The abolition of EU duty-free shopping last year was widely expected to dampen the spirits of retail at airports and other international terminals. But it takes more than an edict to destroy a tradition.
BAA has led a vigorous fightback, continuing to provide cut-price perfumes, alcohol and tobacco for travellers at Heathrow, Gatwick and its five other airports, and even extending some offers to domestic travellers. After a predicted downturn, the company has returned to growth, increasing revenue by nearly 6% in the past year.
Travellers can be heavy shoppers, buying gifts for friends and relatives, stocking up on items they know will be scarce abroad, or simply killing time. But the downside for manufacturers, particularly in airports, is the difficulty of access, with miles of corridors and a battery of security obstacles to negotiate.
These are all challenges for field marketers, whose expertise is in demand to keep the shelves filled and exploit the unrivalled opportunities for sampling and demonstration.
Drinkers are a major target - it's often just a short step from the sampling area to a shop where the product is likely to be in regular stock, however exotic.
'People often arrive intending to buy one bottle of whisky, one of vodka, and one other, which they will decide when they get there,' says Steve Bell, a partner at Iris and a veteran of below-the-line drinks campaigns.
'Sampling taps into that element of flexibility and is a great way to tip consumers over the edge.'
The convenience of airports is even more obvious when compared with train stations. Bell recalls a campaign at London Victoria for UDV's DiSaronno amaretto liqueur, when there was nowhere nearby for consumers to buy the product.
Airports also offer an environment where consumers, particularly leisure travellers, are looking for new experiences. Allied Domecq tapped into the holiday mood when it had an artist draw a free caricature of duty-free shoppers who bought its brands.
But promotional activities have to be backed by merchandising skills to ensure the product is stocked and visible in eye-catching displays. 'Duty free is a sophisticated market for your brand, whereas grocers are relatively crude,' says Bell. Bottles are often housed in glass cabinets decorated with spinning lights or holographic imagery, while counters of brushed metal imitate the feel of an upmarket West End bar.
A lack of sampling opportunities makes appearance even more important for tobacco brands. 'Research shows that when people go on holiday they are relaxed and open to trying new products,' says Bruce Burnett, managing director of i2i Face to Face Marketing, which covers international terminals for British American Tobacco. 'Duty-free shops used to just stack up the boxes, but now their presentations are arranged more like a department store.'
Lucky Strike made sure it was noticed by consumers when it carried out a promotion at Heathrow in March. The work featured a Formula One car emerging from a giant Lucky Strike pack, with staff handing out leaflets detailing the F1 season schedule. Customers were given a free Lucky Strike cap, bag and lighter when they spent pounds 25 or more on the product.
To support the launch of its Polo Supermints brand, Nestle commissioned FDS to offer samples to travellers and direct them to nearby shops in Gatwick's South Terminal. Field marketers can also manage a brand's retail outlets, as FMCG does for Cadbury (see box, page 39).
Jane Cottrell, commercial director at CPM, says that merchandising is of more importance in airports than high street retailers, because of the higher footfall. 'We would call at least 25% more often to make sure the product is on the shelf. Some of our clients have one person to a terminal at Heathrow, because the through-put is so immense,' she says.
When it comes to high-tech products, an airport lounge is the ideal place to catch the eye of business folk, who may welcome a demonstration as a way to use time productively while waiting for a plane.
'Mobile products are popular with travellers, and it is surprising how they have turned into an impulse buy,' says Richard Thompson, managing director of Mosaic Technology & Communications, whose clients include Toshiba, Compaq and HP.
'It is a focused market that provides a unique opportunity to invest a bit more. At airports, we find we get to talk to board directors and you know that if you can convince these people, they will have a lot of influence.'
For BA, product demonstrations are a good way to add value to its executive lounges for frequent flyers. From there, it is a short step to a tax-free shop to buy the product.
Purchase points are less accessible from international train stations, but travellers can be given cut-price vouchers to redeem at a local store.
Business travellers can also sample the full range of Sony Vaio laptop computers, thanks to demonstrations by FDS' specialist Air, Sea, Rail Travel Terminal Marketing (ASR) division. This is also an opportunity to try out accessories such as built-in cameras, DVD players and video displays. 'We are there to offer advice and show the benefits of the products, but the passenger can look without someone trying to sell to them,' says FDS business development manager Sean Algar. More in-depth consumer support is given from the tax-free shops nearby, which are keen to champion the promotions.
Telecoms companies are also represented. FDS is currently promoting a mobile network to foreign visitors, encouraging them to use it for 'roaming' calls. And for BT, Eleven has targeted holidaymakers to push the use of pre-paid phone cards from abroad, as well as providing them with dialling codes that will stop international calls being routed through its rivals.
But it is not just for their commercial expertise that field marketers are employed at international terminals - their ability and patience in handling difficult logistical exercises is also valued.
