airport retail is ready for take-off…

For millions of us, airports are as much associated with shopping as travel, prompting one airport retailer to comment that nowadays they are quite simply “huge shopping centres with runways attached.

There’s no doubt that we are seeing a massive expansion of the non-aviation side of the increasingly profitable airport business. Airports such as Heathrow, where there are 5 applicants for every retail space, have become the most sought-after retail locations in the world.

However, the experience of our interior architects and designers has shown that retailers are often challenged with the ‘square peg in a round hole’ scenario. Whereas shopping centres are bespoke, airport terminals can throw up awkward spaces, which need to be carefully designed to allow retailers to express their individual character and brand values. Airports like Gatwick are redeveloping space to optimise their retail offering and at the same time elevating expectations of what retailers need to achieve. Spencer Sheen, Head of Gatwick Retail, sums it up,  “Passengers expect more from airport shopping, especially with what’s on offer in some of the airports in the Middle East and Asia. They want more choice, availability and diversity. Competition is really key for us; we want to be right up there with the likes of Westfield and Bluewater.”

However, whilst an airport presence is immensely attractive to a retailer, the trading environment is nothing like the high street. Customers are in a more ‘affluent’ state of mind at the airport, with spare money to treat themselves and their family. Plus, each shopper, around for just 60 or 70 minutes on average, comes with the expectation of an easy to navigate, exciting shopping environment. Our experience of working on 5 UK airports shows that even though shoppers may be a captive audience they still expect the hotel experience to start in the terminal itself. This means that, “No frills” retail just won’t fly!

As Spencer points out, passengers are now demanding more choice, availability and diversity, all topped off with an engaging experience. Waiting for a flight, with time to kill and money to spend, they want to be entertained. Which calls for even greater contributions and innovation from retailers, not only in product mix,  but also in store design. Airports once criticized for their interchangeable retail formats, are always looking to raise their game and recruit ‘A’ list brands like John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges to add to their retail mix, brands that are not yet represented at other airports, or which underpin the airport’s unique profile.

For the retailer a coveted airside store means increased online business and enhanced brand recognition with an international audience. With so much to gain, there is little doubt that airport retail will increasingly become ‘best in class’ for retail store design and customer delivery over the coming years.

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