[UPDATED] Experiential retail a ‘must-have’ in-store

By Andrew Pentol |

TRCONNECT logo 460x306The second TRBusiness Travel Retail Connect Covid-19 webinar took place yesterday (2 June), attracting 767 registrants and 483 participants.

Entitled ‘Engaging customers across all touch-points — Physical, Digital and Human — in a Post Covid-19 Context’, the extended session was hosted at 14:00 CET on Tuesday [to view a repeat of the webinar, click below].

Participants received valuable data, along with much-needed and fascinating insights on digital opportunities now and in the future. They were also given food for thought in terms of how the post Covid-19 world might look and furnished with tips on how they should adapt.

Yesterday’s webinar followed a hugely popular first edition of Travel Retail Connect, which attracted 900 registrations and more than 500 attendees last month.

Hosted by TRBusiness Editorial Director Charlotte Turner and Events and CSR lead Michael Barrett, yesterday’s session featured presentations from Clara Susset, Director, Travel Retail Research, m1nd-set, Alan Brennan, Managing Director, dcGTR, Vimal Rai, Founder and Managing Director, Trace Consulting Ltd and Ramesh Cidambi, Chief Operating Officer, Dubai Duty Free.


The presentations, which provoked impressive audience participation, were complemented by a series of flash polls.

Click on the video above to view the full recording of TRConnect #2. Links to the presentations below.

In his opening remarks, Barrett took the opportunity to highlight another upcoming TRBusiness event (TR Marketplace), which is receiving ‘fantastic feedback and support’.

The new iOS, Android and web-based exhibition platform for the DF&TR industry was launched following the cancellation of this year’s Tax Free World Association Conference and Exhibition.

Registration is open for the event, organised by TRBusiness and Bluedog Productions, which will run from 28 September to 2 October.  These are the dates TFWA Cannes was meant to take place. Swiss research company m1nd-set is the official consumer insights partner and will provide essential data, collected exclusively for TRMarketplace.

After a brief welcome from Turner, m1nd-set’s Susset presented findings from research conducted among 1,500 business and leisure travellers. Online interviews were conducted between 15 May and 20 May 2020 across m1nd-set’s database of international travellers recruited at 60 airports worldwide.

Initially, the focus of the presentation was on research undertaken in recent years, which emphasised the importance of experiential retail in engaging with customers.

“Past research highlighting how we stood before the Covid-19 crisis, proves the importance of experiential retail in engaging with increasingly demanding customers,” Susset remarked.

“All research already undertaken shows experiential retail became more important year after year and survey after survey.”

m1nd-set slide TRConnect 2

M1nd-set data indicates there is a significant opportunity to engage undecided travel retail shoppers and subsequently increase conversion.

Among the findings of this particular survey, 78% were undecided on whether to make a purchase. This created substantial opportunity for engagement through ‘in-store elements’ and the chance to boost conversion.

Susset added: “The majority of planners did what we call general planning (53%). They had an idea in mind and knew they wanted to purchase gifts, for example.”

Regarding the role of experiential retail in driving sales, 58% cited this as the reason for purchasing in duty free.

M1nd-set, which wanted to gage the impact of experiential retail on footfall and conversion, revealed 21% indicated the experience was their main reason for visiting stores. “It is clear, therefore, that experiential retail is a very powerful footfall and conversion driver,” Susset remarked.

Of those who didn’t visit a DF&TR store, 56% indicated they would have been more willing to do so if they knew they would find a ‘richer and more entertaining experience’.

Looking ahead to the post Covid-19 world, she commented: “In this post Covid-19 scenario, in-store experiential retail will become a must-have, in order for our industry to differentiate from other channels. One of these other channels is online, which has gained relevance due to the pandemic.”

TR Connect 2 Speakers Final

The second TR Connect webinar comprised four speakers and was hosted by TRBusiness Editorial Director Charlotte Turner and Events and CSR lead Michael Barrett.

M1nd-set data also reveals that 36% of travellers were planning to shop more online than before the crisis and that average online spend has increased 23% compared to pre-Covid-19.

“This really raises the question of what role online will play in the post Covid-19 world,” Susset speculated. “On one hand, online can surely be perceived as a threat in the sense travellers plan to purchase more online and less at the airport.

“At the same time, there is a huge opportunity around pre-trip touch-points, which enable travellers to browse products online and potentially pre-order. This opportunity exists because a majority of shoppers are planning purchases before arriving at the airport.”

In discussing how people’s mind-sets have changed in the past few months as a result of the pandemic, Susset reveals three out of 10 travellers said the lockdown caused them anxiety and stress.

m1nd-set research TR Connect 2

Shoppers will most likely look to keep their distance from retail ambassadors/sales staff in DF&TR stores.

In addition, 62% of travellers (from a previous survey) said they would refrain from being close to retail ambassadors/sales staff in duty free shops, while 45% vowed to no longer test/try products.

The final part of the presentation featured a list of travellers’ top-10 most wanted digital, technological and virtual innovations for a more engaging post Covid-19 airport shopping experience.

Next to speak was dcGTR’s Brennan whose presentation was pre-recorded for technical reasons.

The video presentation highlighted a series of practical technological solutions, which can be implemented in the next 12 months and form part of an integrated digital and physical customer journey.

“These solutions are low-cost, easy to implement, easy-to-use, customer centric and ultimately have the potential to really enhance the online and offline customer experience,” Brennan explained.

As countries reopen their borders, Brennan said we must be mindful that the operating environment will look and feel very different compared to previously.

Allan Brennan TR Connect 2 Presentation

Customers’ main priority will be to keep safe and follow the rules post Covid-19, according to Alan Brennan, Director, dcGTR.

“While there are lots of unanswered questions as to what the new norm will look like in travel retail, we can assume that customer priorities and behaviour will have changed.