'Airside' - the area beyond the passport control - is stringently controlled, and passes are both costly and difficult to obtain, with requirements differing from one airport to the next.
Staff need to have a year's past employment history and references, which is difficult in a business often seen as casual employment, rather than a profession. Having paid pounds 200 for a temporary pass, an agency may well find the employee it obtained it for is no longer available for work.
FDS avoids this problem by creating elite teams with good pay. The agency was originally founded to work in airports 20 years ago, and its ability to handle the logistics were behind the move to set up its ASR division.
'Our clients wanted to be present in these locations to capture the right demographic profile, but faced barriers,' says Algar. 'With our knowledge we are able to get our people airside, which can be an absolute minefield.'
By sea and land
Field marketers are also active in ferry terminals. Headcount runs a syndicated service for P&O Stena Line and Sea France, incentivising coach and group passengers to visit retail areas during the crossing, instead of just sitting in the lounges. In the ports, staff work the queues, drawing attention to offers on both sides of the channel, and also talk to passengers on the boats themselves.
'Since the demise of EU duty-free, the average cost of crossing the channel has increased, so there is extra pressure to get the volumes of passengers and promote products,' says Headcount's managing director, Mike Garnham.
The agency performs a similar service for Eurostar in the terminal at Folkestone.
Because of the logistical difficulties involved at airports, some marketers prefer train stations such as Waterloo, Victoria and Liverpool Street as a means of interacting with international travellers. Eleven has been using these sites in a campaign for workthing.com, offering free breakfasts to commuters to the Continent, who are likely to be particularly receptive to the web site's ideas about how to minimise stress.
In principle, the approach also holds for airports, says senior account manager Marissa Woods. But Eleven is unlikely to go out of its way for opportunities in this area. Woods points to increases in international air passenger tax, from pounds 10 to pounds 40, due to take effect in April, which she believes will limit the amount travellers to non-European destinations are prepared to spend.
But the demise of airport shopping has been predicted before and as the resurgence from last year's duty-free restrictions suggests, is by no means a foregone conclusion. The opportunity to target large numbers of consumers with time on their hands and money in their pockets is one that many field marketers will want to go on exploiting.
CADBURY'S AIRPORT OUTLETS
FMCG runs retail outlets for Cadbury at Gatwick's South Terminal and other BAA airports throughout the UK. Products are tailored to the travel market, with quality gift packaging and bulk boxes of items that may not be readily available abroad.
The Gatwick operation, which opened in March 1997, is intended to be market, rather than retail-driven, says Richard Frost, chief spokesman for Cadbury. 'It's a good investment for us in terms of our brand marketing. The fact that people have time to spare means they can enjoy the shopping experience more than when they are under pressure in a supermarket or a high street shop.'
The outlets provide an element of visual and interactive entertainment, largely aimed at children. Banks of video screens show pictures of flowing chocolate and, in some units, there are toys that activate by pushing a button.
'It adds fun to the shopping experience and increases the value of conventional point-of-sale activity,' Frost says. 'One of the features of airport shopping is the impulse buy, and the noise and activity help draw people into the shop.
Field marketing expertise is essential for outlets where access is made difficult by distance and security controls. 'We can provide the marketing focus and product range, but we need people on the ground with merchandising and retail experience to sell it for us,' says Frost.
WORLD DUTY FREE EUROPE
World Duty Free Europe, BAA's retail arm, has been using sampling as part of an integrated strategy to boost sales at Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports. Drinks, fragrances and cosmetics are offered to travellers both in departure lounges and in arrivals retail areas opened during the past year.
The company says the approach works particularly well with spirits, which unlike wines and champagnes, do not need to be chilled. Tastings are carried out next to retail outlets, catching consumers as they are making planned purchases.
Sampling is found to be more effective than money-off and gift incentives.
While all three were used to promote the launch of the company's own coffee cream liqueur brand, O'Connell's, tastings generated significantly greater sales.
The company has now opened its own outlets at Heathrow and Gatwick, called World of Whiskies, where staff have a range of tasting stock for customers to try, tempting them to upgrade to a single malt from a cheaper blend, or to experiment with older products.
'Sampling at airports creates an ideal opportunity for the customer to experience products at first hand,' says head of marketing Sharon Sweeney.
'It's important to have a fundamentally good offer, and we work closely with world-recognised brands to achieve this, whether it's a drink, a perfume or a cosmetic product.'
Heathrow 61 million
UK residents 46%
Business travellers 40%
Gatwick 30 million
UK residents 35%
Business travellers 22%
Stansted 9.5 million
UK residents 68%
Business travellers 37%
Edinburgh 5 million
Business travellers 46%
Source: CAA/BAA July 1998 to Aug 1999
Luton 5.5 million
UK residents 85%
Business travellers 17.5%
Eurostar 6.6 million
UK residents 51%
Source: Eurostar 1999