Customers call for new rules of engagement in post-COVID-19 travel retail

In its latest consumer insights report adapted to the post-COVID-19 context and new shopper mindset, industry research agency m1nd-set reveals that international passengers will be expecting duty free and travel retail industry stakeholders to adapt to the new normal when flights resume.

Based on research conducted in May 2020 among 1,500 international passengers who have travelled internationally in the past 12 months, the report demonstrates some of the key attributes of experiential retail. It looks into what consumers find to be the most effective and engaging aspects of the shopping experience and how this will evolve once international travel resumes in the post-COVID-19 travel retail environment. Addressing fundamental questions to provide an understanding of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ scenarios of customer engagement in travel retail, the report also reflects on changes that will need to be made across the travel retail environment to ensure customers feel safe about entering stores – and how to take the store to the customer, if they do not.

One of the key touchpoints in duty free and travel retail, the sales associate, is discussed in detail in the research. The report discusses the challenges to retailers and their staff on communicating the new post-COVID-19 shopping process and restrictions, while still trying to engage and sell in the store. With more than 60% of shoppers saying they will refrain from engaging with retail staff when next travelling, m1nd-set believes customer engagement is going to present unprecedented challenges for which new training programmes will be essential for retailers and brands to prepare sales associates and brand ambassadors.

“Our research shows that in the pre-pandemic era, more than 90% of shoppers say that touching the products is an important part of the shopping experience and just less than half (48%) say they tried or tasted products before purchasing,” explains Anna Marchesini, Project and Business Development Manager, m1nd-set. “Staff will have to be trained on how to sell in these new retail conditions and deal with difficult customers who don’t take well to these new rules of engagement.”

For the purpose of the study, m1nd-set asked consumers how they see the shopping experience evolving in the post-COVID-19 travel retail environment and the role which digital technology and innovation will play in this transformation. The shift to digitalisation is, in the shopper’s mind at least, imperative for the future of retail and travel retail.

“According to the study, Virtual and Augmented Reality applications are likely to take on a more central role in retail generally,” Clara Susset, Travel Retail Research Director, m1nd-set. “70% of shoppers say they want to see more prevalent use of VR and AR technology, with applications such as virtual mirrors for make-up and cosmetics product testing.

“The shift to digital will mean a paradigm shift for duty free retailers in their approach to online retailing. There will need to be a concerted drive towards a more modern, user-friendly and interactive e-commerce presence for the global travel retail sector as well as further investment in consumer data platforms to create, curate and maintain an ongoing relationship with customers pre- and post-travel.”

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