We booked a break at the woodland holiday camp Centerparcs recently. Now, as someone who works in online marketing, I tend to notice when it’s done well, and I must say that Centerparcs has one of the best online booking experiences I have ever encountered. It’s not perfect, but then again I am not sure I have ever encountered a complex retail website that could be called completely perfect.

Part of what surprises me is that Centerparcs predates the internet, so all their online booking functionalities must have been conceived long after the company was already up and running. Having said that, they’ve had perhaps a decade to refine and improve their websites, and it seems to me that there’s someone doing some very smart thinking there.

What is so impressive about Centerparcs’ website? In brief:

1. It’s ease of use. Its homepage offers a ‘quick availability search’ for those who know what they are looking for, but there is also in-depth information about locations and offerings for those who aren’t familiar with the product.

2. It funnels the user towards a purchase. No matter what page you are on, you will always see the green button inviting you to ‘book now’. There’s no ambiguity about how or where to book; no onus on the user to find the application form.

3. It uses special offers to create a sense of urgency. Visit the site at different times and the prices on display will fluctuate too. This is a good psychological trick – when you see a low price, you want to book for fear you won’t see it again – but also indicates that they have the flexibility to respond to low forward bookings by means of reducing prices at short notice.

4. It upsells: once you click on that ‘book now’ button, you’re invited to purchase a number of additional options, including the choice of a cabin nearer the center of the park; a crate of groceries to be waiting for you; bike hire, and so on. Miraculously, this isn’t done in a hectoring or bothersome way: somehow they strike the right tone in making you think, ‘Oh why not, we’re treating ourselves, after all….’.

5. Once you have booked, they send you regular emails asking if you have booked all the activities you may wish to participate in. This provides a useful service for the customer – because it’s true, some activities do get booked out – but also, of course, allows Centerparcs to keep itself fresh in your mind and urge you to spend more. Importantly, though, these emails are not spaced so closely together that they become annoying or spammy.

There’s one thing I think Centerparcs could have done a little better. There’s another clever marketing ploy they have, which is that if you rebook within 28 days of your break, you are guaranteed to get the lowest price, plus a voucher to spend in the shops while you’re there. To make my experience absolutely perfect, I’d be impressed if when I revisited their site, it picked up my cookie and recognized that I qualified for this special offer, only showing me the lowest price. I guess it’s easy to talk about these things, and not always as easy to implement.