[5 minutes]


A lot has changed since the first duty-free shop was established at Shannon Airport in Ireland back in 1947. At first glance, it is quite obvious that the travel retail sector changed its “cheap cigarettes and alcohol” image to become a luxury retail environment that exudes elegance and sophistication. But look closer and you will see that changes run much deeper.


Travel RetailThe aftermath of 9/11 saw the introduction of more stringent security requirements during check-in and passport control. In recent years, airlines own operations teams have introduced technological innovations to extend their check-in times beyond the walls of the airport to offer passengers a more relaxed pre-flight experience. Air passengers can now check-in up to 48 hours in advance, and even print their own boarding passes, allowing them to arrive at the airport later than before. As a result of these changes passenger’s dwell time[1] has been significantly reduced. All good news for the airlines and the passengers, but not so good for the operators of duty-free outlets. A recent research paper showed that on average, today’s passengers spend only 17% of their available time near travel retail outlets. In another research by the University of Stirling published this year, it is reported that on average, passengers spend just over six and a half minutes in a store.


Travel retail operators have had to invest heavily to remove barriers and improve customer satisfaction through the creation of walk-through stores and lavish experiential promotions. Likewise, global brands are under pressure to deliver truly unique experiential marketing campaigns that put travellers at the heart of the buying experience by engaging, exciting, entertaining, surprising, involving and inspiring them. Such promotions, that cater for shorter free dwell times and are delivered through sophisticated technology, are designed to exceed customers’ expectations and enhance their six-and-a-half minutes of airport shopping experience.


Whilst it is undeniable that these changes have injected genuine energy in the travel retail sector, it seems that there is still more to be done to meet the demands of today’s time-poor passengers. This was echoed by Erik Juul-Mortensen (President TFWA) in his opening speech for the 2014 TFWA exhibition when he said that the duty-free and travel retail industry “still doesn’t convert enough passengers into customers”. And again just this week during his opening speech for the 2015 TFWA, he said “when it comes to sales per passenger, our performance is unimpressive. We let a lot of passengers slip through the net.


Understanding how the barriers to purchase have changed as a result of pressures to the travel retail sector is key to boosting conversion rates. However, at Hunter we believe that it is essential that packaging suppliers go a step further. At the packaging design level, for example, travel retail packaging needs to incorporate research insights on passengers’ dwell time and other variables of the travel retail ecosystem into the design and ideation process. This will not only allow for products and packaging to be targeted more effectively, but will also help target previously untapped groups and identify emerging trends.


Some examples where we believe packaging features can benefit from the application of research findings in the travel retail sector are


  1. For gifting packs, the inclusion of packaging features intended to give shoppers greater purchasing confidence when buying a gift have the potential to facilitate the decision-making process and the closing of the sale. The use of windows, accessible product and contents description, easy-open mechanisms that give access to the inside of the pack without damaging the integrity of the gift box are all packaging features that can help reassure a time-poor passenger when purchasing a gift for a loved one.
  2. Harnessing the ubiquitous occurrence of mobile devices and social sharing by including social features such as QR codes, selfie postcards, or unique hashtags. QR codes in particular are extremely popular with non-English speaking passengers who can quickly access online resources without having to type a URL when using their native mobile devices.
  3. Providing unique brand-enhancing value-adds that meet the travel retail passenger’s thirst for exclusives or suit their travel patterns.
  4. Introducing packaging materials and design features that help reduce the weight of the package to help passengers make better use of their limited baggage allowances.


Delivering a dependable brand experience that responds to customers’ needs as well as pressures on the retail channel where those brands are marketed, requires looking beyond the actual product. Turning research insights into practical packaging features that are grounded on a deeper understanding of all the factors at play in the travel retail sector can not only enhance the brand, but also deliver a pleasurable and memorable shopping experience.



[1] Dwell time is defined as the time between a passenger’s arrival at check-in lounge and the scheduled departure time of the flight that the passengers checks in for. Some portions of dwell time are unavoidable (check-in, passport control, transfer to gate, waiting at gate, boarding). The remaining dwell time (which some people refer to as free dwell time) is what is left for the passenger to engage in other activities such as shopping, eating, resting, etc. The amount of free dwell time can change depending on the specific circumstances of the flight, the airport and the day.