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Rising to the challenge

With travel retail providing a growing threat to the high street, brands need to wake up to the fact that specialist agencies using targeted interaction and sampling can deliver impressive results

As has been shown by Heathrow Airport’s marketing over the past 18 months or so, travel retail is presenting a serious challenge to the high street.

Not only does the airport now stock a wide range of brands at lower prices, but it also offers brand-owners an extremely targeted audience to market to. Indeed, with about 65.9m people passing through Heathrow last year, according to the Civil Aviation Authority, the sector represents a strong environment for direct consumer contact.

Furthermore, the insight brands can get from knowing who’s travelling when and to where has become a powerful part of the sector’s appeal. Being able to accurately predict the type of people likely to be shopping at any one point means brands are able to change promotional slots as frequently as required to most effectively target specific categories or lines that they know sell well to different nationalities or travel groups. What other retail environment can offer this?

This targeting can even help brands right down to ensuring that people who speak certain languages are deployed at key times, to increase the effectiveness of campaigns. For example, earlier this year during targeted activity for Estée Lauder over Chinese New Year, three dedicated Mandarin speakers were provided at Heathrow. The result was a marked increase in revenue over the five-day period.

While knowing which audiences are coming through, where to take them, what to sample and what language skills to offer is crucial for brands, it’s not just a case of putting a few extra sales staff into a travel retail environment and hoping for the best. Instead, brands need to invest in creating an activity that really grabs people’s attention.

Traditionally, travel retail activity has been conservative, covering basic sampling and perfume cards. However, an increasing number of brands and retailers are using the space to create brand experiences.

Passengers can now expect to be treated to staged events such as dancing, bands, DJs or even a catwalk show. A great example of this was the Brugal Rum launch, which featured a salsa band and dancers around a sampling bar. This type of activity is having a massive impact on incremental sales, demonstrating how effective this integrated approach can be.

However, while you have to do something different to capture passengers’ imagination in this environment, it doesn’t have to be about sampling – it can just be about having a powerful presence. Zurich’s HelpPoints at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 and Frankfurt Airport are a perfect example of this.

There is no mention of selling insurance, but instead a warm welcome and concierge service focused on the passenger experience. The success of
this brand exposure and the contribution toward raising the brand’s profile has been immense. In fact, what started as a three-month project is now entering its third year.

Of course, travel retail is not without its challenges, the biggest of which revolve around airline restrictions, such as Ryanair’s hand-luggage limits. Trying to convince someone to buy a litre
of alcohol when they might face a £35 charge to put it in the hold can be tricky. However, there are ways round this. Most of the major airports, for example, provide a ‘shop and collect’ or ‘collect on return’ service, which allows passengers to leave anything they buy tax-free in the store and collect it on their return to the country.

A further challenge seems to be the ever-decreasing passenger dwell time in lounges, as a result of increased security restrictions and unallocated onboard seating, which sends passengers straight toward the gates and eats into shopping time. Strategic and impactful campaigns are therefore essential for brands to capitalise on the time available.

Despite this, travel retail is one of the few remaining environments with a strong bias toward direct consumer contact; for example, the big supermarkets no longer have the investment in relationships between staff and consumers.

This means it offers a massive advantage to brands and the unique opportunity to get product into people’s hands. L’Oréal emphasised this when it launched its Maison Martin Margiela untitled fragrance only in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Selfridges, strengthening the exclusivity of travel retail.

Ultimately, to take full advantage of travel retail, brands need to work with specialists, as they are restricted with space and time. However, with targeted interaction and sampling, they can make a huge impression and deliver impressive results.

From Marketing's October 2011 Experiential essay supplement

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