British beauty brand Molton Brown is expecting its global travel retail (GTR) business to build back to pre-pandemic levels by Q2 2024, following a year spent re-energising its offering and presentation in the channel.
Smashing the all important pre-pandemic benchmark will be a milestone moment for the brand, as Rosie Cook, Associate Director, Global Travel Retail & Export revealed to TRBusiness during the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes.
“Some of our channels have already returned to pre-pandemic performance, our global distributor and hotel business is even exceeding it. GTR will follow, for us it’s likely by Q2 next year we hope to be back to 2019 numbers,” confirmed Cook.
“It’s been a very challenging few years, everyone is under pressure to ‘get back to 2019’ levels but ultimately the world is a different place and so is the travel retail industry. We have almost had a reset which brings with it an opportunity to review what we have been doing and make sure we evolve and adapt to new behaviours and trends.
“All sectors of the travel industry have been heavily impacted and are now trying to not only deliver pre-pandemic revenue but also recoup some of the cost,” she continued.
“This means more pressure for airport retailers and, in turn, the brands to work harder than ever to excite and entice customers into their stores. To me this is really exciting as we all need to get much more creative in the way we activate in store and retailers need to provide the right platforms for us to do so.
“Collaboration and communication between brands and retailers is more important than ever if we want to succeed.”
The focus over the past year has been on transforming its presence in key locations, led by the unveiling of the new flagship store at London Heathrow Terminal 5 earlier this year.
Key to the strategy is leveraging synergies with fellow Kao-owned luxury skincare brand Sensai, to build on existing partnerships and opportunities in the market and create a stronger business for both companies.
As well as sharing insights to target the ‘right’ locations, they are seeking to team up on investments such as joint pop ups, beauty advisors and promotional space where relevant, in the future.
In Cannes, Molton Brown reinforced its focus on the fragrance category as a driver of growth and omnichannel engagement across the business.
“Here at Molton Brown, fragrance is at the heart of everything we do and is embedded in our DNA,” said Cook. “We want to take customers on our fragrance journey whether they are looking for an EDP or a hand wash, so our strategy has really been about how we put fragrance first in every aspect.
“We have evolved our store design to ensure fragrance is the focal point as well as campaign focuses and all communications has fragrance at the forefront.
“In travel retail, fragrance accounts for around 20% of the business mix compared to 11% globally so this is a really important channel for our strategy.”
The flagship concept in Heathrow’s T5 has an attractive Fragrance Discovery Bar positioned front and centre, along with a consultation space and an iPad for the immersive fragrance finder experience.
“Since refitting the space earlier this year, we have seen the fragrance mix go up to 34% in recent months so we can see customers are really engaging in this environment,” said Cook.
The positive momentum comes despite various challenges for the travel retail sector, and the economy, felt throughout the year.
“It has not been an easy year to compare but given we have had challenges with footfall, airline and air-traffic control disruptions since opening, we have seen +44% year on year growth so far as well as trending closer to 2019 performance so we are pleased but also know there’s more to come,” said Cook.
“We are adapting to new customer behaviours, flight patterns and nationalities to ensure we deliver our best customer service as well as relevant and meaningful engagements.”
Potential for unisex fragrances in the luxury space
In terms of what we can expect to see in the future, leveraging the opportunity for unisex fragrances in the luxury beauty segment is on the radar.
“Both the size and the estimated growth rate of the unisex fragrance category provides a lot of opportunity for us to drive brand awareness and recruit customers by putting fragrance at the heart of everything we do,” said Cook.
“We know that the fragrance shopper holds huge brand value, once they come into the brand via this category we often see them buying into all of our other categories as well as being loyal to our EDPs and EDTs.”
The company’s omnichannel hybrid approach creates a seamless journey for shoppers, whether online or offline.
Many of its stores have iPads stationed on-counter for personalised consultations, as well as an interactive, immersive fragrance experience – and we can expect to see more of this in travel retail as the company refits and evolves its spaces over the next year.
“In terms of digital opportunities in TR, we are starting to do more marketing and activation as the industry develops in this area and I’m sure there will be much more to come in the next few years, but we are still behind the capabilities of high street retail,” said Cook.
To the Infinite Bottle and beyond
Molton Brown has a deep commitment to sustainability and the Infinite Bottle, made with 100% recycled aluminium and launched in travel retail July, is pegged as its ‘most sustainable solution to date’.
When asked if there has been any knock-on effects of the opaque packaging obscuring the colourful liquids, Cook answered: “We haven’t had any challenges from customers navigating the collection, so for those looking for this solution it appears to make sense, which is great.
“Year to date the infinite bottles account for 22% of sales across our fragrance families so is in line with the refill pouches.
“There is definitely a clear appetite for them, and we know ESG conscious customers spend on average 22% more than our average customer so they are a very important part of our on-going strategy.”
Enticing ‘stressed’ travellers back to shopping
Navigating travel disruptions and, in turn, stressed out travellers has given way to new ideas for bolstering engagement with the new wave of post-pandemic passengers.
“In the UK and many parts of Europe we have seen so much disruption from airlines and also recently air traffic control issues which is putting previously well-travelled people off overseas travel,” said Cook.
“Since the pandemic and also Brexit, there is a huge gap in experienced people wanting to work in the industry in all sectors, which is having a knock-on effect on people’s experience of travel and generally how smooth and easy their journeys are.
“People appear more stressed and focused on getting from A to B rather than enjoying browsing and treating themselves so this is a real challenge for retailers and brands.
“On top of this, we have seen a shift in demographic. This varies by location, but we are often seeing younger, less affluent shoppers focusing on more planned purchases.
“The opportunity for brands is tapping into this new shopper by bringing newness and exciting experiences to interrupt their journey in store. Done right, the rewards can be endless, with organic social posts reaching new customers globally so it’s important to invest in this space.”
Big ambitions for the future
The company is continuing to invest in its ESG strategy, while catering to the growing demand for sustainable luxury products.
In terms of theatre on the shop floor, Cook champions the possibilities of highly immersive experiences, as seen in other channels.
“Globally I’ve seen some really exciting things lately in not only big retail brands like Nike but in music and entertainment such as Abba Voyage Tour and the Van Gogh Experience in London,” said Cook.
“These fully immersive experiences allow customers to discover brands or art in a sensorial and extraordinary way, having a greater, lasting impression on them.
“It would be amazing to see more of this in GTR. It takes investment, creativity and collaboration but I feel the benefits would pay back globally for both retailers and brands.”
Next year, Molton Brown’s fragrance first strategy will remain a key thread, yet there is much more to come.
“We are working on an exciting project looking at our wholesale space globally, which includes GTR to evolve our current concept to make sure fragrance is at the forefront and customer navigation is simple and consistent,” revealed Cook.
“We also have some new locations opening in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the US as well as lots of conversations with potential new partners in Cannes so we are feeling very positive for a great 2024.”