‘Global approach’ required to restore consumer confidence post Covid-19

By Andrew Pentol |

The ability to sell across different cultures in duty free and travel retail environments, importance of training and upskilling and the need to focus on health and safety, were among the key issues addressed during the fourth edition of the TRConnect webinar series.

Themed ‘Cross Cultural Communications in the post-Covid context’ the near two-hour webinar took place today (4 August 2020) at 14:00 CET [click below to watch a repeat of the webinar].

Co-hosted by TRBusiness Editorial Director Charlotte Turner and Head of Events and CSR Michael Barrett, the webinar featured lively and informative presentations and a thought-provoking question and answer session.

Presentations were delivered by Clara Sussett, Travel Retail Research Director, m1nd-set, Derek Hughes CEO, Founder & Owner, The Institute of International Retail (IIR) and Trevor Lee, Managing Director, TRAVConsult.

Outgoing Brisbane Airport Corporation, Retail Marketing Manager, Consumer Marketing, Chloe Nguyen and Inflight Consulting Company, Chairman & CEO, John Garner offered regular insights throughout the webinar.

Click the below links to download the relevant presentations.

Clara Susset, m1nd-set

Derek Hughes, The Institute of International Retail 

Trevor Lee, TRAVConsult

Following brief introductions from the speakers, attendees were invited to participate in an interactive poll. The poll asked if airports and their commercial partners should adopt different strategies and approaches when communicating to different nationalities and cultures. A resounding 91% of respondents felt this should be the case.

The poll also asked if different communications approaches were necessary to reassure passengers about health and safety when travelling in the post-Covid-19 environment. A high percentage of respondents (86%) believed these were required.


First to speak was m1nd-set’s Susset, who presented findings from research undertaken in June. The research was conducted among international travellers recruited at more than 60 airports worldwide.

The target group was those who have travelled at least twice in the last 12 months and visited a travel retail shop at least once during this period.

According to the research, frequent travellers (28%), Asia Pacific travellers (25%) and business travellers (25%) were most likely to be willing to travel immediately after restrictions are lifted.

Chinese travellers (64%) expressed a willingness to travel within the first six months following the easing of restrictions, while seniors (15%) indicated they would consider travelling after one year, but before two years once travel bans are eased.

In terms of travel frequency, 42% of Asia Pacific travellers, 36% of frequent travellers and 33% of business travellers only expected to reduce business travel because of the pandemic. Those aged 60 or over (47%), Europeans (45%) and infrequent travellers (38%) suggested they would reduce leisure travel.

Frequent travellers appeared keen to travel immediately after travel bans are lifted, according to m1nd-set research.

The next part of the presentation outlined the top three reasons for travellers to reduce business and leisure trips.

According to the research, 58% of Asia Pacific travellers would go on less business trips due to the increased share of online meetings. In addition, 57% of 36-60-year-olds believed fewer international trips will be required due to the economic slowdown/crisis.

Meanwhile, 64% of Asia Pacific travellers cited their preference to avoid crowds or large gatherings at airports as the main reason for reducing leisure trips. Also, 46% of travellers from Tier One cities in China indicated they would go on fewer leisure trips as they are afraid travel restrictions will persist or be re-introduced.

Travellers from Tier One Chinese cities (68%) and females (66%) were most likely to change planned international air trips because of the Covid-19 outbreak. In addition, 71% of travellers from Tier Two Chinese cities indicated they would avoid travelling to the USA due to the pandemic.

                                                                                                               Click to enlarge.

Other interesting research items included the fact that 22% of travellers aged 18-27 would be unlikely to visit duty free shops on future international air trips.

Frequent travellers (93%) were the highest number of non-duty free buyers who would consider buying the same products elsewhere.

The m1nd-set research also examined cross-cultural effects of the pandemic on interaction with sales staff. Asia Pacific travellers (72%) were most likely to refrain from being in close proximity with sales staff and those aged over 60 (65%) said they would probably continue interacting as usual.

Middle East and African travellers (49%), Asia Pacific travellers (47%) and female travellers (47%) were most likely to refrain from testing/trying products in duty free shops.

During the pandemic, retailers have focused strongly on their online/pre-order businesses to maintain some sort of income. With that in mind, frequent travellers (29%) and business travellers (28%) indicated they were most likely to shop/pre-order online and collect items onboard/on arrival.

Next to present was IIR’s Hughes, who highlighted the company’s partnership with the Duty Free World Council (DFWC), which resulted in the creation of the DFWC Academy. The purpose of the academy is to support the DF&TR industry by creating a platform for professional learning and development.

As reported, the DFWC and IIR recently launched a Return to Work training course. The course provides front-line sales staff with guidelines on how to ensure their own safety and that of their customers.

Hughes then focused on the re-opening of duty free shops. He said: “We estimate that around 60% of duty free shops are now open worldwide.

“At IIR, we are advocating that the industry adopts a global approach to ensuring consumers feel confident to travel and visit duty free stores. This confidence needs to be brought upon by a global approach and global protocol.”

The fourth webinar in the TRConnect series focused on cross-cultural communications post Covid-19.

On changing shopping habits post-pandemic, Hughes said there was anywhere between an 80% and 90% reluctance to revert to normal airport shopping habits.

