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RETAIL/F&B Last modified on April 10, 2014

Food for thought

Kevin Brocklebank discusses some of the key branding challenges facing operators of airport shops and restaurants.

I always find meeting new people to be a great way of learning more about the retail channel, especially when that inevitable question (So what do you do?) comes up.

The conversation then normally goes something like this:

Them: “So what do you do?”

Me: “I help airports, shops and brands by showing them how to make a lot more money.”

Them: “Oh. That sounds interesting...” they pause. “Is that duty free shops?”

Me: “Yes, that’s right.”

Them: “So you tell them where to put things then?”

Me: “Yes, that is part of it. What do you think of airport shops?”

Them: “Ah, I always have a look, see what is there. Some of it can be expensive. Captive audience though, aren’t we? No choice but to pay higher prices for things like a bottle of water.”

Me: “Last time you flew, did you buy anything?”

Them: “Yes I did actually. I picked up a bottle of perfume. Cheaper than the high street.”

Me: “Do you remember the name of the shop?”

Them: “No, it’s just the duty free shop isn’t it? Just part of the airport.”

From this typical conversation, we have an anecdotal observation that the shopper often perceives the tax and duty free store to be part of
the airport. This prompts some serious questions and implications for travel retailers.

Some of them include: Is it necessary to differentiate and stand out from the airport?; What is the impact on the perceived experience at the airport as a whole?; Does bad service at security impact the attitude towards the retail offer?; Does bad service in stores impact the perception of the airport?; How do we overcome the challenge of language?; And, what should the brand stand for?

Not forgetting: How do you attach brand values to the company name, symbol or logo?; Why should the shopper create any form of relationship with your brand?; How can you make your brand memorable?; How do you overcome the challenge of frequency?; And, how does branding impact your tender strategy?

Key challenges

I believe that duty free retailers face a unique brand challenge because in order to deliver results they need to establish brand value with channel stakeholders at the same time as creating a relationship with the shopper.

When it comes to establishing brand value with channel stakeholders, the retailer must create a corporate personality that will demonstrate and represent its capabilities and values effectively.

Indeed, reputation management is key, especially as brand perception of a retailer could be critical during the tender process.

When it comes to creating a relationship with the shopper, retailers should draw on the classic stages of marketing to create ‘awareness’, generate interest and elicit ‘desire’ that leads to ‘action’ – the shopper buying!

The challenge that retailers have now, is how to establish a brand in the mind of the shopper?

Establishing the brand with the shopper

Without a doubt creating a retail brand in the eyes of the shopper is difficult in travel retail. However, we are helped by the fact that there are three key elements required to create a relationship – the need to connect emotionally, drive consistency, and increase frequency.



Connect emotionally

Emotions are a powerful thing. Tap into the shoppers emotions in a relevant way and you are on your way to connecting with them.

Airport retailers are starting to move towards creating engaging and memorable experiences that capture the imagination of the shopper. Brands such as Hendrick’s Gin, for example, provide eccentric and interesting experiences in duty free stores to surprise and connect with the shopper.

Are retailers able to replicate this for themselves or even piggy back off the product activations?

Drive consistency

Consistency is critical in retail. Delivering a reliable and consistent experience takes effort, control and staff engagement, but it will pay dividends.

Next time you go into an Apple store, try and move the Perspex show cards next to the product. If you are able to move them, you will notice that there are subtle markers on the table that specifies EXACTLY where the ticket should go, where the products should go and how they should be displayed. Nothing is left to chance.

Every time I have been into an Apple store, the experience has been consistent worldwide. This makes it easy for the shopper to understand the concept and make it easier for them to connect with you.

‘Standardisation’ is nothing new, just look at McDonald’s with their ‘off the shelf restaurant designs’, standardised colour palettes, standardised fonts and standardised service experience. Which one of us, for example, has not been asked the question, “Would you like fries with that?”

Standardisation not only creates a consistent experience but it also enables significant cost reduction.

Within travel retail, almost every store is different. The latest trend is to create a ‘sense of place’ that is associated with the country or city the airport is located in, takes localisation to an extreme level.

There are some retailers that incur huge refit costs because they re-design everything from fixtures through to signage in each store they work within (even if it is in the same airport). This adds a level of unnecessary complexity both for the shopper and for every function within the organisation.

Making a brand stand out

The weak link that airport retailers must contend with is the issue of frequency, as generally, the largest passenger group is made up of those who may travel once or twice a year at most.

Such a low frequency, where dwell time is limited, makes it difficult to establish a long-term relationship with the shopper.

It is doubly hard to make a brand standout from the rest when sometimes shoppers are not always aware of the store that they are visiting! This, of course, leads to a question regarding logo design.



Is the logo instantly understandable? Number one second rule here – instant means instant. Does it transcend language barriers? We are in an international environment after all. Classic examples include the Apple logo and McDonald’s ‘Golden Arches’.

A brand logo must be so simple that it can be what the shopper thinks it should be for, as they say, ‘perception is reality’. A brand then, is really a coat hanger for shoppers to hang their perceptions on.


The retailer’s next task is to communicate what it stands for. Aim to do that in less than 100 characters and you have something that shoppers can take with them and share.

So should a retail offer be differentiated?

One of the questions raised earlier is, should a retailer work to differentiate itself? For example, should the ABC store in Airport X be called ‘Airport X Duty Free’ with ‘operated by’ and an ABC logo?

Do travel retailers have enough brand equity alone to have leverage with shoppers? For retailers to effectively build their brands, the shopper must be able to walk into a store and instantly know where they are in terms of the brand and products on offer.

Indeed, the brand should be in the very fabric of the design of the outlet from the colour of the walls, the design of the fixtures and even the tiles on the floor. And these are the traits that could appear in every store in their portfolio.

In summary

Connect emotionally with the traveller but make it memorable; drive consistency through a well designed and rehearsed experience; increase frequency via social media channels; ensure your logo is instantly recognisable; and, be clear on what your brand stands for
and tell your shoppers.

Anybody still doubt the value of branding in the airport retail environment?

About the author
Kevin Brocklebank is founder and managing director of global retail consultancy One Red Kite Ltd. Visit www.oneredkite.com for more information.

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