Inflight Retail : The Split Second Decision

Flying to Hong Kong last week gave me plenty of time to reflect on the collection of flights that I have made recently. Some flights have been shorter, others longer but the opportunity to shop has always been there. It might be the dog eared copy of the inflight shopping magazine or the stewardess walking through the cabin saying “Duty Free…. Duty Free anyone?”

​I have observed a variety of purchases made.  Some were distress purchases; others were self-treating. The number of purchases varied significantly. A brief conversation with the air steward or stewardess highlighted that the level of sales varied significantly by route.

The interaction was an interesting one too. Confusion over currencies in terms of costs, change to be given etc were all part of the challenge.

What was also interesting is the nature of the whole experience. As the stewardess walked down the cabin with the trolley or the magazine, there was a very subtle Mexican wave of people reaching for the seat pocket. A split second later, they had decided against making the decision to look through the catalogue. On one flight, my neighbour did the same. I asked here why she went to grab the brochure and then decided not to. She told me that she wasn’t sure why, that maybe the tone of the stewardess had made it almost sound like an instruction. She had been open minded to shopping but felt that she didn’t want the hassle of feeling rushed to select something and then calling someone back to take her order – “I don’t want to trouble them”.

With this in mind, there are some possible ways to drive conversion.

4 Ways To Improve Inflight Conversion

The amount of people purchasing on most flights is low but I believe there is a good reason why. Here are 4 thoughts about how that could change:

  • Raise Awareness Sooner

Passengers usually become aware of the inflight offer at 2 key points:

  1. When the trolley goes round
  2. If they decide to flick through the magazine

People do not like making snap decisions. Even the most impulsive of us cannot arrive at a decision that factors “search and select” in the shortest window of opportunity.

One particular airline is very good at telling people at a very early stage about the inflight offer, usually immediately after the safety briefing. Tell people earlier about the inflight offer prior to walking through the cabin.

  • Re-enforce Awareness

Repetition is key. A micro trail could be considered to drive incremental purchases. This could be leaflets inside the free papers as you board, messages on the inflight entertainment, signage in the toilets, advertising on the paper cups….

  • Build Stories

The inflight duty free magazine can very much be like a catalogue however, there is an opportunity to build stories and bring the products to life. Weekend newspapers and magazines are very good at creating sections that create a reason to find out more about the products

  • Consider Gamification

To improve focus and concentration, games are a useful technique. Creating something that allows the passenger to seek out and find something within the brochure. You are giving the person reason to pick up that brochure and review it.

A Final Thought

​Of course, there can be much discussion around the use of apps and technology to drive engagement. For this article, I have gone old school. I will save my thoughts on vertical integration until another time.

For now, thank you for reading & sharing.


Have a great week.


Founder & Managing Director
One Red Kite Limited

Author of “Travel Retail : The Insider’s Guide”
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