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Time for travel agents to embrace “true retail”

Time for travel agents to embrace "true retail"

A recent report by eMarketer predicts that by 2021, Asia Pacific consumers will spend $3.001 trillion online, and ecommerce will make up 25.4% of total retail sales.

Whilst this hasn’t been the death knell for bricks and mortar, it has forced retailers to re-think how to use their physical stores.

SEE ALSO : Concept stores: the revival for brick-and-mortar fashion retailers?

Apple was one of the first to pioneer using their real estate as a way to drive brand ‘experience’ as much as sales.

With their open-plan design, army of knowledgeable staff and regular, in-store seminars, Apple’s stores inspire and educate customers, helping the company achieve long-term loyalty.

The fashion sector has been quick to follow suit too, adopting a range of technologies to transform how their stores are used by customers – recent innovations include ‘live’ mirrors that suggest matching items as the customer enters the dressing room and geo-targeted apps that alert shoppers to discounts and in-store promotions when they walk past.

By comparison, APAC’s travel agents have been slower to spruce up their bricks and mortar models.

However, with mobile travel sales accounting for 50% of online travel sales, and the number of online travel sales is only set to rise as more digital natives reach adulthood, now is the time for them to start.

Rather than being a burden, when done right this is an opportunity for travel retailers to diversify; improve their success in cross- and up-selling; and engage the next generation of travelers who want very different things from the booking experience than their parents and grandparents.

SEE ALSO : China’s luxury travel apps (finally) explained

A good example is global travel group, TUI Travel.

With a third of their sales still taking place in their physical stores, the company noticed that their customers’ purchase journey was becoming increasingly non-linear and multi-channel.

In response, they piloted the use of in-store touch screens in the UK to enhance their customers’ store experience and invested in integrating their physical and digital channels for seamless shopping.

By doing so, they were able to optimize interaction at every touchpoint, resulting in an overall increase in sales and average spend tripling in the stores that introduced interactive technologies.

On the back of this success, they have since rolled these changes out in a number of their other physical stores too.

Welcome to ‘true retail’

‘True retail’ is the notion of taking a 360-degree view of the customer, thinking beyond just the point of sale to consider all other brand touchpoints – from early inspiration to aftercare – and channels, whether they are in-store, on mobile, online or, as is increasingly the case, a combination of all three.

‘Inspiration’ is one of the biggest, and as yet largely untapped, opportunities for travel retailers to differentiate themselves by setting up their physical stores differently.

Following the Apple model, store design is a good place to start – iPads loaded with relevant travel content, interactive displays and AI technologies can all be used to create a fun environment where customers can browse without sales pressure.

The key is for travel agents to focus on the customer experience first and foremost – to create a space where people actively want to visit as part of their holiday planning.

SEE ALSO : Lancôme launches new multi-sensory campaign at Changi Airport

Automate the predictable to invest in the exceptional

Another big, in-store asset for ‘inspiration’ is a travel agent’s staff.

The more time that they can spend talking to customers, and the more knowledgeable and passionate they are about travel, the better.

Historically in-store staff at travel agents were stuck behind their screens due to cumbersome systems and back-end processes.

However, with the right technology, a lot of this can now be automated, giving staff the information they need at the touch of a button and in turn freeing up their time to walk the floor and focus entirely on customer service.

Make it multi-channel

Embracing ‘true retail’ also means acknowledging that there is no longer a single, linear purchase journey for travel bookings.

Just as some customers will come into store to make a purchase having already done a lot of research online, others may prefer to get in-store inspiration then buy at a later date, through another channel.

Retail travel agents need to ensure that they don’t lose this second group of shoppers to their competitors by continuing to follow-up with highly-tailored content, to whatever channels the customer prefers, after they’ve left the store.

‘Personalization’ and ‘relevance’ are essential to doing this successfully, so travel agents should use data capture across all of their touchpoints to build up a detailed, single-customer-view that is drawn from real behavioral insights rather than demographic assumptions.

Applied in the right way, this intelligence can also be used to inform more tailored cross- and up-selling, with a much higher chance of conversion.

SEE ALSO : What does travel retail experience look like?


Finally, taking a truly 360 view of customer needs means keeping channels of communication open long after the sale itself.

Successful fashion retailers do this well through convenient returns processes on online orders and hyper-relevant ‘you might also be interested in…’ content, designed to inspire the next purchase.

This is an equally important opportunity that travel retailers shouldn’t ignore.

In short, travel agents should have a post-purchase strategy for every customer, the more tailored the better.

For best results, this should go way beyond the immediate post-sale window and should incorporate practical on- and even post-trip value-add services too, such as delay notifications, visa information, and discounts on services at the destination.

Ultimately, traveler expectations are changing, which means retail travel agents today need to think beyond the booking.

This will require a significant mindset shift for some, but also promises big rewards, and future-proofed customer loyalty, for those that get it right.

Champa Magesh, Vice President, Asia Pacific Retail Travel Channels, is responsible for overseeing business strategies in the Retail travel agency segment across Asia Pacific for Amadeus. She has over 20 years of international work experience in multiple functional areas and across multiple industries including travel, technology and payments.
Champa has an MBA and a Master of Science in Information Management, both from Arizona State University, and a Bachelor of Computer Science from Women’s Christian College.

(Source: Champa Magesh)

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