The Travel Retail Renaissance
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, experts were already afraid of a “retail apocalypse,” due to rapid changes in consumer behavior and the 2008 financial crisis. Then, when physical stores shut down in 2020, retail sales fell 20% from February to April. As aircraft were grounded, the travel retail industry weathered severe losses. Although we’re now in the recovery phase, global airline passenger traffic is not predicted to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024. However, the unimaginable occurred: The global health crisis created an environment for the travel retail industry to demonstrate resilience, adaptability and innovation. Now, we are preparing for a retail revolution where retailers must rethink their strategies and redesign experiences to entice younger, less affluent consumers.
During the pandemic, many corporations reduced business travel to cut costs and soon realized it was redundant. In response, low-cost carriers offered steep discounts to stimulate demand and increase market share, which attracted younger, digitally-native consumers with less disposable income (a predicted long-term trend). Business travel isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2025, if it ever does, and long-haul groups, and Chinese travelers (traditional consumers of airport luxury goods who currently account for zero sales) will continue to decline – but millennials and gen Z are predicted to account for more than 50% of all passengers by 2025.
A Gen Z Future
Gen Z likes immersive, technology-driven experiences that they will remember. Think technology like self-service checkouts, QR codes and RFID tags, which power unmanned stores like Amazon Go. Augmented reality has also found its way in-store through Snapchat filters, virtual fitting rooms, product tours and more.
Gen Z shoppers expect seamless, cross-channel integration that demonstrates convenience and playfulness. Businesses must cater to this generation of shoppers who know what they want, which includes up-to-date technology systems, a sustainable purpose and support of local markets.
What can brands start doing now to prepare for the Gen Z future? Aside from making sure your technology is up to date, strive to create a connection with your consumers, and help them feel like they’re part of a community. Show them that your brand stands for something, and share a message that they can relate to.
Align With Sustainability-Conscious Consumers
Consumers as a whole are becoming more conscious of sustainability. Our conversations with brands indicate that travelers are interested in locally made goods that provide exclusivity and uniqueness.
Travel retail brands should strive to align with these sentiments by setting targets to ensure respect for our planet and its people. Focus on reducing your carbon footprint from operations to products by doing more with less, recycling, using compostable packaging, reducing or eliminating your use of plastics, and designing eco-friendly retail spaces.
Creating Tech-Driven Experience Hubs
Do more than design a sleek website, and embrace technology at every level of your business operations. Revise your identity to become an “experience hub” that offers meaningful, entertaining experiences. Customers want frictionless experiences with features that are easy to embrace, like virtual make-up try-on, QR codes and tech-enabled changing rooms.
Living in a data-driven world allows you to better understand your customers’ needs and offer superior services. Try using travel data, such as airport timetables, passenger arrival and departure point information and travel dates, to extend your customized services and offer location-based recommendations and tailored benefits from hotels to car and vacation rentals.
Collaboration Is Key
Collaborating with other companies can help brands integrate technology solutions faster, foster innovation and build brand awareness. In 2020, Alibaba partnered with Dufry to bring together Alibaba’s expertise in Chinese consumer retail and digital transformation and Dufry’s expertise in global travel retail. Last year, JD.com collaborated with Lagardère to accelerate the development of omnichannel business models and related customer experiences.
The first-ever Meta Store that opened in May 2022 showcased how partnering with popular brands, such as Ray-Ban, can help elevate the in-store experience and enable shoppers to learn how to use new technology and programs in one convenient place. Meta Store staff members are called “experience experts,” and shoppers can try out a range of wearable technology, from smart glasses to Oculus headsets. Customers are encouraged to touch, pick up and interact with all tools to stay in the moment, explore the magic of VR and have a hands-on experience.
For brands seeking collaboration, it is best to align with companies that share similar goals, customer bases, and future missions.
Acknowledge And Reward Your Customers
Customers tend to appreciate gratitude for their loyalty regardless of where they shop. Therefore, brands would be wise to develop an approach where customers are acknowledged and rewarded for their faithfulness—especially when they shop in a travel retail location.
Customers who shop at inland stores typically have dedicated time to browse and engage with brands in person. The same goes when they are shopping at an airport, and for this effort, they expect personalized benefits and a great experience. They also expect those shopping channels to offer them a convenient and effortless purchase. One way for brands to acknowledge and reward customers would be allowing an item bought in a downtown location to be delivered at the airport location of the brand or even at the customer’s final destination.
Many retailers have been bracing for a retail apocalypse, but reality has shown that we’re on the brink of a retail revolution instead. The pandemic forced businesses to understand their customers better and reevaluate their operations to cater to new consumer behaviors. With the belief that “everything is one click away,” travel retail brands must act quickly to adopt innovative technology, provide memorable experiences for a new style of customer and develop a creative mindset to be adaptable to all future crises.
Originally Published on Forbes.