What can retailers learn from airline innovation?

A number of retailers have invested in new airport stores over the last 12 months, with many businesses viewing the opening of shops at major travel hubs in the UK as a way to test new concepts, fresh product ranges and overall international appeal.

Dixons Retail and John Lewis are among the retailers to have unveiled new airport stores recently, with the former's Stansted shop opening for business earlier this month and the latter's inaugural airport outlet arriving at Heathrow's Terminal 2 in June. Meanwhile, Gatwick Airport's recently refurbished South Terminal homes Zara's largest UK airport store, as well as providing a platform for Snow+Rock's and Ernest Jones' airport debuts.

Retailers clearly see the revenue potential of setting up operations in travel destinations, but can being so close to the airline industry also provide further inspiration from the travel sector as a whole?

Budget airline easyJet, for example, recently became the first airline to trial iBeacon technology across Europe – using it to help passengers navigate their way through airports.

The beacons, which are being trialled at Luton, Gatwick and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports, automatically trigger notifications to those customers with the easyJet mobile app during key points of the airport journey, including as they approach bag drop and security, where they are prompted to open their boarding pass at the right time.

Peter Duffy, commercial director for easyJet, said his company's deployment of iBeacons can speed up the airport journey, as well as provide assistance to passengers and enhance the in-airport experience – all of which are arguably ambitions shared with the general retail industry.

With the use of iBeacons in retail having been widely mooted over the last 12 months, especially as smartphones have become central to many people's shopping trips, retailers will be monitoring the success of the easyJet trial with interest. Large retailers such as Waitrose and Tesco have been trialling iBeacon usage themselves, but it is still someway from being widely adopted across the industry as concerns over privacy intrusion and customer personalisation requirements are ironed out.

Another common goal for airlines and retailers comes in the form of building customer relationships. Steve Robinson, CEO of online retail community ACHICA, recently told Essential Retail that his company's position as a pure-play e-tailer gives him a significant advantage over multichannel retailers because of the digital footprint his customers leave behind.

Retailers are employing data analytics specialists to help them personalise their in-store and online messaging to create stronger customer connections, but one recent successful example of this process comes from the travel industry.

Earlier this month Dutch airline KLM said it has made significant improvements to its email strategy by working with digital marketing vendor Webtrends.

Since using the tech firm's Streams intelligence tool, KLM's emails have had a 34% increase in open rates and a 94% higher click-through rate. A wider data-driven approach to marketing at KLM has also reportedly allowed the airline to identify potential drop-off points in its sales funnel, and act accordingly.

It remains prudent, it would seem, for retailers to assess successful deployment of technology in like-minded industries.

At this month's RBTE steering committee meeting in London, which saw senior figures from companies such as Asda, Dixons Retail and Marks & Spencer gather to discuss the current industry landscape, it was suggested that looking outside the traditional retail space can be a healthy source of inspiration.

Ian Woosey, senior director at professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal, argued that it was important for IT leaders, in particular, to focus on innovation in customer service and their business's overall proposition – if they want to stay integral to their organisation.

"Smaller IT companies are often the most innovative; IT teams should understand this part of the market better and proactively educate the board on current trends and opportunities," he told delegates.

"They also need to look outside the retail industry for inspiration – sectors such as travel, music and online gaming have been hugely innovative and transformed the customer experience in recent years. Only by doing this will IT leaders remain relevant and maintain any real control over technology investment, strategy and security and a seat around the board table."

With almost nine million passengers heading through BAA's airports in June alone, retailers will continue to view airports as lucrative locations for doing business. Perhaps, too, there will be opportunities take advantage of and act upon the exposure they will have to wider travel innovation trends.

Click below for more information:


Alvarez & Marsal