An online booking system is fast becoming a fundamental part of running your small business.
But they can be bewildering on first glance – to ease the stress, we’ll explain what an online booking system is and why it would be beneficial to your small business. We’ll also show you what features you should be looking for and some of the best examples on the market.
What is an online booking system?
An online booking system is a platform or software you use to manage reservations for your business services. On top of recording bookings, these systems can accept customer payments online.
Why do I need an online booking system?
As it often makes the process simpler, having an online system will likely boost your bookings as it’s quicker than picking up the phone. Plus, you can take bookings around the clock which is more convenient for customers and for you.
Most systems send out automated texts and emails, so you don’t need to follow-up with customers, saving you time.
Having an online booking system will tell you more about your business. The reporting features give you advanced insights into your business and your customers: think popular products/services, customer demographics and real-time cash flow information.
What features should I be looking for?
A lot of providers have similar features and components, so it’s up to you to pin down what service works best.
Here are the factors you should be taking into consideration.
Customise forms with your own branding
Some systems allow you to put on your own branding like your company name and logo. At times having two different company names involved can be jarring so keeping your own brand will create a smoother booking experience for the customer.
‘Book now’ buttons and widgets for your website
On the topic of smooth booking experience, having a ‘book now’ button on your website can make the process even faster, especially if that’s what the customer has logged on for. They won’t have to waste time trying to find the appropriate page.
As mentioned before, this is viewed as a staple on most platforms. Once a booking is secured, a text or email will be sent to the customer to confirm details. You can use them for appointment reminders too.
Ability to chat to client
If the customer/client has a specific request that can’t be catered to on an automated system, it helps to have a chat function. That way, you can discuss the specifics of their request and sort out the booking from there.
Reporting features allow you to see stats and analytics around what’s going on in your business in real time and can save on piles of paperwork.
Easy to access customer support is vital for any platform. However, a 24-hour service would be even better if you frequently have customers who book outside business hours – especially if the system goes down at 4am.
Of course, find a package which fits your budget. Bear in mind that online booking systems also have different payment structures. Payment might be made monthly by you – or it could be paid by commission or made up of user fees.
Booking through social media
Being able to book through social media gives you more payment avenues, upping your revenue. Customers can book with you without even having to visit your site.
External calendar sync
This one is more for convenience. It syncs with the customers’ calendars (mostly Google Calendar or iCal) so they’ve got a note of the appointment. It also links with your company calendars so everyone can be in the know.
What if I use a web builder for my site?
To have a real pick of the features above, it helps if your website and its components were built from scratch. More freedom in the creation gives you more flexibility.
If you built your website on a website builder like Wix or Squarespace, you’re more likely to be restricted. Your main options would be an iFrame embed or a plugin.
An iFrame is like embedding a YouTube video. It’s easy, low budget and keeps people on your site. One of the bigger problems is that you may have little power over how it’s displayed.
A plugin is also easy to set up and doesn’t need much resource – it’s the solution you’d be looking at if you use WordPress. Plugins work well on different devices, though you should be careful and avoid going gung-ho with the. Outdated plugins can cause security issues and if you have multiple plugins from different developers they could clash.
Again, what’s available could differ substantially. For example, Wix has its own booking system, allowing you to customise booking rules and cancellation policies. You can also set time limits for how far in advance a client can book a session, how close to a session they can cancel or reschedule.
Add a waiting list and choose between different time zones to list the appointment in – cater to your business’ time zone and send it to an international client in theirs.
Third party online booking systems
For those who want to go with a third party, you will have more features to play with, but be aware that it will cost more.
Freemium booking systems give you a general basic package for free, but if you want to grow your business they have increasingly sophisticated packages at higher price points.
- Online booking system for service-based companies
- Offers a scheduled shopping solution for social distancing
- Video appointment booking system
- Secure communication
- Can sell coupons for classes
- Accepts bookings from multiple channels
Free; Basic: €8 (£7) a month; Standard: €25 (£21.50) a month; Premium: €50 (£43) a month.
- Live two-way calendar sync
- SMS and email reminders
- Over 1,500 app integrations
- Live reporting
- Customisable questions at booking
- Take bookings from Facebook
- Offer home visits
- Use your own branding
Free; Basic: $9.60 (£7.50) a month; Grow: $20 (£16) a month; Bigger Business: $40 (£32) a month; Enterprise: Bespoke.
