Ethos Farm: Category specialists can be a ‘gamechanger’ for inflight retail sales

By Luke Barras-hill |


Airlines could choose how many categories a ‘specialist’ seller would represent.

Category specialists offer a tangible opportunity to transform the flagging fortunes of inflight retail and a way to move airlines and concessionaires away from relying on listing fees to drive profitability, Ethos Farm has suggested.

TRBusiness was the sole travel retail media in attendance at the ‘Taking Inflight Retail to New Heights’ boutique workshop event held yesterday (21 January) at Virgin Atlantic’s head office and Base facility for cabin crew situated close to Gatwick Airport.

Hosted by customer experience consultancy Ethos Farm in collaboration with Virgin Atlantic and 3Sixty Duty Free & More, the workshop attracted around 50 key stakeholders including suppliers, concessionaires and airlines.


During the event, Ethos Farm Director of Business Development Christine Martin unveiled a new initiative designed to create a fleet of specialist inflight sales ambassadors.

Utilising e-commerce learning, the category specialists will foster a more collaborative approach to crew training and development involving airlines, suppliers and concessionaires – while driving sales.


‘Taking Inflight Retail to New Heights’ took place at Virgin Atlantic’s HQ and Base crew centre close to Gatwick Airport.

Challenging delegates to think about how inflight retail can regain its share of travel retail sales, Martin said: “We have a workforce that is customer service focused; with the right tools and the right inducement, they are perfectly positioned to be our 2020 game changers. We have an amazing range of products as far as categories go and specialist organisations running the inflight retail channel.

“Category specialists – or whatever you choose to call them – are your 2020 fit-for-purpose version. If we treat passengers like guests and offer sales as a service, they are willing to open up their wallets and become shoppers.”

3Sixty Duty Free & More, concessionaire for the Virgin Atlantic inflight retail business, has already signed up to the initiative, with others in attendance such as Retail inMotion also showing interest.


“We want to create this role of category specialists so they become category confident via e-learning courses in their own time,” continued Martin.

“Inflight has been losing its market share for the past 10 years – when we held the ISPY events we saw marketing spends being squeezed year after year. Some brands have pulled out or are considering pulling out of inflight retail altogether and some airlines are considering the relevance to the business.

“The way people shop has changed enormously, but the way we sell hasn’t changed enough to keep our customers engaged. In my humble, opinion we need to be better. It’s time for change. It’s only by working together that we’ll see that change and significant improvement in place.

“Being better means not relying on listing fees for your profitably, being better means you’re more innovative in the products you present to the airlines and not the same product to every airline, each and every season.”


Christine Martin, Business Development Director, Ethos Farm.


As a voluntary position, the category specialist would be selected from existing members of the cabin crew.

Each airline would identify which categories to focus on and, in consultation with the crew, decide how many categories a specialist could represent. Crew members would also be given the choice of which categories they would wish to represent.

Ethos Farm has committed to creating a constantly evolving online category, brand and product resource library accessible by all retailers from all travel retail channels.

In this way, all crew members can access e-learning courses in their free time to educate themselves on preferred categories, brands and products.

Airlines can access the course material gratis, provided they are using their own learning management system (A hosting fee would apply should the airline wish to use the Ethos Farm learning management system).

The category courses are free of charge but a fee of between £1,000 to £1,500 would apply to brand and product courses.

Suppliers would pay once to convert their brand and product information into e-learning courses.

A fee of £166 will be charged for checking, reformatting and publishing 60-second product stories.

Ethos Farm recommends that category specialists are given a unit sales-per-flight target and a base 10% commission on the sales they achieve from the given category.

The 10% bonus would be linked to the category’s incremental sales and therefore would not cannibalise commission payouts made to the rest of the crew.

More to follow…


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