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Is it true that price comparison websites, particularly flight comparison websites 'delay' the search results of price information so users feel that the search is comprehensive?

Otherwise what is the explanation for a 5 or 6 second delay for the results - surely looking up that information does not take that long?

Therefore is this a user friendly experience, so they feel like the search has been comprehensive, even if search results delivered instantly are the same?

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It's certainly possible. Have a read of Adding delays to increase perceived value: does it work? article on 90percentofeverything.com as they have some interesting anecdotes about this very thing. –  JonW Oct 23 '13 at 15:16
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@JonW So if my Internet bandwidth limit is low, it's actual because my ISP wants me to trust the Internet? :-) –  Danny Varod Oct 23 '13 at 15:52
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@DannyVarod: Nah, that's because the NSA are reading everything you request first before deciding if it's suitable for you to see. –  JonW Oct 23 '13 at 15:56
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I am pretty sure that the delay is due to the fact that since the flight information must be up to date both price-wise and availability-wise and not based on a cached database, as web search engines do, the server must contact multiple external services - those of all the flight companies to get up to date info, thus the delay.

I am sure they appreciate the fact that some people think they are much faster than they really are and that the delays are actually only for sake of a dramatic effect :-)

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On one system I worked on, a predecessor had added a 500ms delay to an AJAX response. I asked why and learned it was because the results came back so fast the screen often just jumped and it felt strange. I added that to my bag of tricks and think it's a reasonable application of a forced delay.

As a student of Dan Ariely, I learned that thinking rationally about UI or anything else is not always best practice. It would not surprise me if people did prefer a little lag... particularly in the airline case since the result is a "payoff". A little anticipation may add to the experience.

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Flight comparison websites typically query the merchant websites through APIs, but it also may occur that they need to "manually" crawl the hit page of a flight company and extract the flight details with prices. Crawling includes some extra round into the search, and these easily add up.

Another aspect to consider, that some flight comparison websites have a tendency to obfuscate the hits from low-cost carriers (at least in Europe), and hide them among the searches. This can be done more subtly when the search results appear continuously.

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