In-flight retail had been sheltered from many of the challenges that have impacted the high street. In fact, it is little different today than fifty years ago: after your meal a trolley is wheeled down the aisle carrying fragrances, watches, spirits and tobacco and of course, the obligatory cuddly toy. It is not surprising that many passengers today seem to pass up on this shopping experience.

However, with airport retail becoming more sophisticated, and Wi-Fi becoming more prevalent on aircraft, airlines can adapt to the changing retail environment, and they are uniquely placed to take advantage of their captive audience.

Curate the offer
Unlike high street retailers, airlines know all about their passengers and have the ability to tailor their offer accordingly. With the needs of passengers varying widely depending on destination, the retail offer should be adapted to reflect this difference, as well as making it reflect the nature of the city the passengers are travelling from or to.

Appeal to all classes of travel
Airlines, particularly legacy carriers, tend to have a higher socioeconomic grade customer base than the average high street, yet the retail offer is usually not only value oriented, but the same regardless of the class of travel. Airlines should be taking advantage of the spending power of their passengers, as well as providing an appropriate offer to those in first and business class.

Click and collect
Airlines that offer Wi-Fi have the opportunity to expand the on-board offer through an online catalogue, accessible through the in-flight entertainment system, with goods being made available to collect at either the final destination or upon their return at their home airport. Combined with a curated offer, and potentially forming an alliance with local retailers, airlines could offer goods that might not be available from the airport shops, as well as offering services such as hotels, excursions, restaurants, museums etc, related to their destination.

Buying chain
Finally, airlines need to consider their position in the retail chain. With passengers having had the opportunity to purchase from the high street and then the airport, the on-board offer needs to be either communicated clearly beforehand (something airlines are well placed to do) or to be unique enough to entice passengers to part with their money. Offering a customer the same goods as they’ve already purchased elsewhere is unlikely to result in a sale.

It is not if these changes will take place, but when, and those who act most swiftly will gain competitive advantage.

Chris van Ryswyck

Chris recently gave a keynote speech on the topic “Keeping your on-board retail offer relevant” at the Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg, part of the wider Aircraft Interiors Expo.