Airport retail from a customer perspective

Airports have evolved from solely runways and warehouses, to offering practical food and drinks, to offering duty free outlets, to offering what is characterized today as the ‘aerotropolis,’ where consumers can buy anything and everything on their way from point A to point B.

Let’s put ourselves in the minds of a few buyer personas to gain an insight into traveling consumers. Imagine Sally, a 30-year-old working woman that lives an independent and busy travel-filled life. She goes to the airport with friends in the holiday spirit, as they are headed on a weekend getaway. Their holiday frame of mind implies they would be more willing to spend, especially seeing as their busy schedules may not have allowed them the time to buy a new vacation bikini or beach sandals. Sally seeks an idyllic experience that is enhanced by convenience.

Now step in John’s shoes. John is a 50-year-old business man heading out of town for a short-lived business trip. John has forgotten to buy a birthday gift for his wife or maybe he was rushed as he got ready this morning and forgot to pack a pair of socks for his business meeting. John is attracted to the airport retail environment because he seeks convenience. A quick purchase at the airport gets his job done without having to take an extra trip to a shopping center.


As demonstrated, consumers live increasingly bustling lives, meaning they neither have the time nor energy to venture to a shopping mall. Buying at the airport matches convenience with the touch and feel value. Additionally, customers benefit from innovative pricing strategies when purchasing at the airport.  According to Vicky Wyatt, business development manager for retail at Gatwick Airport, consumers can even browse goods at the airport and can then reserve those goods at airport prices. Finally, airport retailers have the potential to create a memorable travel experience by using digital to their advantage and by providing engaging designs and storefronts. Consumers are influenced by prices, but they are also increasingly influenced by notable experiences.

Airport retail from a business perspective

Evidently, consumers are benefiting from the evolving airport retail environment and so too are the businesses that are paving the way. In terms of data and analytics, retail companies hit the jackpot in airports. Insights can be extracted as passengers are expected to show a boarding pass at purchase. Retailers can track sales by airlines, destination and demographics. Furthermore, due to fixed scheduling, retailers are aware of when travelers are arriving at the airport and from where. This allows retailers to hire personnel that speak the languages of their core buying demographic as well as allows retailers to adjust their merchandise based on who is coming and where they are headed.

Airport retailers have the opportunity to increase brand visibility at airports, meaning they can strategically expand customer target groups. A captive audience is constantly making their way through the airport with wide eyes, which allows brands to gain exposure. As outlined earlier, travelers seek a memorable buying experience, thus brands can exploit this customer need through engaging design and the use of digital so that this captive audience is entering their retail store, rather then heading to their gate to shop online. A growing trend in airport retail is pop-up stores, which brands can certainly capitalize on to gain visibility. Though logistics have proven to be challenging, new platforms in the digital era are making it possible.


Though retailers can offer experiences that bring shoppers in-store, they can also offer luxuries to those travelers that are extremely rushed or will inevitably buy online. Click and collect is a trend in the retail industry, and travel retailers can exploit this trend by having customers buy online and pick-up at airport store locations on their way out. Luxury and fashion retailers that are taking airport retail by storm may further deliver value to consumers through capitalizing on exclusivity. By offering exclusive product lines only available in travel retail stores, retailers have the potential to increase traffic.  

Food and beverage was once introduced to airports in an aim to deliver the basics to travelers, but times and expectations have changed, and businesses are growing as a result. Just as travelers expect authentic food in the cities they are visiting, they expect local and authentic options at airports. Travelers don’t want meaningful experiences to end once they leave a fashion retail store. Instead, they want to extend their experience by dining at a restaurant. According to HMSHost International, Walter Seib, “eating is the new shopping.”