ENTRAPMENT

I wonder what is your worst nightmare in terms of being trapped.

Being buried alive? A never-ending traffic jam? Not being able to move at a concert due to the crowd? Airport shopping?

I mention the latter because it is something that I dread every time I pass through an airport or if I am in transit.

You might accuse me of being over-dramatic: particularly when you consider the other three scenarios portrayed in the second paragraph. You may be right. However the title of this blog: “entrapment”, in my view neatly captures my typical experiences in airports.

Let’s face it, airports have become a nightmare for travellers. Endless steps in the security process from the moment you enter the airport environs immediately presents an intimidating situation. Shoes and belts have to be removed. There are endless queues through security and passport checks and then you are compelled to walk through the endless retail outlets and smiling sales assistants trying to tempt you with squirts of perfume or special promotion deals. Aghhh!!!

I accept that this might not reflect the typical perception of airport shopping.

However in the grander scheme of things I struggle to assess the nature of the shopping experience. In one of the chapters of the text we discussed different motivations for shopping – largely ranging from functional to hedonic reasons.

In the case of airport shopping is it because we are trapped in an environment where there is little else to do apart from visiting the food and beverage outlets.

We often use the term purposeful shopping as a rationale for visiting shopping malls and retail centres. In other words we go to these places with a specific purchase or purchases in mind. We may or may not make that purchase but there is a logical reason for such a trip or visit.

I would accept that airport shopping facilities provides us with an opportunity to get some duty-free drink for our trip. Also it may be an opportunity to buy a gift for friends and relatives that may be offering us accommodation. It certainly acts as “salvation” if we forget to pack deodorants, sun cream or other essentials such as adaptors.

It certainly addresses the concept of impulse buying. We have time to kill while waiting for our flight. This increases when there is the inevitable delay! When we stroll through the outlets we may be tempted to purchase that “state-of-the-art” digital camera or new Apple iPhone.

However I cannot escape the perception that I am trapped and am being manipulated by slick retailers and airport management to spend money on items that I had not intended to buy.

Most airports servicescapes force you to walk past or (in a more sinister way) through the actual outlets. This can lull us into a false sense of relaxation. After all we have just come through the intimidating security and passport checks.

I may be that I am becoming (0r already am) paranoid).

In order to get some balance I should recognise that airport shopping continues to grow a pace. It is a crucial source of revenue for airport authorities. It generates around thirty per cent of non-aeronautical revenues made by airports world-wide.

In 2016 global airport retailing (excluding food and beverage) grew by over four per cent after a two and a half per cent decrease in 2015.

This was partially caused by the significant growth in Asia Pacific travellers, in particular from China. The latter shoppers tend to be large spenders on luxury brands. The relaxation of visa rules allied to high import taxes has also made airport shopping a very attractive proposition for such travellers.

The market leader of duty free shops is Dufry, which holds around twenty per cent market share globally.

Airport shopping has also been boosted ironically by the numerous delays and flight cancellations caused by terrorism, strikes and bad weather. This increases the length of the “dwell time” in such environments – leading to increased purchases, as travellers try to “kill time” whilst waiting for the announcement that their flight is ready for departure.

While Heathrow airport often is the recipient of negative comments and criticism, it consistently comes out as number one for shopping in various surveys of airports globally. For those of you who like facts, Seoul Incheon, Hong Kong, Singapore Changi and Doha Hamed fill the remaining spots in the top five airports.

Some of these airports such as Singapore Changi and Hong Kong appear to be retail cathedrals – and we have not mentioned Dubai yet (it comes in at number six). Anyone going through duty free in Dubai cannot failed but be impressed by the glittering gold that “winks at you” as you pass buy the jewellery area.

You cannot escape the impression that complacency exists across the various retailers and duty free shopping operators. This in my view is reflected in the degree of replication that exists in many airports. The usual suspects are there, almost without exception in every case. We get the same layout, the same smells, the same promotions, the same price points and so on.

It is almost as if they provide a retail channel that is inured from the typical problems facing retailers such as global downturns, Brexit and so on.

I travel extensively in my line of work and can honestly say that I have not seen much evidence of innovation in any of these airport shopping servicescapes.

The increased role played by digital retailing in my view does pose a threat in the long-term. Shoppers are becoming more comfortable about seeking out special deals and promotions that are on offer from e-tailers. More worryingly from the perspective of airport retailers they get such deals more often than not.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that going forward, travellers may become more discerning in their shopping habits and preferences. As likely or not they may use airport retailing as a showroom to compare prices and go online while in the airport to see if better prices or deals can be acquired elsewhere, make the purchase and hey presto, when they come back from their trip the purchase will be waiting for them at the preferred destination (home or office or pick-up point).

How will airport retailers respond to this development? Certainly they will have to become more flexible (like their bricks and mortar counterparts) about collection and delivery options. This is likely to see delivery at the departure gate, the airport lounge or at the destination hotel. We are also likely to see more personalised retail offerings. We will certainly see greater collaboration and partnerships between key stakeholders such as airlines, airport authorities and retail management companies in the quest to offer greater value than has been the case in the past.

A recent partnership between Freport, Lufthansa and Heinemann is testament to this trend.

So where does this discussion take us?

I accept that I might be in a minority when it comes to my detestation of airport shopping.

However I pose serious questions about the complacency and “sameness” of many airport retail servicescapes.

Airports are depressing, intimidating and joyless for many people. I feel that the airport retail experience could be much more fun and entertaining. This might alleviate the boredom. What do you think?

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