuite. The information that is collected through online booking is important to a spa’s business because it can be used for email marketing and targeted promotions. According to Shortcuts Software research, the most successful spas and salons that offer online booking are not necessarily the biggest businesses but those that actively promote the service as an additional benefit for clients via their website, social media, on-hold phone messages, window stickers, and staff. “In order to be successful with online booking, spa owners and directors need to do a better job at marketing and driving traffic to their websites,” says Roger Sholanki, founder and CEO of Book4Time. “An easy way to do this is to include hyperlinks in all electronic communications from the spa system. This includes appointment confirmation emails, reminders, and thank-you emails.”
It’s About Time
Online booking’s main purpose is to help streamline clients’ experiences with the spa, save the spa and its staff time, and increase client retention, says Stephanie Jennings, vice president of sales at MindBody. Even spas like DePasquale, which take pride in offering clients topnotch personalized customer service, have recognized the need for and benefits of this feature in order to satisfy clients and keep them coming back. “Clients these days expect to be able to browse spa services online, read reviews, write reviews, visit websites to get a glimpse of a spa’s offerings and decor, and browse through social channels to get a feeling for a spa’s voice and unique personality,” says Jennings. “Booking online takes a client through many or all of these experiences and allows them to form an impression of the service they’re interested in, all from the comfort of their own home.”