Rentcars.com - Metasearches and side effects

The hospitality and leisure industry share some common challenges and traits with the e-commerce world, mainly in the customer acquisition phase. This means the channels used are critical to success, as well as how well designed is your UX for finding and placing an order.

The better qualified the traffic, the more expensive. And there were a class of channels, perhaps having the best qualified traffic on the industry, they were totally missing because of their technology: metasearches. Those platforms who compare the same offer, on different dealers. Most of those platforms need a reply from the dealers in 30 seconds or less, but the rentcars.com platform was delivering the integration in 4-6 minutes (!).

The website search was using web sockets, thus they could make some things in parallel, but those platforms were a simple XML integration. Well, that was another time to put all experience to play and make some results happen. First thing, we have structured data into an Apache Solr, a search engine based on Lucene, bringing two improvements: better filters, and reduced the response time to around 90-120 seconds. It wasn't enough though.

Some data came from external resources, partners APIs, and all those requests were sequential. So we implemented a nodejs parallel services, with a 20 seconds timeout for those cases. This made the time drop to around 35-45 seconds. The final touch came with xdebug and webgrind analysis. There, we realized that a lot of requests to database were redundant. Like, for each partner entry, the application was going to database to pull the currency conversion rates. Such high frequency does not make any sense to basically any application. After a dozen optimizations on the application side, the response time was down to 3-5 seconds (!) for around one thousand offers.

One the week we integrate with metasearches, we've seen the sales increase by more than 20%. The 9 months re-engineering was paid in 40 days. And this new platform helped us to also refactor the services department, the website search, as well as to create/implement two new channels - the B2B platform and the apps (the apps were taking over than 1 year and a half to get done, basically due the hard time on implementing the previous overly complex and slow search) - making this a memorable tipping point into rentcars.com history.

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