A recent report by eMarketer predicts that by 2021, Asia Pacific consumers will spend $3 trillion online, and e-commerce will make up 25.4 per cent of total retail sales in the region.
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.
Apple was one of the first to pioneer using its real estate to drive brand ‘experience’ as much as sales. With its 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, geo-targeted apps that alert shoppers to discounts, and in-store promotions when they walk past.
In comparison, when you look at the travel sector, travel agents have been slower to spruce up their bricks-and-mortar models. However, with mobile travel sales accounting for half of online travel sales in APAC, and the number of online travel sales only set to rise as more digital natives reach adulthood, now is the time for them to start.
When done right, this is an opportunity for travel retailers to diversify, improve their success in cross- and up-selling, and inspire the next generation of travellers who want very different things from the booking experience than their parents and grandparents.
A good example is the Australian tour operator Dennis Bunnik from Bunnik Travel. Dennis inspires his customers through first-hand, authentic YouTube videos. His channel consists primarily of airline reviews, along with some destination content, with some of his videos receiving more than one million views.
Recent research shows that travellers are looking for inspiration in different ways. Therefore, agents such as Dennis can use this as a method to enhance the brick-and-mortar experience and inspire customers to visit Bunnik Travel agents.
However, not all travel agents are able to shoot and edit their own YouTube videos. So, what can be done to re-think the bricks-and-mortar model and elevate the in-store experience?
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, 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, yet largely untapped, opportunities for travel retailers to differentiate themselves by setting up physical stores differently.
Following the Apple model, store design is a good place to start. For example, stores can display iPads loaded with relevant travel content and interactive displays that 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.
Automate the predictable to invest in the exceptional
Another big, in-store asset for inspiration is a travel agency’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 agencies 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 freeing up their time to walk the floor and focus entirely on customer service.
Make it multi-channel through data
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 later, through another channel.
Retail travel agents need to ensure 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.
Personalisation and relevance are essential to doing this successfully, so travel agents should use data captured across all their touchpoints to build up a detailed, single-customer-view that is drawn from real behavioural 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.
Finally, taking a truly 360-degree 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-trip and even post-trip value-add services such as delay notifications, visa information and discounts on services at the destination.
Ultimately, traveller expectations are changing, which means retail travel agents today need to think beyond the booking experience and re-think how to use their physical stores. Travel agents need to embrace true retail and inspire the next generation of travellers.
Champa Magesh is the vice president of retail travel channels across the Asia Pacific at Amadeus.