Comment: Can travel retail design avoid the jet lag?

By Luke Barras-hill |

Doug Barber, Managing Director, Barber Design Consultancy: “In all the lockdowns we were given time to pause, think and plan. Yet travel retail operators were, in fact, caught out, exposed to the often outdated and boring retail strategy they had always relied on.”

In this latest ‘Over to you’ column, Doug Barber, Managing Director of Barber Design Consultancy, explains why retail planning needs to get on the front foot, with physical and online experiences working in lockstep to allow creativity to truly breathe within commercial environments.

In all the lockdowns, we were given time to pause, think and plan. Yet travel retail operators were, in fact, caught out, exposed to the often outdated and boring retail strategy they had always relied on and now with no customers at all and oodles of perishable stock sitting on shelves or in warehouses. Covid lockdowns became a financial and logistical nightmare.

Businesses suddenly had to pivot, and quickly… in many cases. They had to rapidly develop their web presence and e-commerce offering at an alarming rate, playing catch-up for what has been a relatively ignored sales channel in duty free.

Wind back a few years – if not a decade prior – and we could all see what was happening on the high street. Retailers were realising that the web offered a wider and more diverse choice and better experience when it came to shopping and it created another important sales channel in the process.

Analytics showed that customers were researching what they wanted to buy before they purchased; in many cases, customers know more about the product they have their hearts set on than the in-store sales assistant.

Travel retail operators have ignored this sales channel for too long because the customers kept coming… until they didn’t. These operators have been relying on passengers walking passed the storefronts for far too long. Developing a seamless (and user-friendly) web presence offering additional ways to purchase via pre-order and in-store collection points all feed into the overall customer experience.

Flemingo and Barber Design have forged a successful partnership over the years, rolling out concepts in more than 10 locations in China, Sri Lanka, Mumbai, Bangalore, Macau (pictured) and elsewhere.

Gathering valuable customer data online also allows brands to get to know their customers better on a deeper, more personal level, resulting in more targeted and better marketing.

Combined with physical retail, the web is an additional medium that creates a ‘total user experience’ and allows duty free retailers to connect in ‘the right way’ at the right time with clients to offer useful (and the latest) products and services.

And these two ‘shop windows’ of the brand need to sing together. It could also be argued that the architects didn’t allow the operators inside airports to push interior design innovation beyond what we saw in the 80s, 90s etc.

Historically many airport designs lacked structural imagination, low ceilings, lack of natural daylight and no connection to nature (which we all suddenly craved in lockdown). The development of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 several years ago was a reinvention of the wheel somewhat; the architects created dramatic ceilings and allowed for lots of natural daylight and a sense of arrival. They also created exciting ‘canvases’ that retail designers could play with and a playground to get customers excited.

Barber Design was involved in the design and detailing of two locations at the new Terminal 2 at Bengaluru Kempegowda International Airport, where Dufry recently won the contract to operate and manage duty free shops in a joint venture with Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL). 

The high street is competing for customer spending so, therefore, it has to try hard to capture the imagination by creating in-store excitement, events, demonstrations, ‘Instagrammable’ and sharable selfie moments, in-store virtual reality experiences, click-and-collect points… and the all important digital experience. Oh, and now metaverse immersion for the kids of today and tomorrow.

The clever retailers know that if they can create loyal fans, ambassadors, influencers and the like, those customers will keep engaging with them (even when they leave their brick-and mortar-temples) and they can continue to build long-term memories and fondness with their chosen brand.

Work at new Chennai Airport terminal

Retailers really do have to try as hard with customers to retain their loyalty ‘on the way out of the shop’ as on the way in. The web certainly offers a way for clients to ‘stay connected’.

Airport architects and clients are slowly waking up to the overall customer experience and its importance for retail wellbeing. Creating an environment enjoyable to shop in is not that much harder than creating one that is not.

Underneath this architectural framework, operators and brands must allow retail designers to play with spaces and create excitement with exciting touchpoints and memorable moments – please don’t just give every inch of space to rows of products.

Pictured and below: Category adjacencies at Mumbai International Airport T2 arrivals.

Draw customers in with intrigue and excitement and make them want to come back (yes that also means changing the retail experience on a regular basis!).

Barber has recently been working on the re-design of Terminal 2 arrivals at Mumbai International Airport for its client Flemingo, plus the design and detailing of two sites in the magnificent new Terminal 2 at Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore.

We are also working on several exciting duty free projects in the brand-new terminal in Chennai opening in December 2022 and a further departures site to complement our departures duty free design in 2017 at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Since lockdown ended, things have been crazy busy with a pent-up demand for passenger travel and operators wishing to upgrade and modernise their retail offers.

My key takeaways: Don’t become complacent, work hard and dedicate decent retail budgets to create the magical, the flamboyant and the fancy, and deliver a multi-channel user experience. None of us want to get caught out again.

Founded in 1999 by Doug Barber, Barber Design Consultancy is an independent agency with expertise across several areas, from brand strategy to the commercial planning of duty free stores.

It has worked with clients spanning the UK, China, India, Sri Lanka and The Philippines, including Dufry (and its Nuance brand); Flemingo; airport authorities in Tunisia, Macau and Portugal; Harding+; Travelex; Thomas Cook; MCM; and Oettinger Davidoff Cigars.

The comments and opinions expressed in this column are those of the columnist alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of TRBusiness.

To access other ‘Over to you’ columns, click the respective links below. 

Tony Clayton, Head of Customer Management for Global Travel Retai, British American Tobacco (BAT)

Svenja Fischer, Team Leader for Corporate Responsibility, Gebr. Heinemann

Siobhán Griffin, Aer Rianta International

Leanne Nutter, Brand and Retail Director, Blackjack Promotions

Martin James, Founder, Martin James London

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys

Kate Holsgrove, Chief Commercial Officer, Perth Airport

Leanne Nutter, Head of Travel Retail, Blackjack Promotions

Diego Baeza, Global Travel Retail & Duty Free Director, Viña Concha y Toro 

Richard Gray, Chief Executive Officer, Aer Rianta International Middle East 

Olivier Dancette Founder, HiDutyFree

Dr Patrick Bohl, Chairman, CEETRA

Laurent Safar, CEO, Adaptive Channel 

Tim Jobber, International Management Consultant, JES Travel Retail

John Pearce, Head of Retail & Commercial — Terminal, Adelaide Airport Limited

Alain Maingreaud, President, TFWA Part Two

Andrew Brodie, CEO, Sunshine Coast Airport

Trevor Lee, Managing Director, TravConsult

James Prescott, Managing Director, Harding Retail

Tullia Ialongo, Business Development Partner, Wand Technology

One Red Kite Limited, Founder and Managing Director Kevin Brocklebank

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