These packages are more advanced but that means that they’re more expensive.
- Automates booking process for clients and admins
- Admins can override any features that would be used for regular members
- Can also create internal appointments
- Regular users can create conditions per space – e.g. minimum or maximum amount of time and time windows where bookings are denied
- Accepts online payments
- Syncs with other calendar apps
- Integration with Zapier for easier invoicing and accounting
Pro: $39 (£31) a month; Integrations: $19 (£15) a month; Online Payments: $19 (£15) a month.
- Customise with your own logo
- Able to work with your own domain
- Mobile friendly
- ‘Book now’ button
- Facebook widget
Starter: £7 a month; Standard: £14 a month; Pro: £29 a month.
- Has many integrations
- Available in 30 languages
- Create and deliver invoices
- Automate all reservation tasks
- Personalised texts and emails sent to customers
- Flexible pricing
- Can sell vouchers and gift certificates
Cost starts at £19 per month.
Cost per transaction
As mentioned above, rather than paying a monthly fee, some packages charge fees per transaction.
- Has a package for SMEs
- Mobile first user experience
- Takes automated payments
- Manages availability
- Automates admin tasks
- Stripe account ready
- Embed directly into your website
SME System: 2.4 per cent + 40p per transaction, 4.3 per cent + 40p if non-EU card is used.
What about online booking systems in my sector?
Some packages have specific features which you won’t find on other systems. We’ve listed a few of the top specialist platforms based on sector.
Best for salons and beauty therapists
- Unlimited appointment booking
- Unlimited team members
- Track client history, keep notes and stay in contact via integrated email
- List your business on the Fresha marketplace
- Book on marketplace, Instagram, Facebook, Google or your own website
- Remote processing of penalty fees for no-show protection
- SMS text reminders
1.29 per cent + 20p transaction fee; 20 per cent new client fee
Best for car hire
- Find a vehicle, generate a quote, assign a client and process a booking in less than 20 seconds
- View and manage bookings and vehicles across multiple sites
- Obtain manufacturer and DVLA information when adding vehicles to the system
- Automatically checkthe current balance and credit limit of an account when a booking is placed orchecked out
- Make informed business decisions with over 80 powerful reports at your disposal
- Protect your business from high-risk customers with free access to our shared database of problem hirers
Pricing is bespoke – contact Prohire for more info or for a free demo.
Best for restaurant booking
- Remind diners about upcoming reservations
- Free online training
- Around the clock technical support
- Guests can see real-time availability and reserve a table directly on your website
- 600+ integrations – customers can book through a number of different platforms including Google, Apple, Instagram, and TripAdvisor.
- Guest history: know who’s new, who’s returning and who eats out frequently
- Communicate with guests after their dining experience by responding to their feedback
- Keep your waitlist flowing, and text guests when their table is ready
- Quickly see where you can fill gaps in availability
Basic (includes reservation management and a few other tools): £29 a month + £2 network cover.
Best for fitness classes
- Grow your fitness business and let new customers find you through the BookFit app class directory/marketplace
- Quickly and easily create a timetable of all of your upcoming sessions
- Real time class availability and booking
- If a customer tries to book a class which is full they will be asked if they wish to be added to a reserve list
Basic: £10 a month; Plus: £20 a month; Pro: £30 a month.
Best for online courses
- External calendar sync
- Eliminate costly no shows with automatic notifications and reminders
- Easily track who – and when – cancelled a course enrolment or class registration
- Take bookings on Facebook
- Let your customers see what your classes are like using pictures, photo galleries and video – along with class descriptions and teacher bios
- Simple one-click recurring bookings
- Integrate with Google Analytics
Solo: $14.95 (£12) a month; Small: $29.95 (£24) a month; Standard: $39.95 (£32) a month; Large: $79.95 (£64) a month.
Finding the best online booking system for your small business
Of course, research is key when finding the best online booking system for your business. Each provider will offer a different set of features. Even if you have the same type of business as a competitor, your needs will be completely different to them. It can be a costly investment upfront, so ensure you get it right before you dive in.
How online booking systems have improved to make our lives easier
- Pick a template. Choose a template that suits your needs the best. ...
- App layout. Set a navigation bar and determine app design. ...
