A World of Opportunities at Airports

The Retail Technology Group (RTG) just concluded a brief study of travel retail and technology. We wanted to share these observations with you as the travel world (pardon the pun) has its nuances, challenges, but offers interesting opportunities to improve the passenger experience at all points. We would enjoy receiving your feedback.

The recent few years have seen an effort by airports to enhance the passenger experience, to refine the mix of retail businesses and to optimize store locations to increase revenue. Similarly, many retailers want to increase their presence in airports. Airports have become malls with a captive audience, with disposable income, but for a limited period of time. In international airports, with longer layovers between flights, that limited period of time can be longer, providing the passengers more time to shop, eat, or be pampered. Flight delays in all airports serve to lengthen ‘the time in captivity.’

Two million, six hundred thousand passengers traveled daily through US airports in 2018. Total worldwide travel estimates for 2018 were 4.3 billion passengers. That is the equivalent of 58.5% of the world’s population!

Retailers are vying for good locations and airports are vying to be the airport of choice where there is a choice. Airports are becoming more profit oriented and some rules are being broken. As an example, the Seattle/Tacoma and the Pittsburgh airports are experimenting with allowing a limited number of non-passengers to come into the airport for the shopping and dining experience. The TWA hotel at JFK, converted the TWA Terminal – designed by Eero Saarinen – to the entrance and lobby to the hotel and is a throwback to the 1960’s era, complete with rotary telephones and a bar consisting of a Lockheed Constellation airplane.

Just as with traditional malls, with these trends come the usual demands to improve…everything. Airports are tearing down and rebuilding entire terminals. The larger domestic airports are creating innovation labs to test what works and what doesn’t. Technology is being introduced into every aspect of the passenger journey through the airport from ‘garage to gate.’ This includes parking-valet apps, digital displays with queue-waiting times at various choke points, food and product ordering-and-delivery to the gate, [eventually] free and broadband Wi-Fi, and we can go on.

Commensurately, retailers are called on to improve as well. The product assortment has to be interesting and able to change with trends and must be in stock. Sales data have to be shared with airports or with concession management companies. Payment at POS has to be swift. Contactless payment and emailed receipts (for opt-in travelers) will become de rigueur. Purchase-at-Departure/Pick-up-at-Destination (or delivered to hotel) will find its usefulness as well. (We may have just introduced another and sorely-needed acronym: PaD-PaD.) POS applications for duty-free retailers must include the ability to read boarding passes to confirm international travel electronically. And, eventually, as in the case of IAD in Washington, DC, this ID will be supplanted by facial- as well as fingerprint-recognition functionality. Your face will be your boarding pass! Of equal importance is facilitating the collaboration between the entities involved. To that end, a standard for data exchange between airlines, airports, airport concession managers, and airport retailers has to be designed and implemented as the industry may be prone to too many individual but similar apps and data interchange between entities.

The Retail Technology Group is prepared to dive in to help retailers, airports and concession management firms and airlines to conceive, plan, assess, and implement these technology-based improvements across the aviation industry. Travel technology experts at RTG look forward to exploring with you, the myriad opportunities to engage in the thoughtful and creative application of information technology. Look for further articles on this topic. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to us at info@retailtechgroup.com or call us at 203-329-2621 (Eastern time).