Why airports are becoming the new high street

2018 is shaping up to be a difficult year for UK retailers. High street stalwarts have closed hundreds of stores and it seems like every day that a different retailer joins the ranks of those reporting declining sales figures.

The insatiable rise of online shopping has hurt many traditional retailers and sluggish consumer confidence has led to the lowest rate of store openings in seven years. 

The rule that the future of retail is more digital and less bricks and mortar seems to ring true, but maybe not when you look at the world of airport retail. 

For many retailers, airports are an antidote to the High Street and business is booming. Take WH Smith, which counts airport concessions as among its most successful stores. It recently reported a 5% rise in sales at airport stores over the six months to the end of February – in contrast to a 4% fall in its high street division.

Travel retail is one of the most attractive categories for brands, offering an incredible opportunity for building brand recognition, as well as providing a great platform for consumer trials. Airport retailers have a steady stream of customers who can respond to new technologies, store layouts and products. Brands can then use their responses and reactions to improve the rest of their store portfolio.

According to consultancy GlobalData, sales at airports are expected to increase to 73% by 2019, giving retailers even more room to experiment.  

Rather than needing to be enticed away from the comfort of their homes or offices, customers are ready to get into the holiday spirit and treat themselves to new clothing, accessories and cosmetics. For many, some pre-flight retail therapy has become as much part of the holiday experience as their activities once they arrive at their destination. This means that more passengers are looking for a bit of luxury, whether to treat themselves or buying gifts for friends and family.

As part of the airport’s current £160 million redevelopment, we are investing heavily in retail; doubling the space for shopping and dining to 59,760 sq ft. So far in 2018, we have welcomed sixteen new stores with 30 open by the end of the year.

It’s not just your typical airport-essentials shops; we have listened to what our passengers want and LLA’s relatively young passenger profile means we have focused on fashion-led brands to bring breadth and depth to LLA’s retail offering. 

Premium brands are recognising the benefits an airport store can bring and they are choosing LLA to help them reach a whole new audience. We are now offering brands from Kurt Geiger to Ted Baker to Hugo Boss, while the new retail line-up includes a number of firsts. Oliver Bonas has chosen LLA for its first-ever airport store, while Chanel will be opening its first standalone store in the coming months, which will stock exclusive products for LLA. 

Looking forward, we see no reason why airports will not bolster their position as a retail destination further. Demand for air travel is on the rise, and the Department for Transport predicts that passenger demand will more than double to 445 million passengers per year by 2050. As airports continue to grow and attract more passengers, there is an even greater opportunity for brands to reach out to new audiences. 

In the context of the likely continued decline in high street footfall, the role of airports will become ever more important to retailers.