- Install features. Search and install features for your app. ...
|4||Peek Pro Tour Operators||99|
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.How do I create an online Google booking? ›
Turn on bookings
- On your computer, sign in to Business Profile Manager. ...
- From the menu, click Bookings. ...
- Sign up with your provider of choice.
You can earn money from your hotel booking app through the advertising model. Redirecting users to hotel websites is how app owners make money. E.g., Tripadvisor.Which booking software is best? ›
- Acuity Scheduling for tech newbies.
- Picktime for free booking software.
- SimplyBook.me for international businesses.
- TimeTap for customization.
- Zoho Bookings for managing your entire business.
- vcita for managing client relationships.
- Get a Domain Name.
- Choose a Website Builder.
- Find a Template You Love.
- Add Your Website's Content.
- Install a Booking App.
- Get Your Website Seen.
|2.||StartBooking||Free and paid options.|
|4.||FlexBooker||$49.00 /mo. for 1-4 employees.|
- Payment options (credit card, bank transfer, PayPal, deferred payment processing, cash)
- Inventory system.
- Real-time booking.
- User-friendly interface.
- Customer support.
- Integrations with an email marketing software.
- You need internet access. Reliable internet access is required to check reservations and add bookings that are made over the phone. ...
- You need to be ready for an influx of new customers. ...
- Not all online booking systems are created equal.
- HubSpot Sales Hub.
- Acuity Scheduling.
If you're looking for a simple and flexible way to create an online booking form for your business, Google Forms is a great choice. You can create them online, or you can use the Google Sheets app on your phone or tablet. They're totally free, easy to use, and very flexible.Does Google have a booking system? ›
Make reservations through Search, Maps, or the Assistant and view all your bookings in one place. Use Reserve with Google to plan your week and stay notified through Calendar, Gmail, and your devices.Does Google have a free scheduling app? ›
Google Calendar: Free Calendar App for Personal Use.What percentage should a booking fee be? ›
These percentages vary from anywhere between 10% and 20% depending on the location of your property. The hotel base fee also stands at 15%, and this can also rise to a 18% commission charge, if the host prefers to use the member service that Booking.com recommend.How long does it take to develop a booking app? ›
Depending on the technology selected for the hotel mobile app development, it might be a little bit more or less. If you want to launch a full-featured hotel booking software with sophisticated features, bear in mind that it will cost at least US $25,000 and take between 7 and 9 months to develop.How much does booking charge the owner? ›
What are the commission rates for Booking.com? Booking.com commission rate varies between 10% to 25% depending on the location of your property and your cancellation policy.What database does booking use? ›
At Booking.com, we use MySQL to operate our web site where tens of million of pages are viewed and over 625,000 room nights are reserved every day. This is a lot to ask for our database infrastructure. To be able to sustain such load, we split, shard and replicate our data extensively.Is booking API free? ›
Booking.com doesn't charge any API commission, but this also means, that the simplest way to just pay some money in order to buy Booking.com API is not an option. Even though all the kinds of Booking.com API access are provided for free, they are granted only to the approved Affiliate and Connectivity Partners.
There are two core types of bookings: 1) Direct Bookings and 2) Indirect Bookings. Within these different types of bookings there are also multiple variations including instant booking (guaranteed booking) and pending bookings.What are the four kinds of possible booking? ›
Online, Offline, Direct and Indirect: Everything About Your Booking Sources | HotelMinder. Get in touch with an experienced hospitality professional.What is a cloud based booking system? ›
All inventory is automatically reduced across all sites when a booking is made from any site, removing all of the manual work from selling your rooms online while maximising your revenue.What type of detail is necessary for a booking system? ›
The booking engine should provide your guests with all the information that they may look for- including prices, packages, room types, add-ons, inclusions, and other details, without them having to scroll through your website.Is Microsoft bookings free with Office 365? ›
The Microsoft Bookings app is a free tool included within the Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium subscription. This free app allows you to create a landing page where customers and prospects can select different services and book an appointment or schedule a time for a call.What is a booking software? ›
An online booking system is a software solution and reservation system that makes it simple for guests to book and pay for your tours and activities online. Some online booking systems also include user-friendly tools to help you improve efficiencies and boost bookings for your business.How do sites like booking com make money? ›
(1) Revenue model
The agency model uses the same revenue model as the good old brick-and-mortar travel agency: commissions. Booking.com has contracts with the hotels that it lists and will take a commission on each booking through its site between 10%-30%.
