Gatwick Airport retail design makeover reflects continuing travel retail sector growth

8th October 2014

This week we continue to examine the growth of the travel retail sector, in the run up to the 30th TFWA Duty Free and Travel Retail Global Summit in Cannes at the end of this month. Airport retail design has been a key factor in this growth and an area in which Barber Design are fast becoming experts. The latest UK airport to complete a retail design makeover is Gatwick – where initial indications suggest that there is an obvious benefit in developing an effective trade offer in travel hubs.

Gatwick Airport's new retail offer

An article in Retail Week recently suggested that travel retail has ‘rocketed up the agenda over the past few years’ as travel retail hubs such as airports and railway stations are ‘no longer content to provide commuters or travellers with a soggy sausage roll and a newspaper.’

There has been a shift in consumer expectation where those who pass through travel hubs expect it to be an integral and joyful part of their journey – with exciting brands, fine dining and high-end customer experience. As previously reported here, Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and King’s Cross St Pancras were quick t cotton onto the burgeoning travel retail trend and revised their retail offer to feature interesting brands in glossy, cleverly-designed units and now both Stansted and Gatwick Airports are both following suit with Gatwick investing an estimated £41 million on their recent retail design makeover.

To date they have brought in ten new brands and the strategy is working: the airport reported a 9.7% rise in retail sales during 2013/14 – to £135.1 million – despite the disruption caused by the refurbishment programme.

Gatwick’s head of retail, Spencer Sheen explained to retail week that Gatwick’s retail revamp was long overdue:

“Previously there had been perhaps a bit of under-investment – its reputation had been seen as second to Heathrow.”

Rather than drawing their retail design inspiration from other airports, the team had looked at what was happening on the high street and they didn’t take the traditional route of focusing specifically on luxury brands:

“We spent our time looking at the likes of Westfield, Oxford Street, Regent Street – as these places fundamentally attract the same customers going through Gatwick.

“To me it goes back to how relevant you are to the customer. We have worked hard to have the best of the high street, such as Fat Face and Victoria’s Secret – a fairly recent addition to the UK travel market.

“Premium brands are important but not many people can afford a £6,500 Gucci handbag. So we’d rather have an offer that is relevant and people really want to engage with.”

The airport has now increased it’s number of retail units from 136 to 146 and also engaged market research processes – listening to customer feedback to find out what travellers really wanted. Over a third of respondents requested a Nando’s restaurant and the team duly obliged, keeping the design of the new restaurant – and the majority of the other stores – close to the layout and design of those on the high street so that customers felt some sense of familiarity – as Gatwick’s business development manager, Charlotte Christiansen, explains:

“Customers are not supposed to feel like they are making a distressed purchase. Instead it’s somewhere they want to hang out and enjoy.”

They also decided to adopt a ‘one of everything’ policy, which Christiansen agrees has raised a few eyebrows as it hasn’t been done at an airport before:

“So we have one coffee shop, one sushi bar, one pub, but they all have to be best-in-class. We are still doubling up on some things. You can’t change everything overnight.“

But so far she suggests that this policy of ‘de-duplication’ has ‘worked a treat’ as the outlets are working harder – and the quality, service and products are all excellent.

As the travel retail trend shows no sign of slowing down we are very excited to be attending the TFWA conference later this month to see what other trends are unfolding in this exciting and innovative retail design sector – and we will be sure to report the results here on the Barber Design blog.


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