Travel Retail and the Trends Shaping Its Future

entry.featuredImage.one().imageAlt

You’re at the airport on the way to your gate and you’ve left yourself with plenty of time to relax before boarding, so what do you? You decide to treat yourself with one more little (or big) item before you prepare to fly off to your destination – it’s time to SHOP, and we aren’t just talking a water bottle and a neck pillow. Did you know this type of shopping is actually part of the booming sector of the retail industry known as travel retail? Defined by the Duty Free World Council as “sales made in travel environments where customers require proof of travel to access the commercial area, but which are subject to tax and duties,” travel retail is showing no signs of slowing down, especially when you consider the fact that almost 1 billion people travel internationally every single year. So what are the trends driving travel retail? Let’s take a deep dive!




Travel retailer stores have to use multi-sensory to capture consumers passing by.

Give Travelers a Multi-Sensory Experience


What makes travel retail such a successful part of the retail sector (one that’s expected to grow more than 70% in the next four years)? According to LS Retail, the answers are simple – an open-plan setup, free time to browse and buy, and a vacation-ready atmosphere (people are more relaxed and ready to indulge as they start their trip).


“In airports the differentiation between luxury and casual brands becomes blurred, notes LS Retail. “Travelers just need to enter the open-plan stores (as airport shops have no doors) to access brands and items they may not have visited in a more traditional setting.”


So, how do you make your store stand out among a vast sea of retail spaces, especially when customers are just passing through? Give them a multi-sensory experience that will make them remember their encounter (and even come back when they’re in that airport again). A great example? Bombay Sapphire and its engaging, unique glasshouse concept stores which open at Auckland and Schiphol airports.


The design is based on Thomas Heatherwick glasshouses at the brand’s manufacturing site in England.


“When customers entered the space they could hear the sounds of birds and running water,” notes Insider Trends. “The pop-up tickled the other senses as well with customers about to try their perfect G&T and smell the different gin flavors in scented vapor droplets in the air.”


Yes, you read that right — vapor droplets in the air! What’s more, in Schiphol, customers go on a true journey. Once they leave the Bombay Sapphire glass house, they step inside a whole new space — the renovated Heinemann store.


“There, a large digital screen shows an animation promoting the brand, featuring captivating vapor animations,” notes TR Business.


A multi-sensory, unique environment that tells your brand story authentically? A win!




Travel retail is embracing digital technology with VR and AR.

Get Digital With It


Travel retail is completely unique to other forms of retail, and because of that, brands have found many ways to stand out and capitalize on those differences.


“Retailers have realized that travel retail provides them with tremendous opportunities to create visibility for their products, increase customer loyalty and recruit new customers in different countries,” notes LS Retail.


When it comes to creating visibility, one of the top trends in travel retail is going digital. Whether it’s digital offers, large digital billboards, social media, and even AR and VR — the possibilities are growing constantly.


“Because most people are carrying around a smartphone or alternate mobile device, digital offers are an effective way to engage customers,” notes Hospitality Net. “You can transport customers to new places with augmented and virtual reality centers.”


Ready to dive into some stellar examples of travel retail mastering digital technology? Let’s first take a look at the Periscape VR Experience Center, a location-based VR start-up that calls JFK Airport in New York City its temporary home, setting up 12 stations throughout Terminal 4.


“The VR Towers (don’t call them kiosks) are beautifully designed, with large video monitors that preview titles, promote sponsors and content, and allow others to watch what users are doing in the virtual world,” notes Forbes. “It’s easy to get into VR using the simple self-serve interface Periscape worked with VRsenal to develop, which works in nine languages. It dispenses hygienic cleaning wipes and even has a built-in locker where you can lock up your carry-ons while immersed in VR.”


For another example of a store incorporating digital, look no further than the Shiseido NARS Lip Gallery pop-up at the Bangkok King Power Rangnam duty free area. The brand’s installation incorporates AR and gaming, giving customers a chance to test out a variety of lip colors without ever actually putting any on! Plus, a Digital Lip Wall lets potential buyers interact with the lip shades and even share to their social channels.


When it comes to travel retail and the beauty industry, embracing digital technology, especially AR, is an important avenue to test out.


“Given how short someone’s time might be before their flight this tech could be hugely valuable in getting them over the line to buy,” notes Insider Trends.




The "Delayed Flight Machine" is an example of how travel retail creates a memorable experience.

Help Customers Facing Delays


Nothing is worse than finding out your flight is delayed – it’s easily one of the most frustrating issues travelers face. To help uplift delayed travelers, Kit Kat gets in on travel retail, placing an aptly-titled, “Delayed Flight Machine” vending machine in Brazil’s Sao Paulo airport – talk about “taking a break”!


The catch of the machine? It only works for customers facing delays. “The machine scans their boarding passes, then recognizes if their flight is on the delayed list and delivers the candy bar,” notes AdAge. “It's a great creative use of data and frankly, anything that brings a smile to the face of delayed passengers is bound to be a winner.”


Creating a memorable experience, putting a smile on a customer’s face, AND helping to pass the time while waiting for a flight (did we mention the candy is FREE)? A perfect example of innovative travel retail.




As long as people travel and spend time in airports, travel retail will only continue to grow. And we’ve only just hit the tip of the iceberg here! Other trends? Think personal experiences, food delivery, local experiences, and so much more! The point is – don’t count travel retail out when you’re thinking of impactful ways to reach potential customers — especially when those customers make up 15% of the world’s population. See you in the airport!




Check out custom retail experiences designed and produced by Sparks



Posted by Roz Strapko | Request as a Speaker

Passionate about Retail development and the future of Retail. I cannot function without my coffee...all day. Yogurt is my fave! I love spending time with my husband, daughter and 2 dogs and am NOT loving preparing to be an empty nester...