“It is about planning for the future and being prepared,” Hughes emphasised.

Retail staff must be re-trained and upskilled in order to capitalise on the increased dwell time at airports in the post Covid-19 era. “There is a great opportunity to sell, once we enhance the customer experience and upskill our sales teams. The market needs that specialist insight.”

With digital to become ‘more important than ever’, industry stakeholders were urged to unite and place a greater emphasis on click and collect.

They were also encouraged to work harder than ever to attract shoppers, with digital at the forefront. “Research shows that customers rely on mobile phones for communication. It is critical for retailers, airports and brands to come together and embrace digital technology.”

The Institute of International Retail estimates that 60% of duty free shops are now open worldwide.

Digital signage and reducing touch points will also be critical. “Retailers much seek to engage through digital signage and mobile technology,” he commented.

Airport visitors, passengers, retailers and staff all find digital signage interesting. This is because digital signage provides information and entertainment, helps increase revenue and assists with staff training, according to Hughes.

The final part of the presentation revealed several recommended guidelines for safe customer and product interaction. In the beauty segment, for example, beauty advisors were urged to utilise fragrance testers and disinfect them regularly.

“Demonstration tools must be single-use and disposed of carefully,” Hughes said.

Each wine and spirit sample must be poured individually and confectionery samples should be individually wrapped in portions and offered singly to customers while respecting social distancing.

The final presentation before the question and answer session was delivered by TRAVConsult’s Lee. Focusing on the Indian, Japanese and Chinese markets, Lee, who recently participated in this publication’s Over to You guest column series, revealed the ‘Cultural Turn-ons’ needed to succeed in travel retail.

Emphasising The power of ‘Cute’ in Japan, Lee said: “Cute permeates Japanese society. From the early 1970s, it started becoming a business. Many businesses have made millions from ‘The Power of ‘Cute’, which is important to the Japanese consumer and travellers.”

Lee, who showed various examples of how Japanese airports have homed in on the ‘cute’ factor with children/younger travellers at the heart, added: “Cute appeals to one and all in Japan. It is quite an amazing phenomenon.”

Cute appeals to one and all in Japan, according to Trevor Lee, Managing Director, TRAVConsult.

Over in India, the cultural turn-on is all about status. This is something retailers should be mindful of in DF&TR environments.

“When two people meet in India, they will never be equal. Once you know what an Indian customer is after, make sure you take him/her to the most premium offer.

“They may not be able to afford what is available, but at least you will have given them the status.”

Indian customers also like to be greeted in-store. “This is the most important thing. It means a lot to greet them in their own language. Do not expect them to feel happy and comfortable to enter your store if they are ignored.”

Meanwhile, businesses were told they must consider ‘5 F-words’ to encourage Chinese consumers to spend. These are face, family, friends, food and fun.

Businesses were advised to consider ‘5 F-Words’ to drive spend among Chinese consumers.

Lee explained: “The first is face. Always do your best to give them face and ensure they never lose face around you and with you.

“Next is family. The Chinese are going to want to travel together post Covid-19. How will you give a family face and look after them?”

“The third one is friends. After travelling with family, they will want to begin travelling with friends. With friends it is all about the brag factor. What can businesses do to help them with the brag factor?

“Then comes food, which touches their hearts. If they have a good meal and know what they have eaten, they are happy. It is important the Chinese know what they are eating when travelling overseas.

“The final F-word is fun. How can you help them have fun in an airport or duty free environment?”

Front-line sales staff play a major role in driving spend across all nationalities, but how do airports work with retailers to engage staff?

Brisbane Airport’s Nguyen, who has worked with Lee on several projects, offered some valuable insights. “We have ran quite a comprehensive retail engagement strategy for around eight years. It is about consistency in service and experience.

“Our strategy was around providing many training opportunities and we have done a lot of work with TRAVConsult over the past nine years across the Chinese, Indian, Korean and Japanese markets.

[Prior to the pandemic] we were also having early discussions about a new programme for the Vietnam market. This was when we were trying to move forward with Vietnam airlines.”

Providing retailers with development opportunities has been a key part of the strategy. “It probably took around 12 to 18 months. At the time, it was quite a new concept for an airport landlord to be providing that level of service.

“At the time, it wasn’t about us coming in and trying to tell people how to suck eggs and run their business. It was about coming in and offering these services, which we hoped would be aligned to what they were offering their own teams.”

The challenge for Brisbane Airport during this this financial year is to draw on its own in-house expertise and that of its retailers to deliver these programmes and engage retail staff. Financial constraints as a result of the pandemic means everything must be undertaken in-house.

Click the relevant links to contact the speakers.

Clara Susset, m1nd-set

Trevor Lee, TRAVConsult

Derek Hughes, The Institute of International Retail 

Chloe Nguyen, Brisbane Airport Corporation

John Garner, Inflight Consulting Company

Click below to view previous TRConnect webinars.

TRConnect: ‘Chinese travellers: The Much Anticipated Return’

TRConnect: ‘Engaging customers across all touch-points — Physical, Digital and Human — in a Post Covid-19 Context’

TRConnect: ‘Emerging Stronger in a Post-Covid World’

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