Expedia has been providing travelers with access to flights, hotels, and cars since the nineties–and they're still a strong contender today. In fact, they're the biggest travel agency in the world.Are travel Agents cheaper than booking online? ›
Seaton says booking through a travel agent typically won't cost you more. She says while some agents will charge you a nominal planning fee, many agencies like hers do not charge anything extra for their services. "We get paid a commission on the back end from the vendor, so that's how we make our income," she said.How can I avoid online booking fees? ›
Always book online.
Most airlines (with the exception of Southwest) charge between $5 and $20 for reservations over the phone or at an airport. Orbitz, Travelocity, and CheapTickets all charge $25, but Expedia and Hotwire don't charge an extra fee for booking over the phone.
Online bus ticket booking has now become more popular than ever. It has proved to be a much easier and faster way to book your travel plans, especially during the pandemic.What percentage of customers book appointments online? ›
According to general appointment scheduling statistics, clients make 46% of all appointments online, while 54% are booked by staff.Can you use Microsoft Forms as a booking system? ›
The Microsoft Bookings app in Teams will be integrated with Microsoft 365 Forms to support your workflow for virtual visits from start to finish. Administrators and schedulers can enable the collection of pre-visit data for virtual visits by linking Microsoft 365 Forms to appointments in the Bookings app in Teams.What scheduling app is free? ›
- HubSpot Meetings Tool.
- Square Appointments.
Yes! Appointments will still be available at no monthly cost under the Free plan, which enables you to manage bookings and payments for a single location. However, some features will only be available to paying subscribers. You only pay for processing fees.Does Google Docs have a scheduling tool? ›
Using a Google Docs employee schedule template
Scroll through the General Template Gallery, find the “Personal” section and select the “Schedule” template. To set the correct week for which you want to create your employee schedule, click on the date cell (C2) and set the correct date.
Both Calendly and Google Calendar offer links where people can look at openings in your calendar and book 1:1 meetings with you. Both let you automate confirmation emails to reduce no-shows, and build in meeting buffers so you aren't stuck in endless back-to-back meetings.How much does it cost to build a travel booking app? ›
|Type of App||Total Cost||Timeline|
|Basic app (core features)||$60,000- $150,000||3-5 months|
|Full product (complex features, supports single platform)||$150,000- $300,000||4-9 months|
|Large app (complex design, support cross platforms)||$300,000+||9 months+|
What is the typical cost to build an appointment scheduler app for the services sector? An appointment scheduler app for the services sector usually costs $10,000 to build. However, the total cost can be as low as $10,000 or as high as $10,000.How much does it cost to build a hotel booking app? ›
Hotel Booking App Development Cost Short Answer: A feature-rich hotel app development cost varies between $10k to $90k. That is a huge gap, and this gap is usually there because of the kind of features used in the hotel booking app development, the major complexities, and the different functionalities of the app.
There are many website builders on the market, but the two we most highly recommend are Wix and Squarespace.How do traveling booking sites make money? ›
There are a few ways that travel websites make money. One way is through affiliate marketing. This is when the website links to products or services and gets paid a commission when someone buys something from the link. Another way is through advertising.Does Google have a scheduling app? ›
Google Calendar: Free Calendar App for Personal Use.What is the best online scheduler? ›
- The Best Scheduling Apps of 2022.
- Square Appointments.
- Zoho Bookings.
- They check availability and start booking. ...
- They fill out the booking form. ...
- They fill out required details and documents per guest. ...
- They create a new booking. ...
- They try to add more to the booking. ...
- They enter the payment into the booking system. ...
- They complete the guest details and documents.
- Photo gallery.
- Price details.
- Basic information (address, stars, etc.)
- Hotel facilities & policies.
- Call-to-action button.
- Sharing button.
- Add to favorite button.
- Booking.com. Best hotel app overall. View now.
- Airbnb. Best hotel app for private stays. View now.
- Hostelworld. Best hotel app for hostels. View now.
- Hotels.com. Best hotel app for cheap hotels. View now.
- HotelTonight. Best hotel app for last-minute stays. View now.