Travel retail: Men Matter Too! Sally Alington interview

Promotions in Travel Retail, maybe more than any other sector, are dominated by on the spot offers for women. Sally Alington, managing director of travel retail promotion specialist Blackjack Promotions, looks at why this is and what types of added value incentives brands can create to target men in the travel retail space.

Retail is big business for airports. In 2010 it was the second largest source of revenue for Heathrow, behind aeronautical – representing over 21% of the airport’s income. Recently released figures for 2011 from BAA group also show that last year, gross retail income increased 10.7% to £435.4 million (2010: £393.2 million) and NRI (Net Retail Income) per passenger increased +5.3% to £5.95 (2010: £5.64) at Heathrow Airport with strong performances for both its London Airports. With the growing number of women travelling and their increasing spending power, it is only natural that much of the focus in terms of travel retail promotions is female oriented and airport brands are already planning how to capture the ever-expanding female market. However, airside retailers also need to be aware that this female bias is clearly excluding a large chunk of the current buying population.

While it may be a well-worn stereotype that women are much more at ease shopping and browsing, men still account for around 60% of all travelers. So while women are becoming more important as a sector within airports, travel retail specialists really need to look at ways that they can also encourage men into shops to add to their overall experience. To do this we need to have a greater understanding of what it is that is actually preventing men from shopping at airports.

One of the key issues for anyone in travel retail is that it has become more and more difficult to grab people’s attention – particularly men – as browsing time has been cut into by things such as the automation of boarding pass printing, which means people are now leaving themselves less time at the airport. Combine this with increased security measures and the average shopping window is seriously depleted.

Research through airport loyalty card schemes shows that frequent flyers spend more than casual travelers and that a high percentage of these frequent flyers are men, yet for most of these men there tends to be a lack of understanding as to what’s available in the airport and why they should take the time to shop there. Many are given lists by friends who know they fly all the time, and this means they tend to come into shops almost blinkered by what it is that they’ve been asked to buy.

On top of this, space in airports is very restricted, especially within the all-important beauty sector. Although there are a lot of skincare products and fragrances for men, it is still a female dominated sector. Unsurprisingly, this means that promotional space is turned over to female-centric offers and men will find themselves surrounded by merchandising that is aimed at women and as such they can often find themselves alienated or intimidated, which simply serves to reinforce the stereotype.

Part of the problem is doubtless because it is simply much easier to incentivise women to come and try products; using anything from hand massages to free makeovers… there is not such a wide range of options for men. Industry leaders and innovators, World Duty Free, attempted to buck this long-standing trend back in 2005 by introducing a male-concept travel retail store and ‘grooming workshop’ as part of the Heathrow Terminal One redevelopment and extension. Despite this merchandising initiative numerous external factors contributed to the decision to revert the store to offering a more complete and non gender-specific product mix.

Another company that has adapted to target male and female customers individually is Heinemann, which looks after the duty free market in Germany and much of Eastern Europe. The company has made a point of clearly differentiating male and female products in-store, keeping them totally separate as they are in the high street and has had a good success rate to date.

But, what more can the travel retail sector do to target men more effectively?

Something that works well for men is to focus on the more personal touch, for example using personal shoppers. That intimate moment of taking the time to establish what it is they are looking for, to save them from having to browse around, can take the pain away from the shopping experience and work well with engaging with male shoppers.

Also, a lot more could probably be made of the tax-free message, with travel retail offering 20% off high street prices and often up to 40% off fragrances. For top-end brands such as Prada or Paul Smith, this can be a considerable saving, and is a strong message that you take for granted when you work airside all the time. We need to get the message across to men that it is worth their while shopping at airports compared to shopping online or in the high street.

Also strong emphasis needs to be placed on the add-on services such as ‘shop and drop’, where goods can be picked up on the traveler’s return as well as the fact that travel retail still offers an easy and straight forward returns policy. Another area that can work well with male shoppers is brand exclusives, particularly with technology. Being able to get hold of gadgets before they arrive on the high street can certainly be a big draw and should be a focus for buyers and their related marketing strategies.

It’s time we looked to embrace and encourage the male shopper in travel retail and not simply pick on the obvious easy target of selling to women. And this requires a conscious effort from staff and stores to think how they can make the whole more experience more appealing for men, but importantly it’s an effort that can pay big dividends.