The inconvenience of social distancing could affect average spend at airport retail outlets, according to a new survey from AlixPartners. Airport retailers will need to be proactive if they are to survive once COVID-19 related travel restrictions are lifted.

The airport retail landscape looks set for drastic change following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, according to a new survey of airport travelers conducted by AlixPartners.

The majority (86%) of respondents say they will travel less frequently and spend less in airport shops once restrictions are lifted, with 64% saying that social distancing and health protection measures are the primary reason.

Three-quarters of respondents felt they would not be comfortable in an environment that did not have health protection measures in place, while over half were willing to wait in line before entering a shop due to social distancing and/or health protection measures.

Meanwhile, 43% said that they will avoid interaction with sales staff when in shops, and 38% said they would avoid entering shops altogether.

Expert insight

Health and safety will be travellers’ top concern once restrictions are lifted, and this will be reflected in their shopping activity. Airport retailers face different challenges to their high street counterparts, with tighter windows of time to shop and little appetite to return goods. They therefore need to focus on optimising operations to reduce waiting time and advertise the enforcement of health protection measures to promote trust.

Changing shopping habits

The survey also reveals a shift in consumer behavior, with nearly half of respondents saying they are less likely to buy from the categories they used to, while many will avoid luxury and non-essential goods (30%), perfumes and skincare (27%) and clothing and accessories (25%).

Testing and trying on products will no longer be part of the customer experience, at least in the short-term, with 70% of respondents saying they will avoid testing products, while 69% will avoid touching or trying on goods. This will require a shift in key sales strategies for retailers.

Expert insight

Retailers will have to find different ways to engage with potential customers, using visual or sound cues rather than relying on touch, feel, smell or taste. Creative use of technology such as augmented reality will be extremely important in attracting and retaining customers going forward. Digital solutions which tackle waiting times and allow for social distancing will be key for airport retailers as the market adapts, and survey respondents were positive about alternative measures.

Over half (52%) said that having dedicated Click & Collect points as alternatives to stores would encourage them to increase their spending. Meanwhile, nearly equal numbers favoured virtual queuing apps for shops, as well as boarding (47%), and the ability to pre-order products online (46%).

Digital solutions will demonstrate how airport retailers are actively focusing on health and safety and reducing waiting times. They will need to rapidly integrate online platforms with their traditional shop fronts to attract reluctant or fearful consumers, recoup COVID-19 losses and continue trading.

ap airport retail survey infographic 2020