“We can be assured that customers’ primary needs will be to keep safe and follow the rules when travelling on a journey that looks and feels very different.”

Providing an integrated and seamless customer experience is the way to connect with a new customer landscape comprising younger generations.

“The touch-points which are part of an integrated customer journey and seamlessly integrated between digital and physical are a key part of a wider omnichannel strategy.”

Referring to the aforementioned m1nd-set data indicating that 62% of travellers will refrain from being in the vicinity of retail ambassadors in stores, Brennan highlighted virtual brand ambassadors as a possible solution.

Allan Brennan Virtual Retail Ambassador

Could virtual retail ambassadors be a solution for those shoppers looking to keep their distance from sales staff in the future?

“In order to provide support, sell products and offer advice and help to customers [particularly with self-distancing and directional navigation in place], virtual retail ambassadors in real-time can be activated in-store through retailers’ apps.

“These virtual retail ambassadors will strengthen the customer relationship and overall experience in-store.”

Addressing those shoppers wishing to minimise physical interaction with staff, Brennan indicated this can be achieved using Near Field Communication technology. “This is technology that has been around for a number of years. It is technology we are familiar with as it is used to make contactless payments from credit or debit cards.”

Alan Brennan TR Connect 2

The shift in m1nd-set from transactional selling to actually selling customer experience will be ‘absolutely key’ in the new norm.

Brennan concluded: “It’s about leveraging digital, low cost, high impact and looking to dial up the online offer through 3D animation and level of interaction.”

Following Brennan’s presentation, participants were invited to take part in two polls. The first questioned the importance of digital for companies in the post Covid-19 context and the second asked how soon companies will revisit their digital strategy.

In response to the first poll, 55% declared digital as vital for converting passengers. The second poll indicated that 57% believed their companies would revisit digital strategies within three months.

Next to speak was Trace Consulting’s Rai, who recently took part in this publication’s Adapt & Survive Skype video series. The main focuses of the presentation were data (social sentiment data) likely outcomes, suggested responses and a Covid-19 blueprint.

In terms of data, Rai said: “I think sentiment data is an additional way of gaging how people feel about situations or a brand, for example.  This form of data is used by some of the world’s largest brands and enables the predictability of outcomes.”

Vimal Consumer outcomes slide

Referring to a graph showing important social sentiment data, relating to retail, airports and airlines in particular he added: “The travel shopping sentiment is rebounding fast, but has not fully recovered. We see a clear uptick in terms of retail, but somewhat worrying signs, or in other words negative sentiment for airports and airlines.”

The negative sentiment for airports and airlines, however, is understandable. “I think we can understand this as we ourselves are concerned about being in closed environments which are all packed with other people,” Rai emphasised.


He then highlighted three likely consumer outcomes (fear, domestic and digital migration) which relate to the post Covid-19 world (see above).

Vimal slide 1

The travel shopping sentiment is rebounding fast, according to social sentiment data highlighted by Vimal Rai, Founder and Managing Director, Trace Consulting Ltd.

Fear will be apparent in the short to medium-term post Covid-19 as there will be anxiety around the economy and the state of the environment.

When travel does eventually recover, it is likely to be more domestic and regionally focused. He explained: “Surveys reveal that people are more likely to postpone long-haul travel, for short-haul, intra-regional or maybe even local or train holidays.”

Regarding digital migration, Rai is expecting there to be around 29 billion connected devices globally in the next 12 months.

“People of all ages are going to be a lot more willing to transact and interact digitally,” he remarked.

The final presentation of the second TR Connect webinar was delivered by Dubai Duty Free’s Cidambi.

In addition to highlighting the retail outlook for the coming months and the impact of the pandemic on sales, Cidambi focused extensively on how the retailer is mitigating against the transmission of Covid-19 between shoppers in stores.

Protecting staff has been a focus throughout the pandemic. He explained: “In terms of staff, we are doing a lot of work from the time they leave their apartment to when they reach work. When they are at work, we have done everything possible to improve their safety, hygiene and overall situation as much as possible.”

Dubai Duty Free liquor and tobacco store

Referring to the Concourse B liquor and tobacco departures shop, Cidambi revealed how passengers can safely navigate the store in accordance with new protective measures.

During the third week of April, DDF received retail-related guidelines from the Dubai government. On receiving the guidelines, the first focus was access control. “It was important to ensure each shop had clear entry and exit points.

“In terms of operational modifications, we have focused on stock replenishment, in-store sanitisation and the possibility of having a concierge shopping service and contactless payment.”

Speaking of the concierge service, which was launched in the Concourse A business lounge just before the crisis, Cidambi commented: “We now have a desk from which people can request single or small numbers of items. They simply ask for the product they want, someone brings it and the transaction is made.”

Dubai Duty Free shoppign concierge service

Using the Concourse B liquor and tobacco departures shop as an example, Cidambi revealed how customers can safely navigate the store in accordance with new protective measures.

“We have created a situation, where we have a main entrance. Arrows on the floor indicate the direction shoppers must travel. Those purchasing are expecting to exit the through the cash counters. Anyone not buying has another way of exiting.”

Cidambi, who emphasised the importance of constantly communicating with staff and passengers concluded: “We do not pretend to know everything, but as things get going again, we will gradually understand whether some of these ideas are working. If not, we will adapt accordingly.

“I am conscious that a company like Dubai Duty Free, or any other retailer has a lot of work to do on digital and customer engagement.”

To download the m1nd-set presentation by Clara Susset, click here.

To download the dcGTR PDF presentation by Alan Brennan, click here.

To download the dcGTR video presentation by Alan Brennan, click here.

To download the Trace Consulting presentation by Vimal Rai, click here.

To download the Dubai Duty Free presentation by Ramesh Cidambi, click here.



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