While everyone worries about the high-street - the future is looking bright for airport retail

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

As our high streets continue to struggle, our attention is turning to airport retail. Gone are the days of snapping-up a bottle of your favourite tipple before you make a dash your flight. Sophisticated airport retail offerings are now the aim of the game and airports  are choosing to invest in an omnichannel strategy to captivate travel passengers.  

You know the feeling - you step past security and it's like you have reached shopping "Mecca" - maybe that's just me? A mini-high street awaits with the promise of luxury clothing and beauty to high-end restaurant offerings. Put it this way...passengers are not going to struggle to fill their time in one of the UK's 40 commercial airports.

So how is airport retail consumer decision-making behaviour changing?

We are now seeing consumers become much less impulse behaviour and a much more pre-planned  approach to shopping. The numbers prove it, with between 51% and 71% of customers are now making purchase decisions prior to reaching the airport according to some industry sources. We're now seeing consumers head to the airport hours in advance of their flight with a shopping list in tow perusing the likes of Louis Vuitton, Harrods and Tom Ford alongside the likes of more familiar airport brands such as Dixons and WH Smith. There are even one-off influencer vlogs on YouTube dedicated to airport retail shopping experiences. Airports are also seeing travel consumers pass through the terminal more frequently thanks to the likes of Easy Jet.

Image Source: Chapman Taylor

What does an omnichannel strategy in airport retail look like?

You just have to look at the launch of Singapore's Changi airport to see that experiential airport retail environments will become the new norm of the future. At London’s Heathrow Airport services now include Reserve and Collect, the Heathrow Boutique online store, complimentary personal shopping services and loyalty programmes – all of which are designed to help customers plan their purchases and enjoy a seamless experience. Heathrow boutique as is enabling customers to browse and check stock of product even before passengers step foot in the airport. Meanwhile British Airways are enabling customers to shop from home and collect their purchases in-flight. At US airports you can have food delivered right to the gate. What makes omnichannel particularly well placed as a strategy in the airport retailing environment is that airport retailing doesn't have to contend with some of the challenges facing the high streets - one being returns. There is a much lower rate of product returns in airport retailing. In a world of chronic information overload and time pressure airports  also benefit from a captive audience of customer footfall who have no where else to go. You have instant segmentation through airline loyalty programmes too.

Source: Your Heathrow

Source: Studio Fractal

So while the analysts will continue to worry about the High Street the future looks buoyant and bright for travel retail passengers. Airport retail has been an area of retail which has been massively overlooked but one that should no longer be ignored.

Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in retail consumer decision-making. You can find out more by visiting the drsamlynch.co.uk homepage or reach out via twitter @drsamlynch

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