Stephen Haggarty, executive partner at Yonder Consulting, argues it’s time for a shake-up
Although air travel is once again booming, the entire airport retail experience is in desperate need of a redesign. A Yonder survey of 2,000 UK adults recently found that over a third (36%) think that travelling through airports is more stressful now than it was two years ago.
But as the anxiety starts to be replaced with excitement once through security checks, retailers have an opportunity to settle the nerves of travelling consumers – or ‘transumers’ – and offer experiences that can help transform the airport experience.
Airports in need of a redesign
From reduced train services to figuring out where to park and which terminal to go to, passengers are already stressed before they even get to the airport. When they do finally get there, there can be even more disappointment, with 34% of people having experienced delayed or cancelled flights in the last two years according to the Yonder survey.
Financial factors are also adding to the stress levels, with the average price of package holidays in popular destinations increasing by more than 30% since before the pandemic.
Then there’s climate-related anxiety, with 44% of people saying they are conscious of the environment when they travel. The CO2 emissions produced by aircraft aren’t exactly insignificant, and those sustainable-savvy travellers will want to ensure that any additions to their carbon footprint are kept minimal while at the airport.
Added together, you can start to see why the new generation of transumers rarely ever hit the euphoric highs that they used to while at airport retail lounges.
What do transumers want from the airport retail experience?
A big problem is that most airports are one-dimensional and designed with only one type of passenger in mind: the one who has time to take a leisurely stroll through duty-free. Yet the majority of air travellers are forced into a rush because of factors outside of their control such as travel disruption.
Once they arrive, they’re also not that satisfied with the options they have. Just 43% of people said they were satisfied with the selection of retailers at their local airport. Interestingly, if people thought that there was more available to do and book, such as a range of restaurants, shops, entertainment and treatment centres, 33% would consider arriving earlier.
Changi airport in Singapore is a perfect example of this. Renowned for being the world’s best airport with its digital waterfalls and robot bars, the airport has become a destination in its own right and is a perfect example of the future of the airport.
Rather than just a transport hub, the airport has created a whole community with retail stores and other experiences that make people want to be there even when they haven’t got a plane to catch.
Placing the transumer at the heart of everything
Retailers can’t change the design of the airport, but they can help provide a much more positive experience. To do this, they need to become a part of the solution to the entire airport experience and not just a shop where they simply buy some goods.
But retailers are just one part of the puzzle. If we’re to truly redefine the air travel experience, the whole party – airports, airlines and retailers – needs to work together as there are huge, untapped opportunities to be discovered.
The role of digital will be important in achieving this seamless and bespoke experience, as there are equally huge benefits for retailers and the transumer. British Airway’s wayfinding trial is a good example of this, helping provide a digital route of Heathrow airport on travellers’ smartphones to streamline time to check-in.
Retailers that can listen and tap into the needs of the transumer in this can help provide a much more positive and fruitful experience while reaping the rewards of happier, calmer passengers.