The retail gate
Three things that airports need to get right to offer the perfect retail experience
If you are ever in the market to buy a large aeroplane it is likely that you will take a trip to Toulouse. Situated on the beautiful River Garonne, the city is one home of Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer who also have manufacturing bases in Hamburg, Bristol and elsewhere.
Even in Toulouse Airport itself it is possible to buy a large plane. The duty free area has a “Let’s Shop Airbus” kiosk selling Airbus branded nik-naks like keyrings, hats and pens.
Most exciting for aviation enthusiasts, 1:100-scale plane models are also available. This is a large scale, your author has room for only two, a twin-decked, four-engined A380 and the exciting Beluga Super Transporter, which moves around the parts needed to build a plane. If you are lucky and visiting at the right time you can see real Belugas doing their thing outside (see picture).
Great airport duty free experiences like those at Toulouse can help passengers have a fun journey, even if they do not buy anything. The airport experience is tricky to get right – too much shopping and people are overwhelmed, too little and they are bored. Striking the right balance of space between retail, catering, security, loos and free seating is a tough optimisation challenge for every airport operator.
At Surveyapp we think there are three things that airports need to get right to have the perfect retail experience. Read on to find out more…
Time to shop
When airlines suggest arriving two to three hours before a flight it might seem like all the time in the world. But in fact many passengers have surprisingly little time to spare. When things are hectic, after checking a bag, passing through security and getting to the gate with at least 20 minutes to spare there might be no chance to shop at all. And if there is no time to shop there is no retail experience at all, let alone a great one.
Airports can control the extent to which people have time to shop to some extent in the short term. The more security queues there are open or the easier it is to find a parking space, the quicker passengers will pass through to the shops and the more time there will be before they need to reach the gate. If staff are on hand to show people the way this can help navigate an environment that many people find unfamiliar, difficult and confusing.
In the long term, airport designers should integrate clear signage and plenty of space for security so that the capacity is there when needed.
Retail is detail
A good airport experience makes it obvious that there are wares to buy and inspires passengers in the mood to make a purchase. But it does so without making the passage to the gate burdensome. Paths through the shops can wind to explore the different zones of alcohol, chocolate, clothes and toys, but not too much. Assistants should be available but not aggressive.
Old retail gambits like causing shoppers to smell fresh bread or perfume are acceptable to a point. But the airport should always remember that the passengers will come from all over the world and techniques that attract customers from the home market may put off visitors heading back overseas.
Sometimes the economics of duty free can be tricky, for example when domestic and international passengers mingle in one terminal, like at London Heathrow’s Terminal Five. When a Heathrow passenger scans their boarding pass to make a purchase, the retailer’s accounting system clocks their destination and tax is either paid or not depending on where exactly they are going.
Designing products that make this work can be tricky, especially for licensed products like alcohol and tobacco. At Heathrow the retailers have struck the right balance when it comes to spirits by offering slightly larger bottles than are available on the high street, one litre rather than 750ml, but at the same or at least a very close price point. This means that passengers feel they get good value and the retailer still earns a fair margin even on domestic traffic.
When it comes to inspiring shoppers, department stores are famous for their window displays. Airport shops should be encouraged to put on a good show too. Airports and their tenants should work together to ensure that all boutiques mount displays at a high standard.
Surprise and delight
Finding aircraft models on sale at the home of a major plane builder is a nice touch that makes sense when you think about it but is not obvious. Great airport retail experiences that celebrate local businesses, culture and food should attempt to do the same. Toulouse duty free does not only sell aircraft models, local foodie treats like duck confit and of course French wine are top sellers as well.
The key to success is to offer a good selection of products that people expect to see in airports, like Toblerone chocolate, while still having something a little bit different and interesting. A good example is the special ‘XO’ brandies that seem to be only available at airports.
Qatar Duty Free has a long-standing millionaire raffle. The prize is one million US Dollars and while the tickets are affordable but not cheap at 950 Riyals ($262), they are nevertheless popular with Qatar residents and transit passengers alike. Some passengers personally known to your favourite airport economist enter every time they pass through but do not seem to have won … yet. The chance to enter is something they look forward to as part of the trip.
Good retail depends on good customer research
Retailers have an ability to smell what sells, using a combination of their data and intuition to figure out what to order for the next month’s offers. To help make this happen Surveyapp supplied survey kiosks which airports and their retail partners can place in key parts of the airport to gauge exactly what is happening in real-time.
A small airport serving 1-10 million passengers a year can expect each kiosk to generate thousands of responses per day. For large airports the potential is significantly greater. Surveys can be customised to terminals near or in the retail space to understand exactly what passengers are thinking as they pass the shops.
Retail is just one of many applications of Surveyapp kiosks. Why not have a chat with us to talk about the data we generate and how it can help your airport?
oliver AT surveyapp DOT io
savio AT surveyapp DOT io