TR Consumer Forum 2024: First panel discussion on ‘Progress and People’

By Benedict Evans |

The panel session covered everything from staff attitudes and learning to AI and gamification concepts.

For the first panel session of the Forum, a carefully curated panel of experts explored innovative and creative initiatives being deployed to boost staff motivation, improve customer engagement and influence the purchase decision process.

Anna Marchesini, Head of Business Development at m1nd-set; Leanne Nutter, Retail & Brand Director at Blackjack Promotions; Philipp Ahrens Senior VP, Center Management for Vienna Airport; Julie Foley, Head of Retail Training for Pernod Ricard GTR, and Dr. Siraj Hanifa, Partner at Merlin Digital, took to the stage at TR Consumer Forum, exploring whether brands and retailers in travel retail are fully exploiting a litany of new and emerging opportunities in sales and customer engagement.

Panel discussion

Marchesini started the panel session by breaking down new insights into the role of staff interactions and the phygital (physical and digital) space, and what the data suggests on improving conversion.

“People and technology are two extreme aspects and we need to find ways to allow them to co-exist,” said Marchesini, noting staff interaction had a directly positive correlation to successful sales, especially across FAWJ categories.

“A simple but key point, and really the basis of this whole discussion is, staff interaction is guiding a huge increase in dollar amount when spending,” added Marchesini, pointing to exclusive m1nd-set data which showed a dramatic increase in post-staff interaction spend when compared with the inverse.

Marchesini moved to a discussion of how technology can help train staff, specifically pointing to learning management systems and sales enablement platforms, and the emergence of a consumer preference for ‘phygital’, a cohesive mix of digital and physical elements within the travel retail experience, as a key driver in consumer decisions regarding category and spending.

Staff training

Foley moved the discussion on staff training forwards, commenting: “We’ve really seen in the learning space a spike of organic footfall through the generic staff platform. This is staff we don’t pay for who move between brands and represent 60% of the headcount for our digital platform. We want to see how we can leverage that community.”

Foley also referenced a behavioural science study conducted by Pernod Ricard GTR, designed to understand motives of consumers centred around the dual-processing theory.

The first of the systems within this theory states consideration to purchase is more fast-paced and comes from an emotionally-driven purchase impulse, whereas the second system comes from a more paced, logical, rational mindset.

Both these systems are at play for individual consumers, and it is up to brands to target their messaging and product accordingly.

Marchesini on stage detailing insights into the most effective means of utilising sales technologies.

Commenting on data provided by m1nd-set which suggested European consumers were less likely to interact with staff, Ahrens noted: “It’s not a surprise Europe is far behind, because covid has affected the staff, the further east you walk, there’s a total different approach about serving, pride etc, something we are deeply lacking in Europe.

“We need a mindset which focuses on help facilitating the wayfinding,” said Ahrens, referencing a wayfinding initiative brought to the fore by Vienna Airport and Intelligent Track Systems whereby, in his words: “Through the use of an interactive tool – essentially a digital tablet – added to a trolley, we have helped guests who perhaps don’t travel that often, providing them with information on everything from deals to gate announcements, all communicated through the tablet.”

Post-pandemic attitudes

“We’ve really seen a generational shift where many in the industry retired; it takes time to train new people so they can be that subject matter expert,” said Nutter.

“Post-pandemic, the return of employees has been fine, but subject matter experts are lacking. I think we should look to a formal reservist programme to figure out where people’s expertise naturally leans,” said Hanifa, adding: “Sometimes we just take people and put them somewhere where they don’t fit, and they tend to gravitate towards areas of the business which they are adept at anyway, so why not guide them there.”

“I think the technologies we use need to have a purpose, and we’ve seen many which have been and gone because they didn’t.  We do often get an overload of digital markers, so having a staff member on hand to guide someone through is a good way of mitigating that. Without that it can be quite useless and frustrating,” added Nutter.

Open to the floor

John Rimmer, Director at JCR Consulting, and former Managing Director of Tax Free World Association (TFWA), fielded questions from delegates, covering issues such as dwell time, lack of engagement, AI and gamification.

The first question concerned the issue of dwell time as a potential issue within sales conversions, to which Ahren responded: “I don’t think so, guests arrived earlier than ever before post-covid. We’ve seen that materialise in record sales despite lower traffic vs 2019. There’s a lot of music in there so to speak.

Ultimately it’s about making our guests happier to spend that time at the airport, make them willing to spend more, bringing something new and unexpected.”

Rimmer fielding questions from delegates to panelists at the 2024 TR Consumer forum.

On the subject of gamification, Hanifa said: “When we talk about phygital, we must also not forget there is the gaming universe, soo most of the stuff we can make is there as we’re talking about Gen Alphas who are living their life in this universe. Look to creating products which are of a real asset to kids running around the streets of GTA 7, for example.”

The panel were also asked about the role of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in travel retail training, as well as general changes in ones approach to staff training.

“We should be selective in how we leverage these technologies. For example, PRGTR’s lender learning approach simulates selling scenarios which allow for our brand consultant community to fail forward, then uses the AI to translate the dialogue into their native language, so they’re communicating in the language which works for them,” noted Foley.



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