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Fluent Commerce’s senior vice president of global sales, Rob Shaw, suggests some potential solutions to create a seamless airport shopping experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the globe in ways that could not have been predicted – hitting the travel industry especially hard. 

And it goes without saying that the lack of travellers has had a huge impact on the retail stores in airports around the world, forcing them to figure out how to best maximise revenue in other ways.

But, as countries begin to relax travel restrictions, many airports are seeing a gradual recovery in passenger numbers, and with them, a return to in-person shopping. These are competitive retail environments and airport operators are increasingly focused on providing customers with a unified, cross-brand shopping experience. At the heart of this approach are a range of key considerations, including:

Getting accurate inventory data from tenants

An airport is like a marketplace. Each store is independently managed, and tenants have their own back-end systems (or sometimes no system at all). This means the first challenge is to get accurate inventory data from all stores. 

To do this, all stores should use one channel – for example, a marketplace platform. That way each store can manage its own inventory, either through integration or an online portal. This data can then feed into an Order Management System, so you have a single view of inventory across all stores.

Providing a cross-brand shopping experience

Shoppers everywhere are getting more discerning. They expect more from their travel experience – and that means their expectations are high when it comes to airport shopping. This is particularly true for the issue of convenience, and customers need a way to shop all stores easily.

Part of the fun of airport shopping is the myriad of stores to choose from. So, make sure you give customers the same experience online. Let them shop all the stores across all your terminals. 

The added bonus? They get to shop in stores that aren’t in their departure or arrival terminal. This cross-brand shopping experience can elevate your airport above the rest.

Offering customers greater choice

When customers shop at traditional retail stores online they have lots of fulfilment options. Airports can do the same. Travellers may want to collect their order on the way to their flight, leaving the airport, or even have it delivered to their home.

But when you let customers choose how they collect their order it can add a layer of complexity to the fulfilment process, so requires technology that is flexible enough to handle it.

Travellers buy their airline tickets in advance, so why not let them shop in stores a few weeks ahead of time too, even as soon as flight schedules are released? 

If they can shop at tenant stores well ahead of their departure or arrival it makes for an exceptional customer experience. The challenge is managing those orders. 

Do you have stores set aside inventory as soon as an order comes in? Or do you process the order and stage it at a pick-up location? That’s where a robust Order Management System can really help.

Enforcing limits for restricted items during checkout

Duty-free purchases are a big draw for many airport customers around the world. But each country has different limits on restricted items like alcohol, tobacco and perfume. And some, like the United States, prohibit the sale of tobacco online altogether. So, you’ll need the ability to control those limits for duty-free sales based on the rules in your location.

However, when a family travels together, they may wish to make a single purchase of duty-free items using the combined allowance of all passengers. This means tying the purchase not to an individual ticket holder, but to the reservation.

Likewise, depending on where a passenger is travelling to or from, not all purchases will be duty-free. Some will need tax applied. So, it’s important you have a system that can manage taxes at both the order and the line item level.

Managing Pick and Pack and order consolidation

Airport stores weren’t typically designed to fulfil online orders, and staff are focused on sales and customer service. So, when staff need to pick and pack orders, reducing the amount of time and friction within the process is key. 

If you can optimise the in-store pick and pack user experience to solve staff challenges, it will help increase efficiency and keep stores – and staff – happy.

Once an order has been picked by store staff, you’ll need to manage moving those items from the stores to a central pick-up location in the appropriate terminal.Typically, many orders will be collected from the stores at the same time. They then have to be sorted and consolidated. That means you’ll need a storage area that can accommodate both orders that are still in process, and those that are ready for pick-up or delivery. 

But the benefit to customers is huge. It lets them shop all your stores, not just those in their nearest terminal. So, you’ll not only save them time and hassle – imagine someone running between terminals trying to collect their orders – but offer a better experience to your customers.

Offering this service means that agile systems must be in place to do the work – alerting staff that orders are ready to be picked up, bringing orders to a central collection location within the appropriate terminal, and ultimately alerting the customer that the order is ready. Or in the case of restricted items like tobacco and alcohol, routing them directly to the specific boarding gate.

Managing order sourcing and splitting

With hundreds of stores across several terminals – and with some brands having multiple stores in one airport – airports need to have a system that can ensure they
source each item from the best location. 

Fulfilment logic needs to be able to prioritise one location or the other based on specific parameters, such as proximity to the pick-up location or customer’s terminal. 

Or what if there are two items from the same brand but they are in two different stores located in two different terminals? What’s more, a single order may need to be split so it can be fulfilled from multiple stores. 

Flight schedules change constantly. But customers still want their order – and in the easiest manner possible. When there is a change in flight schedule that results in a flight coming into a different terminal, you need to be able to quickly pivot. 

Utilising a fluid Order Management System that can automatically trigger a transfer of orders to a new terminal pick-up location – and notifies the customer about the update – makes for delighted customers.

Clearly, the issues which go to make up the airport shopping experience are highly nuanced. And, while not everything is in an airport’s control, offering an easy, seamless shopping experience is more likely to catch consumers’ attention. 

Furthermore, by adding the ability to sell to non-travellers and deliver goods to their homes, airports can increase sales while expanding their customer base. 

And, as tenant sales increase, this not only makes for happier tenants but if an airport has employed a revenue-sharing model, you will benefit twofold.

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