Redefining the relationship

26/05/2017 New technologies and online habits are reshaping the way consumers interact with brands, both physically and digitally. This has important consequences for travel retail, as a new TFWA-commissioned report from Portland Design shows.

The study, produced by Portland’s Strategic Insights team, is the first in a series of biannual TFWA Monitors available free of charge to TFWA members. Examining emerging consumer, retail and digital trends, the report looks at how technologies like virtual reality (VR) are increasingly being used by retailers and brands to entertain and inspire their customers. The ability to transport shoppers to a new 360° environment has exciting implications for the world of travel. Virgin Holidays and Thomas Cook are already using VR headsets in-store to let customers preview destinations before booking. Within travel retail, single malt Glenfiddich offers travellers a virtual tour of its Speyside distillery at selected airport stores. There’s clearly scope for more brands to deploy VR as part of an immersive consumer experience that eye-tracking technology and machine learning can further personalise, the report points out.

Chinese millennials’ preference for bespoke, experiential travel over the tour-group approach of their parents’ generation has led to the rapid rise of the free, independent traveller (FIT). Data specialist Analysys China forecasts that FITs will shortly overtake group tourists as the dominant consumer profile for online travel purchases. The growth of online booking has dramatically expanded the destinations available to FITs, whose love of adventure and discovery is partly fuelled by a desire for social status. FIT habits show signs of spreading beyond China to travellers from other Asia-Pacific nations, so travel retail cannot afford to neglect this influential group. But how should established brands engage with a consumer more interested in unearthing exotic, niche and local products? The TFWA Monitor suggests using social media and online travel platforms in a destination-focused, end-to-end digital campaign that begins with researching the trip three to six months before departure. Offering FITs distinctive cultural experiences is another way to forge closer, more memorable brand links. 

Brands have everything to gain from integrating new technology and a strong digital element into their travel retail marketing plans. Today’s traveller increasingly wants them to, and tomorrow’s will expect nothing less.

TFWA Digital Village is a new initiative to showcase creative digital solutions and services to the 12,000 duty free and travel retail professionals attending TFWA World Exhibition & Conference 2017 (1-6 October in Cannes). Occupying 840m2 of prime floor space for three full days, around 30 exhibitors will have the chance to meet and do business with the leading decision-makers and senior executives of a dynamic, premium sector keen to embrace new technology.

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