Airports are undergoing an evolution to improve the customer experience and generate profits. Realizing their potential to be more than just travel hubs, airports are exploring innovative ways to make guests feel safer, provide unique shopping experiences and make time in the terminal more meaningful. Imagine a space similar to a lounge or upscale shopping mall where travelers can relax, eat, drink and shop as they wait for their flights. Airports can provide a personal and stress-free experience through physical and virtual interaction based on passenger data. Deeper engagement made possible through digitalization and modernized infrastructure would allow airports to improve relationships with travelers.

Improving Airport Infrastructure 

The airport experience should be an enjoyable part of the journey rather than a processing station getting passengers to their destinations. Though many airports around the country are dated and offer limited shopping and dining options, there is a renewed focus on updating existing infrastructure as travelers return to airports following the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 the U.S. Department of Transportation released US$76 million in grants to upgrade airport infrastructure. Although the offerings apply to only three U.S. airports right now, these are just the first of a series of more than 1,500 grants that will infuse US$3.2 billion into hundreds of airports around the country.1 Even without the grants, many cities are reimaging existing facilities to support an ever-growing number of travelers.

Focus On Health And Safety

In addition to improving airport facilities, lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic play a significant role in enhancing customer experience. Features such as automated passenger processing and touchless services have become increasingly popular. Passengers also desire a sense of space instead of overcrowded lines and limited seating. Airports, including Changi, are implementing bright colors, natural lighting, and large open spaces.3 With a focus on health, contactless TSA checkpoint entry and more open spaces have already begun changing the passenger experience.

Improving The Customer Journey With Data 

Airports can provide a more enjoyable customer experience by better understanding the movement of passengers through their airport journey. Data from WiFi, cameras, people counters and other data sources provides real-time information about movement, occupancy and standing time in various airport areas.2 These insights can help airports optimize staff schedules, reduce waiting times, reduce stress and encourage spending in retail locations. Additionally, data collected from guest WiFi networks enables targeted marketing from nearby retailers to be sent directly to passengers for an increased chance of making a sale.

Business Opportunities In Travel Retail

Modern airports recognize the critical economic role of travel retail for growth and development. They have the advantage of a captive audience looking for ways to pass the time. Airports offer brands an opportunity to maximize visibility and customer engagement. While most retail has shifted transactions and fulfillment online, physical airport storefronts can provide strong customer interaction.3 These retail spaces can display products and engage with customers in meaningful ways to aid in conversion and retention. By creating personalized and unique experiences, brands can expect further engagement and sales after customers leave the airport. 

Aligning Luxury With Everyday Products

Airports are undergoing renovations by designing footpaths and atriums to maximize exposure to retailers. Mass-market and luxury retailers are now joining popular duty-free stores, newsstands and gift shops. High-end luxury retailers see airport storefronts as a way to market their products to international audiences and generate more sales. According to Allied Market research, airport retail sales are expected to top US$40 billion by 2027, with perfume and cosmetics leading the way, then wine and spirits following.4 Luxury retailers have a massive potential for profit by opening shops within airports and targeting travelers who are shopping to pass the time.

Technology And Automation

Nowadays, most brands generate sales through digital marketplaces, and it’s the same for airport retail. However, airport storefronts benefit most from digital marketplaces that enable remote ordering and automated check-out. Currently, retail giant Hudson Group is testing Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology in select locations. These Hudson locations allow customers to tap a credit card on entry, pick out items, and exit, all while avoiding check-out lines.5 Automating the process allows for easy transactions and reduced labor costs. However, retailers must have a robust digital marketplace to handle all transactions. During the 2020 Black Friday holiday, customers spent US$160 million shopping on digital marketplaces powered by Mirakl, which maintained 100% uptime, showing the importance of having strong technology as demand increases.7 It’s also about using a combination of technology that gives retailers an edge. Other providers, including FetchyFox, offer intuitive digital marketplaces that enable speedy contactless shopping and features artificial intelligence (A.I.) for data collection.6 Using a digital marketplace with automation and data capabilities will help airport retailers keep up with demand and modernize their business strategy.

The Future Is Now

Airports worldwide are starting to elevate the travel experience. As COVID-19 fears are dissipating, passengers are eager to travel, and airports are busier than ever. Government funding is being used for improving infrastructure and health safety. Passengers want fewer crowds and more open spaces to relax while waiting for departures. They also want to shop, and the time-honored tradition of duty-free isn’t going away. In fact, airport retail is growing faster than ever and now includes high-end luxury brands. However, the traditional storefront is changing, and customers can now shop from digital marketplaces that offer more options, automation and no lines. This is the time for airports and consumer brands to join forces to create an unbelievable experience for everyone.