As everyone who has an interest in the subject, or as anyone who has teenage children knows, retail shops and malls are constantly subject to assault from new trends. Yesterday’s cool idea is no longer cool. Everything changes—from the merchandise, to how it is displayed, to how products are sold. Airport retail is no different. As we enter into 2014, I thought it appropriate to look at trends that we expect will impact airport retailing in 2014.
Most important is the increasing sophistication of travelers. They have seen great concession programs in the United States and, even more so, overseas. They’ve seen Anthony Bourdain wax rhapsodically about Singapore Changi Airport and repeatedly trash U.S. airports (except Seattle). Travelers have either been there or seen that. Hence, U.S. airport concession programs need to step up their games.
Concessions are also becoming more important. Brands operated by chefs and retailers are recognized at airports and are increasingly becoming important to the airports’ concession mix. Customers want the same level of quality and service they get at the chef’s restaurant or at the store they know in their neighborhood. A poor imitation at the airport can do irreparable harm to a chef’s or store’s reputation, so street operators are often looking to bring their own brands to airports.
Another trend is the blurring of hold rooms, the areas where passengers wait for their flights, and concessions. This may take the form of placing shops or restaurants in these areas, or providing ordering systems—be they human or technological—so that passengers can make purchases without ever leaving these seating areas. Hold room seating is changing. Airports, airlines and concessionaires are providing better and more comfortable seating that facilitates dining wherever and whenever possible.
Technology, as it relates to concessions in airports, has become increasingly important at all points of the journey. Concessionaires are now able to reach customers before travelers even leave their house, as passengers sit in the hold room, and at any point in between. Concessionaires are integrating technology into their stores, with touch screens available to allow customers to shop or get details about products. Aeroportos de Portugal has even developed a website dedicated to airport shopping that allows customers to browse the offerings of all stores and to have products delivered at the airport when a passenger is departing or arriving.
Traditional airport retail stores are also changing. Newsstands and gift stores are disappearing in favor of “convenience” retail stores offering fountain drinks, made-to-order sandwiches, electronics and souvenirs. Bookstores continue to be an important category at airports. However, they are getting smaller and are broadening product lines to include electronics, games, and often beverages and snacks. Technology stores are becoming more important and prevalent and carry a variety of products—phones, tablets, game systems and computers.
A final trend is pop-up shops. These have become very popular in malls or shopping districts as chefs and popular bands like One Direction have opened temporary stores to create and serve fans. While pop-up shops may be more difficult in set up at airports, due to security and badging requirements, many airports, including Vancouver and JFK’s Terminal 5, have brought in a variety of temporary retail and food service offerings.
Airport concession programs that ignore the retail trends of the wider world will quickly become boring for travelers. Airports and concession operators know travelers want what is new and exciting, and airports are striving to bring the best of the street into terminals.
Let us know below if you’ve experienced these trends firsthand during your travels—and what you think of them.