An online booking system is a piece of software which allows a potential customer to book and/or pay for an activity or service through your website or mobile app.
Customers are increasingly preferring to book online, so many businesses are choosing to offer online options as an alternative to phone or face to face bookings.
They can be faster and easier to manage and, unlike face to face or telephone, online booking systems allow businesses to be available for bookings around the clock, offering more convenience to customers.
Offline businesses are increasingly driving more of their business through online channels; websites, Google listings and social media profiles, and online booking offers a way to bridge the gap between online and offline.
In this article I’ll look at some of the benefits of using online booking systems, the key features businesses should look for when choosing a platform, and I’ll list a few popular booking systems available in the UK.
Why use an online booking system?
There are several ways businesses can benefit from automated, online booking systems:
Appeal to customer booking preferences
Customers increasingly want the option of booking online, as shown by a survey by getapp. The survey found that online booking was the preferred option for 70% of respondents.
Save staff and customers time
Online booking saves customers the effort of calling to book appointments, which makes it easier and more convenient for them. From a business perspective, staff are saved the time they would otherwise spend receiving calls and booking appointments.
When customers book online, they can be automatically reminded via email or text, or customers can be asked to confirm appointments, meaning they’re less likely to forget. Some systems can also check if users have double-booked.
Appointments can be booked 24/7
Booking systems can be used by customers even when you’re closed or too busy to answer the phone. This means less potential business is lost.
Allow customers to visit businesses safely
Booking systems have taken on a new importance due to COVID-19 as more businesses are using appointments as a way of allowing customers to visit stores safely.
For example, Graham & Green uses a booking system on its website for customers to schedule store visits.
Key features of online booking systems
Ease of use
Booking systems need to be user-friendly, for businesses and customers. It should make the booking process as simple and easy as possible for customers. This means intuitive navigation, clear steps, and clear information.
From a business perspective, systems should be easy to manage so business owners can view upcoming appointments and see key data which helps them to manage staff time.
Ability to accept payments
Not all businesses will require this, but payments should be able to be processed securely and smoothly for those that do.
According to Bookedin, 76% of bookings take place via mobile, 21% desktop and 3% tablet. This means booking systems have to work for mobile users.
Email and SMS reminders
A booking system that offers both email and SMS reminders can offer customers a useful reminder to reduce the risk of missed appointments.
Syncing with calendars
This allows booked appointments to be shown automatically on a company’s existing calendar software alongside other key information.
Customers need enough detail to make an informed decision on the booking, meaning available times should be obvious, as well as other key details like length of appointment and costs.
Data and analytics
The system should be able to collect and analyse data such as booking volumes, popular periods, and sources of bookings. This can help businesses to manage resources and provide key information which can help with marketing.
Booking via social media
The ability to place booking options on social media pages can help to drive more bookings. In addition, Google My Business listings can incorporate the ability to book directly from search results.
With such a clear call to action for bookings, this is a feature which can help to drive business. For this reason, it’s worth checking if the booking system you’re considering is one of Google’s approved providers.
Selecting a booking system
First of all, it’s important to think about what you need from a booking system. Some of the key features above are essentials but others, like accepting payments, will not apply to many businesses.
Ease of use and mobile optimisation should be a must, and you need to think about how complex it needs to be, which payment methods you want to accept, and more.
It’s also important to think about how booking systems will handle increased traffic if you grow, and how effective and efficient the support is. For example, do they have 24/7 customer service?
Here, I’ll look at just a few of the available online booking systems, some of the pricing structures, and what online reviewers have been saying about them.
Resurva is an online booking system which I’ve seen used by a number of barbershops. Features include a weekly calendar, text and email reminders, analytics, and the ability to manage bookings across multiple business locations.
Pricing depends on business size and booking volumes. Its basic package is $20 per month for small businesses, rising to $75 for its top united package, with additional charges for extra locations.
- At $20 per month, it’s a cost-effective solution that is easy to set up and you can have a 60 day free trial
- IOS app available
- Key features include appointment waiting lists so that customers are alerted when a slot is available
- Some reviews of Resurva are negative, with out of date software and poor customer support cited
- It isn’t clear how it can integrate with social platforms although it mentions Facebook, Google and Twitter integrations on the website
- It doesn’t integrate with Google My Business at the moment and is not one of Google’s approved booking providers
Bookeo claims to have processed more than 47m bookings, with more than 40,000 active users. It offers booking software to suit a range of businesses, including basic appointments, booking for courses, and for travel and activities.
One potentially useful feature is the ability to embed the booking widget into Facebook pages and integration is available for online calendars, website builders such as WordPress and payment gateways like Stripe.
Pricing varies according to the types of booking. Basic appointments start at $14.95 per month with a limit of one staff login and 200 monthly bookings. There’s a small business tier at $29.95 which allows for three staff logins and 1,000 bookings. Prices then increase up to $79.95 depending on numbers of bookings and staff logins.
There are a few complaints online, but Bookeo has positive reviews overall.
- It can integrate easily with major online platforms and can be used on Google My Business and other social platforms
- Positive reviews from other users
- Seasonal businesses can freeze their accounts during quiet times and pay just 30%
- Reviews point out that the software is easy to use
- Some reviews point to cumbersome software updates and a confusing interface
- Technical support is email only
- Some reviewers felt that they outgrew Bookeo as their businesses took off
- Limited features for more complex bookings
10to8 provides booking software which enables businesses to schedule, cancel and reschedule appointments as needed. 10to8 can integrate with Gmail, Outlook, iCal and other software like Mailchimp, Zoom and WordPress while booking buttons and forms can be embedded into websites.
