Gatwick Airport retail boss on ‘giving customers what they want’

Commercial revenues are, of course, very important to Gatwick Airport, and its two main commercial streams – retail and parking – account for almost a third of overall revenue. Retail alone generated around 23% of Gatwick’s total revenue last year. This is broadly the same proportion as the previous year, but from total revenue that was up 5%.

Rachel Bulford, Head of Retail, Gatwick Airport: “To continue the success of Gatwick’s retail outlets in recent years, I have been focusing on what our customers say they want from an airport experience. Only by listening and responding to customer needs and trends can we ensure that our offer continues to be relevant.”

Rachel Bulford was appointed as Gatwick’s new Head of Retail in October 2016. She is participating in the First Working Session at this year’s ACI EUROPE Airport Commercial & Retail Conference (Nice, 3-5 April), entitled “Is there a big problem in the airport retail space? Are conversion rates and yields performing far below expectations?” In conversation with Airport Business ahead of the event, Bulford explains that she will touch on balancing the provision of a wide range of choice to consumers in a small space, with driving penetration and average transaction values.

“To continue the success of Gatwick’s retail outlets in recent years, I have been focusing on what our customers say they want from an airport experience,” says Bulford. “Only by listening and responding to customer needs and trends can we ensure that our offer continues to be relevant. I have also been keeping a keen eye out for relevant brands, often with a seasonal component depending on the time of year. Relevance is really important for us, so any new brands have to appeal to a wide range of our passengers.”

Importantly, Bulford brings significant previous experience with retailers including Marks & Spencer, Homebase and Burberry. She describes a fantastic grounding in the industry, after spending four years at the start of her career on the shop floor at Marks & Spencer. “This gave me a full appreciation of good customer experience, which is also central to everything we do here at Gatwick,” Bulford enthuses. “Burberry was very much about working with a high-end brand, while my time with OC&C Strategy Consultants gave me the opportunity to work with hospitality companies. My experience working in retail outlets abroad also introduced me to the importance of working in partnership with third parties. Most of the outlets I worked with overseas were run by franchise partners or joint venture partners. That meant it was important to work together to get the best outcome in different circumstances. It is this breadth of experience – from retailing and hospitality to mid-market to high end brands – that will inform what I do here at Gatwick.”

Gatwick’s latest store opening is a great example of its research techniques, and came about after customers said they wanted to see Next at the airport.

Catering for diverse customer needs

Gatwick recently broke the world record for a single runway airport when it passed 43 million passengers a year. With such a diverse set of customer needs, it is essential to get the mix of both retail and catering brands just right. As much as possible, the airport relies on research to inform its decisions through regular customer surveys and other research techniques. “Our latest store opening is a great example and came about after customers told us they wanted to see Next at the airport,” Bulford explains. “F&B is also a real success story for us. Customer satisfaction has reached an all-time high, and this is a lot to do with the choice on offer catering for all our customers’ diverse needs. We currently have a great mix in our portfolio of 82 shops and 36 restaurants. We feel that this sort of balance is just about right, but we must keep evolving our business according to consumer trends if we are to continue offering the airport experience that people want.”

Next and Starbucks are Gatwick’s most recent store openings, and it is currently building a new duty free store in the North Terminal. The airport has also accelerated plans to enlarge the North Terminal departure lounge to manage expected passenger growth going forward, which will provide more space for new catering and retail outlets.

“Opportunities to expand the airport’s retail offering are limited, so we have to make careful choices and refer back to research on the sort of things that our customers say they want. We are always keeping a keen eye out for any fresh, new brands or retailers to bring to the airport, including additional pop-up developments that may allow us to introduce some seasonal or eventing relevance to help make sure people have a great experience at the airport.”

F&B is a real success story for Gatwick. “Customer satisfaction has reached an all-time high, and this is a lot to do with the choice on offer catering for all our customers’ diverse needs. We currently have a great mix in our portfolio of 82 shops and 36 restaurants,” says Rachel Bulford, Head of Retail, Gatwick Airport.

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Hear more from Rachel Bulford, Head of Retail, Gatwick Airport, at the 26th ACI EUROPE Airport Commercial & Retail Conference & Exhibition, hosted by Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur and taking place on 3-5 April 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée. Bulford is chairing the First Working Session “Is there a big problem in the airport retail space? Are conversion rates and yields performing far below expectations?”

>> More information on the 26th Airport Commercial & Retail Conference & Exhibition

>> View the full conference programme

>> Contact us to exhibit or sponsor

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