Road to growth: Understanding travel retail consumer behavior

By Koen Philippaerts, New Business Development Manager at EyeSee

I just returned from visiting my family in Europe, and aside from having a nice holiday, I realized that the time I spent waiting on my flight changed my purchasing habits. In the duty-free zone: I found myself wandering around a product category I am not usually interested in, eating lunch when I usually eat breakfast, and purchasing some tech gadgets I did not intend to buy.

Conde Nast Traveler’s article says that people travel the skies, rails, roads, and seas to tick off major bucket-list moments. So, shifting behavioral patterns and traveling go hand in hand, and a big part of that is the travel retail centers we visit along the way. It is where every journey begins and ends; it is a necessity, but it is also important for travel retail to be convenient, pleasant, and enjoyable. 

So, does it come as a surprise that Statisa predicts that the global travel retail market will reach 174.9 billion US dollars by 2030?

How is travel retail different? 

Travel retail centers are places where consumers are ready to try something new, and brands must be able to give their best and use the opportunity to introduce themselves to new customers, showing their loyal ones that their favorite brand goes where they go.

A Statista survey shows that:

  • 48% of travelers think that a variety of products makes Duty Free a great place for shopping 
  • 47% of travelers say it is a great place to try new brands 
  • 45 % are more motivated to buy Duty-Free exclusives 
  • 43 % consider travel retailers a great place to buy gifts 

Unlike standard ones, travel retailers are one of the main distribution channels in the beauty industry (if beauty retailers are put aside). The main categories travel retailers feature are perfume and cosmetics, liquor, confectionery, tobacco, food & beverage, electronics, accessories (bags, watches, eyewear, etc.)

When consumers enter the duty-free zone, in most cases, they have some free time on their hands before onboarding starts. Nicely displayed brands will get anyone’s attention, and to be honest, probably some last-minute gift shopping will be part of spending that free time.  Unique display designs can help brands stand out in product displays, as Galvinet Whiskey did when they displayed their bottle as a museum artifact. It was beautifully lit and covered with a protective glass box. All of this was in line with “tradition” as one of their core values: they are Scotland’s oldest legal whiskey distillery. Not only that, from the front of the liquor bottle display stand to the back of the product packaging, the Roman numerals 35 are emphasized. Any Glenlivet enthusiast and collector would instantly know this means a rare bottle of liquor because it’s not in the brand’s collection.  

Graphic solutions are not the only way to shed light on more information in places where people have some extra time to kill. Sometimes that can be shop assistants who engage in further conversation with consumers. If out-of-the-box design solutions and shop assistants handling your brand’s key values sound risky, note that EyeSee has solutions for testing both. 

However, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible brand touchpoints in travel-type environments. Purchases can be made on planes. There are also all sorts of marketing materials that consumers can pass by: from airplane magazines, brochures, and leaflets to much bigger ATL prints or on-screen ads. The possibilities are endless!

What can we learn from travel retail?

There are many types of point of sales displays:

  • Counter displays 
  • Free-standing display units 
  • Product displayed quickly units 
  • Light boxes 
  • Gravity feed display units 

The creative potential of these displays is limitless. Recall the enormous cardboard fence constructed from KitKat bars and the point-of-sale box brimming with an abundance of KitKats, a temptation to dive into. And the best thing about it is that it would work not only for travel retailers but in supermarkets too.

Over the last couple of years, the market research industry has seen a steady rise in online context testing solutions such as virtual stores, which offer cost-efficient and fast findings but also boast very high validity. Apart from providing stable results even in changed circumstances, Virtual shopping has a very high correlation with real shopping behavior – as much as 0.8-0.9.  

EyeSee’s in-house design capabilities enable the customization of any type of virtual shopping environment. Furthermore, a multitude of pre-built, standardized shelves are already accessible across over 80 categories. State-of-the-art graphic solutions can be designed in 2D, 2.5D, and 3D models and provide high levels of consumer immersion that help produce authentic insights.

In conclusion 

Understanding consumer behavior in travel retail serves as a valuable compass for brands seeking inspired growth. The unique environment of duty-free zones, characterized by ample free time and consumer openness, offers an exceptional opportunity for brands to engage and leave a lasting impression.

Brands that understand and leverage these unconventional retail rules stand to unlock untapped potential and navigate non-standard points of sale successfully.  As the market research industry embraces virtual shopping solutions like EyeSee’s, the prospect of testing concepts and display designs becomes more efficient, cost-effective, and aligned with real shopping behavior, emphasizing the importance of staying ahead in an evolving consumer landscape.

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