There’s a free version of the software for up to 100 appointments per month, then pricing starts at $9.60 all the way up to $40. Paying more increases the numbers of appointments, staff logins, and greater levels of support.
- It’s cost-effective, with free options and a low starting price for paid packages
- The vast majority of reviews are positive, which suggests plenty of customers have been happy using this booking system
- Useful reporting features to track seasonal trends and growth
- At $9.60, it’s a cost effective option to begin with
- There are some criticisms of the usability of the appointment management system
- It doesn’t currently integrate with Google My Business
- Some reviews suggest initial setup is difficult
OpenTable is a booking system for the restaurant industry, used by more than 60,000 restaurants. It’s simple to use, with an easy interface for customers.
For restaurants, it allows them to take bookings, manage tables, and also provides reminders to customers.
OpenTable pricing starts at £29 per month plus extra charges for network cover and a booking widget for the basic entry-level package. Costs rise to £299 per month for the most comprehensive package which offers staff scorecards and automated guest emails.
- The system is generally well-reviewed, with a few complaints around the ease of use for businesses
- It integrates with Google, TripAdvisor and other major sites, allowing you to provide booking options beyond your own website
- It’s the major booking system in this space, so it brings with it a user base of customers with the app installed, or who trust and know how to use the system
- Phone or email customer support is available
- Pricing is one of the major drawbacks, with users having to pay more for some advanced features
- Ability to customise bookings and make special requests is limited
- Some complaints about the usability of the mobile interface
BookSteam is aimed at a variety of business sizes, allowing customers to book online and businesses to manage bookings behind the scenes.
It provides SMS and email reminders and can allow businesses to take payment at the time of booking. Other features include branded booking pages, reviews and a ‘Book Now’ widget that can be embedded on your website or Facebook Business Page.
Pricing starts at $19.95 per month, rising to $79.95 for larger businesses. The features are the same, the different pricing levels depend on the number of staff that can access the platform and the number of locations served. The mid-tier option at $29.95 with five staff logins and five locations will suit many SMEs.
- It’s suitable for a range of businesses, with pricing tiers to account for different budgets and services
- Reviews are positive, with praise for levels of customer support
- Bookings can be reviewed and accessed by staff via mobile
- Personal calendars can be synced with Booksteam
- It doesn’t integrate with Google My Business and all social platforms at the moment
- Reviews also point out that the setup process can take time
- Customer support is email only, which can be a negative for some users
Reservio is a cloud-based booking software aimed at various types of SMEs. It offers online booking, appointment management and automated reminders.
The pricing starts at £7 per month, with further options of £14 and £29, which allow you to add more users and various levels of customisation.
It integrates with Google Calendar, iCal and others and provides booking systems for a range of businesses with adaptations for different business types. You can also setup booking pages, add a ‘Book now’ button on your website and connect your Facebook page through a widget.
- Reviews are overwhelmingly positive and praise its ease of use
- Integrates with Google and other popular calendar software
- With price plans starting at £7, it’s an affordable option
- It isn’t currently in Google’s list of supported providers but is listed as ‘coming soon’
- Some reviews point to double booking issues
- Customer support is email only
Simplybook.me is aimed at a range of service-based industries and can provide a full booking website, or a widget that plugs into your existing website.
Other features include online bookings, notifications through SMS or email and the ability to accept online payments.
There is a free version which is limited to 50 monthly bookings, and paid versions at $10, $30 and $60 per month. Advanced features include loyalty programs and added custom features.
- This system integrates with Google, and can add a booking widget to Facebook and Instagram pages
- User friendly interface praised by reviewers
- Booking forms can be customised to gather more client information when booking
- While reviews are generally positive, some of the negatives highlighted are poor customer support
- Key features are limited to the more expensive price plans
- 100 bookings per month on the first price plan is lower than many competitors
Bookedin provides appointment bookings for a range of businesses, initially specialising in the health and wellness sector, but now provisioning booking services for a wider variety of sectors.
Key features include recurring appointment options, custom booking forms, appointment reminders and integration with key social platforms.
There is a limited free version, and plans start at $20 per month, going up to $65.
- Reviews praise the ease of use and reviewing of scheduled appointments
- Customer support seems to be fast and effective
- Allows for storage of client profiles and history
- Good choice of payment plans (monthly/yearly etc.) to suit business needs
- This is one of the more expensive options
- Reviewers comment on the lack of customisation options for booking pages, so that company logos can be shown instead of Bookedin’s
- Not currently integrated with Google My Business
There are many more online booking systems available, but this selection should give you an idea of what is out there, the pricing, and some of the features you should expect to find.
While some booking systems are specialised for certain business types (there’s a lot of restaurant booking software for example), the majority can be used across a range of business types.
There’s a great variety in pricing across the booking systems listed here, which can indicate the kinds of businesses they’re targeting with the software.
It’s possible that some online booking providers are looking to focus on bigger enterprise clients, and may have less time for smaller businesses. This isn’t necessarily the case, but it’s something to consider when choosing a provider.
One thing to look for as a small business is the availability of free trials. Several systems offer trials for a month or more. This can be a good way to test the software out without making a commitment and to be able to try a few different options.
There are also lots of providers offering basic versions with limited features, which are more affordable for smaller businesses. Again, this is a good way to see how a booking system can help to drive more business.
The pricing generally works around booking volume, so it’s a good idea to think about the numbers of bookings you currently take by telephone or other ways and work around that.
One challenge is the sheer number of available solutions, so it can help to look at reviews online and talk to other businesses like yours to see which software they have used.