The 1 in 4 Opportunity

Last week, I was looking for an old presentation and stumbled upon some research that we had undertaken a few years back. This research was self-funded so I am quite happy to share some of the findings. It was research I did as preparation for speaking at a conference in Shenzhen. At that conference I talked about the impact of the shopper journey on whether people buy.

This week I have revisited those findings and with fresh eyes and I wanted to share the insights because I strongly believe that they still hold value.

The research looked at Intention. Evaluating Intention tells us whether the respondent is open to shopping in Duty Free and is willing to explore. For clarification, the survey was completed by predominantly British respondents.

At the time of the study, it showed that 43% of those surveyed intended to shop in the Duty Free store. Interestingly, 9% of those surveyed had a strong intention to buy, meaning that they were going to try and buy, come hell or high water. Put another way, 21% of those who intend on shopping could may be considered as superfans.

If 9% of passengers had a strong intention to shop in the Duty Free and we look at the average conversion (Total Transactions / Departing Pax) of about 18%, this tells us something. It says that:

  • We are probably converting those 9 shoppers
  • We have influenced another 9 in store to buy
  • There are reasons for the remaining 25 to not purchase

In short, there is an opportunity to do better with 1 in 4 passengers going through the airport.

These finding lead to 3 clear actions that are required:

  1. Target the 1 in 4 shoppers that intend to shop in Duty Free but do not buy
  2. Address the 57% that have no intent on shopping in Duty Free
  3. Run another study to compare the levels of intent

Targeting the 1 in 4

There is a lot of talk in the industry about the ‘non-shopper’ and that 80% of passengers do not make a purchase in Duty Free. In reality, the opportunity is far lower at 25% of passengers. Why do I suggest that? Well, not everyone wants what Duty Free sells. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can be more focused on attracting those that ARE interested but are not purchasing.

If we think about reasons not to buy, there are probably hundreds. There are the usual suspects:

  • Too expensive
  • Haven’t got the product / brand I am looking for
  • Staff ignored me (more common that you would expect sadly)
  • Tills are too busy
  • I don’t have enough time
  • Not enough knowledge to make an informed decision
  • Etc

There are also the elements that we might often overlook:

  • Too stressed to buy (34% of those surveyed said that stress caused by the journey would stop them purchasing)
  • Ability of the staff to actually sell
  • Awareness of correct allowances
  • Impact of other outlets (i.e. F&B, CTN etc)

Out of all of the above, the most problematic is probably stress levels. Recently I flew through Manchester airport and it was incredibly frustrating. The security queues were not effective and everyone around me was getting frustrated. Frustrated and stressed people do not shop.

Frustration can come from one major fail or it can build up over time through micro-fails (several small frustrations that all compound and switch the shopper off). So, in my case, a minor frustration was parking, another in security, the state of the toilets, another trying to find a seat somewhere….. they all built up to a point where the idea of shopping was the last thing on my mind.

So how do we go about targeting the 1 in 4 passengers?

  • Reviewing the path to gate
    • Working together to iron out any possible barriers and stresses in the journey from home to gate
    • Develop empathy skills in airport and store staff
    • Opt for effectiveness over efficiency. Yes, you can run with one less security lane and reduce costs but is it a great experience? If a third of people stop spending if they are stressed, it might need further consideration.
  • Reviewing the path to purchase in store
    • Navigation
    • Layout
    • Store staff
    • Till point processes
    • Etc
  • Range review
    • Right products to suit the right audience
    • Right price points etc
    • Right offers
  • Creating a better in-store experiences
    • Our mystery shopping trips have uncovered some disappointing behaviours.
    • A lack of selling skills is very much apparent

Addressing the 57%

According to our survey, 57% had no intention of shopping in Duty Free. There may be many reasons for this. Key reasons might be:

  • I don’t want or need the products you sell
  • It is too expensive
  • I don’t want to have to carry it
  • I wasn’t aware of Duty Free stores
  • etc

Targeting this 57% is a little more challenging. Unlocking them to change their perception of Duty Free will require considerable effort. It requires an element of brand building but not of the stores, of the channel itself. I am not entirely convinced that there is brand loyalty out there at a retailer level because there is no competition. You have to buy from where you are flying from. Another factor is pricing. I flew through an airport and went to pick up some confectionery and it shockingly expensive. High prices on everyday products can distort perceptions on other core categories such as Liquor and Beauty. In the mind of the shopper, it becomes an expensive place to shop.

So, attracting more of those 57% will require focus on 4 things:

  • Driving pre-awareness of the store
  • Boosting the perception of value (not just for those who spend £10k on a watch)
  • Broadening the appeal (finding categories that people DO want to buy into)
  • Effective targeting & engagement (through the right assortment, right offers and right communication).

In Summary

  • Intention provides interesting insight when compared to behaviour
  • The more realistic opportunity is 1 in 4, not 8 in 10.
  • Segmenting the passengers into 2 groups (the intent but no purchase / no intent) can guide action.
  • Targeting the 1 in 4 means a collaborative approach to redesigning the experience
  • Attracting the 57% will require a shift in perception of Duty Free & broadening the appeal.

One Final Thought

I do believe part of the study we did should be re-run. I would be very curious to see how intent has changed since this survey was run. Also, I would be curious to see how this differs in key markets around the world.

If you or your business want to see Research done differently in our channel, drop me a line at

Does this mean that we are going to be fully entering the Travel Retail Research arena?

Let’s wait and see.

Have a great week.


Founder & Managing Director
One Red Kite Limited

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