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4 Key Trends Influencing Travel Retail

As the world begins opening up for travel, the market for travel retail is booming as brands double down their efforts to make up for lost sales during the pandemic.

It is no surprise that the industry expects to grow, and according to business consulting firm Allied Market Research, it will reach $123B by 2023. Travel retail suffered a significant impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing lockdowns in various world regions.

Consumers are undoubtedly anxious to make up for trips lost during the global COVID-19 pandemic, with leisure travel reduced to almost zero and business travel substituted by Zoom meetings. However, the travel retail market is still full of challenges. 

Travel retail is a term that commonly refers to sales made in travel requirements. Duty-free and travel retail encompasses the sale of goods to international travelers.

Duty-free shops are exempt from paying certain local or national taxes and duties requiring travelers to take their purchases out of the country. Duty-free sales occur in highly regulated retail environments like airports, ports, ferries, cruise ships, and national customs authorities govern their operations. 


Unlike traditional retail environments, airport timetables dictate customers’ shopping habits

Clarity Business Partners reported that in 2013, the average amount of time spent in an airport globally was 150 minutes; this dropped to 133 minutes in 2016 and has continued to decrease in recent years. The average time spent shopping in an airport is 29 minutes–not much time to draw someone in and browse the stores. 

In addition to time constraints, there are ongoing issues around baggage allowances and product restrictions.

Often, customers can’t carry everything they might like to buy, forcing them to make difficult choices. These and other external challenges can make it hard to innovate in travel retail. But there are some innovative ways to overcome these travel constraints and present better buying experiences. 

Duty-free and travel retail generates vital revenues for national aviation, travel, and tourism industries.

Airports, in particular, incredibly rely on commercial revenues to fund the development of their infrastructure and help them keep fees as low as possible. At airports across the world, retail is now the most significant contributor to non-aeronautical income. 


Travel retailers can look forward to growing sales over the next few years

Global duty-free retail will grow 8.5% in 2021, with the number of international passengers increases as the world enters into the “new normal” following the pandemic, according to Technavio, a global market research firm.

However, retailers face challenges getting travels into the stores and enticing them to spend. Only 5-10% of travelers visit duty-free retail stores in the terminal.

Retailers in airports, ferry terminals, and train stations need ways to attract and engage passengers and deliver a unique and convenient shopping experience – no matter what currency their customers use or what language they speak.

Retailers have realized that travel retail provides them with tremendous opportunities to create visibility for their products, increases customer loyalty, and recruit new customers in different countries.

As consumers gear up for long-awaited travel adventures, here are four trends retailers can harness to improve their sales. 


Use tech for passenger convenience

Airports, airlines, and ferry terminals are hubs for passenger data because of the multiple digital touchpoints that enable efficient check-in and boarding. Retailers who embrace the desire for digital can provide a seamless shopping experience that entices passengers in the store and engages them before during, and after their trip.


  • Partnering with travel operators can unlock access to the travel information needed to create personalized offers and recommendations, starting when a passager books their ticket and checks in for their trip.
  • Using data collected from the moment passenger books their ticket to when they check-in for their trip can provide insights into ways to customers with social media. Placing targeted ads and tailored offered is an effective way to create tailored offers that encourage in-store buying. 
  • Retailers can create loyalty programs with targeted offers that travelers can access easily on mobile devices, encouraging repeat customers and additional in-store buying.   


Embrace travelers’ changing shopping habits

Millennials now travel more than any other generation, and it is essential to recognize their different shopping habits.

According to data measurement firm Nielsen, 44 percent of millennials are motivated to buy gifts at the airport, 30 percent shop to treat themselves, and 28 percent make impulse purchases. 

The millennial travel shopper is unpredictable, and retailers need to understand their habits to deliver experiences that match their moods, interests, and personalities. Consider these tactics for connecting with the travel generation.


  • Connect to travels using their chosen channels, from mobile apps and social media to digitized displays in stores.
  • Personalized and location-based deals and recommendations tailed to their interest.
  • Use flight info and airport timetables to tailor offers to the travel experience, including passengers’ destination at the time left before they embark. 


Checkout should be as fast as check-in

Travelers of all ages value a quick and easy check-in, baggage, and boarding processes, and they will expect the same when paying for their purchases.

There is a need to support different languages and currencies and the regulatory requirements of various destinations, and this can bring complexity and delays to the travel retail checkout.

It is vital that checkout is smooth and efficient, or it could turn customers away. Pay attention to these tactics that can encourage a seamless shopping experience.


  • Provide a range of checkout options, including mobile apps, online, self-service kiosks, or mobile POS.
  • Travels should be able to check prices in pay in any currency or combination of currencies they choose.
  • Use digital tools to support as many languages as possible both throughout the store and at checkout. 


Leverage data to optimize inventory

Stocking a retail store with products that match travels tastes is a balancing act. There is limited time to capture customers’ interest, and retailers can’t afford to miss a sale by running out of stock.

The challenge is that there isn’t much room for excessive inventory in a busy terminal or on a ferry. It is for retailers to know what sells well to passengers in various locations to make intelligent decisions on inventory.


  • To optimize inventory, use business intelligence tools to see where sales occur and understand shopping patterns. These tools can also provide insight into how passengers in different locations respond to promotions.
  • The use of apps and loyalty programs combined with info gathered from customers’ online interactions can provide important insight into travelers’ tastes and interests.
  • Integrate retail and supply chain systems for efficient orders and insights into supply and demand. 

As travel retail grows, retailers can make their stores part of a seamless travel experience by engaging with passengers with digital and physical channels.

Stay relevant to customers’ needs and interests while providing convenient experiences wherever travelers want to go offers ambitious retailers a profitable opportunity to be a part of customers’ next great adventure.