Heathrow retail boss taking fresh look at tailored, digital commercial experience

Chris Annetts took up the role of Retail & Service Proposition Director at London Heathrow last July, at a time when the airport was continuing to review its retail offer. Heathrow is committed to providing a convenient and tailored commercial experience for travellers, with a fresh focus on digital services, as Annetts explains to Ross Falconer.

Chris Annetts, Retail & Service Proposition Director, London Heathrow Airport

Chris Annetts, Retail & Service Proposition Director, London Heathrow Airport: “We want to get to a point where our passengers can browse and select the experiences and purchases they want in the comfort of their home. This means having their favourite food ready to eat as they arrive, and tailored wayfinding onto their flight using Beacon technology while they are here.”

In a 13-year career at London Heathrow, Chris Annetts has held a number of senior roles across the business, within food & beverage, passenger experience, airline business development, services, and digital. In July 2016, he was appointed Retail & Service Proposition Director, having most recently been Director of Commercial Passenger Services.

“I have been lucky enough to work in a number of areas, all of which play a part in contributing to the experience of flying through Heathrow,” says Annetts. “In the last few years we have really strived to improve these areas of the business and, as a result, we now have around 300 retail and food & beverage outlets across four terminals, the world’s first personal shopping service in an airport, and passenger ambassadors and volunteers during peak travel periods. We also offer a number of family facilities, including play areas in all terminals, and ‘kids eat free’ offers during peak holiday times. It has been fantastic to play a role in these success stories.”

Annetts’ pre-Heathrow career included positions at the then-BAA-owned London Stansted Airport, and retailer Hargreaves Sports. “All of my roles prior to Heathrow were commercial and customer-focused,” he says. “I learned that delivering excellent service combined with the right range of products is key to delivering sustainable growth, and this is the core part of my current role.”

London Heathrow continued to review its retail offer in 2016, aiming to learn from the success of projects like the £40 million (€46m) upgrade to the luxury offer in Terminal 5. It also worked with existing luxury partners to identify opportunities to grow the business and offer passengers the latest store designs and product ranges. “Last year we also introduced several exciting pop-up units,” Annetts explains. “These are great because they give our frequent passengers a new and varied retail and dining offer every time they fly, and they mean we can trial new brands to Heathrow. The new Harry Potter pop-up and Hair Express salon in Terminal 5 arrivals are great examples of this. They give us, and the retailer, the opportunity to test out a new service or product and collect feedback from our passengers.”

Heathrow Terminal 5 interactive mirror

Heathrow Terminal 5’s new Personal Shopping Lounge features a fully interactive mirror, allowing travellers to post photos and stream live videos onto their social media networks for feedback on potential purchases.

This progressive approach has reaped rewards. Retail revenue grew by 6% to £602 million (€694m) in 2016, and a similar increase is expected in 2017.

Understanding what the passenger wants

The £40 million (€46m) investment in Terminal 5 was completed in December 2015, bringing 23 iconic international fashion and luxury brands under one roof, including Louis Vuitton’s arrival at Heathrow. Terminal 5’s new Personal Shopping Lounge features a fully interactive mirror, allowing travellers to post photos and stream live videos onto their social media networks for feedback on potential purchases.

Meanwhile, the redevelopment of Terminal 4 is almost complete. “This year, we are focusing on Terminal 3 to understand what the passenger wants in this space and how we might improve the retail offering as part of that,” Annetts comments. “We are constantly developing our retail offer to respond to the changing passenger mix and their needs. We do this in a number of ways: based on the demographics of passengers, using research, customer relationship management, and feedback from our services team. The pop-up stores also help us do this from a retail point of view because we can trial new brands, innovations and services, and then we can let our passengers decide whether they like them or not.”

Selecting experiences and purchases from home

This year, Heathrow is taking a fresh look at its digital services and how they join up with each other to make the passenger experience as smooth as possible. Improving pre-awareness of services such as Reserve and Collect, and developing pre-booking tools, are designed to give passengers enhanced convenience and an experience tailored to their specific choices.

“We want to get to a point where our passengers can browse and select the experiences and purchases they want in the comfort of their home,” Annetts explains. “This means having their favourite food ready to eat as they arrive, and tailored wayfinding onto their flight using Beacon technology while they are here. Customers will then leave the UK feeling comfortable in the knowledge that their onward travel is also prepared for their journey home.”

2017 marks a new era for Heathrow, where this level of convenience is crucial to engagement. “The only way we can succeed and improve our service is by providing many more of our customers with a more convenient and tailored experience to suit their individual needs, so that is definitely a focus this year,” Annetts concludes.

Chris Annetts curriculum vitae

Chris Annetts has 13 years’ experience with Heathrow, taking up his current role of Retail & Service Proposition Director in July 2016. His previous Heathrow positions include:

  • Director of Commercial Passenger Services
  • Head of Commercial Planning
  • Head of Airline Business Development Star Alliance, Terminal 1 & 2
  • Head of Category Food & Beverage, Health & Beauty
  • Senior Account Manager

Prior to Heathrow:

  • Head of Retail Operations, London Stansted Airport
  • Regional Sales Manager, Hargreaves Sports

 

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