Aviation trends - The growth of experiential retail in airports

Peter Farmer landscape BW

Contact Peter Farmer, Design Director, Aviation

At Benoy, the starting point for creating ‘great places’ begins with an inherent understanding of location, environment and population. It’s an approach we apply to every project and sector we work in, including aviation.

Across our growing aviation portfolio, we work closely with our sister company, Pragma, who provide research-based insights into passenger behaviour directly linked to commercial performance and value. Here, Peter Farmer, Aviation Design Director, explains how virtual, physical and multisensory experiences are vital for airport terminal design schemes.

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After a prolonged period of handwringing over the rapid encroachment of e‑commerce, airports are starting to embrace innovations in digital tech and virtual reality within their retail environments. Leveraging these developments to enhance customer service, airports are using e‑commerce to maximise engagement with their captive passenger audience. However, as our research tells us, the digital needs to be twinned with the physical in order to gain real traction with modern consumers – whether in high-street stores, shopping malls or airport retail spaces.

Balancing the physical and the virtual

Post COVID, we’ve seen a sophisticated reappraisal of the interaction between virtual and physical environments – one which will prove decisive in balancing commercial return with passenger experience in the new aviation landscape. Consumers are displaying a more mature level of engagement with personal technology, combining the digital and physical in their browsing, testing and buying. And the degree and depth of conversion is greatly increased by the quality of the physical engagement.

Recent Pragma research demonstrates the online COVID bounce is correcting, not 100% but substantially. Even if we continue to transact virtually, the importance of the link with the physical is undeniable. We’re social and sensory beings, not digital ones, and retailers are connecting virtual footprints with physical retail spaces, looking to build communities and drive engagement – often through storytelling and hospitality. Ultimately, a good physical experience is deeper, and therefore more likely to convert browsing into transaction and build lasting brand loyalty.


A multi-sensory experience

Physical retail environments also have the ability to engage consumers through their five senses. A multisensory experience in retail triggers an emotional response before the cognitive and rational decision-making faculties have time to react. Provided this is a positive response, shoppers engaged through all five senses are more likely to spend time instore and make purchases.

Touch is the key driver of desire for the physical. It provides a tactile promise of reality and quality, taking consumers closer to the transaction threshold. The visual, meanwhile, is the most obvious sensory focal point for retailers. Lighting, colour and form draw the eye to the physical product, illuminating its features and enticing the consumer. Sound has a massive influences on mood and our subconscious orientation towards a brand. And our sense of smell is directly linked to the brain’s limbic system, which is the region dealing with long-term memory and emotion. The proportional demand for food and beverage also continues to grow, and taste, in conjunction with smell, plays its part as we explore the integration of food and beverage within the multisensory commercial experience. 

By reaching consumers through all five senses, retailers can engage, inspire and delight in ways that can’t be achieved through single-sensory, mono-channel approaches. As Mohamed Hisham, Pragma Consultant, explains: 

Results from Pragma’s Pulse Global Survey of consumer behaviour shows that shoppers in the USA, the UK and India have the highest frequency of visits to physical stores. This demonstrates the importance of creating more innovative and experiential retail stores with unique displays, art installations, storytelling, theatre and digital integration.’

Deepening connections in airport environments

The digital environment is a functional one. While meeting our demand for ease and speed, it fails to meet our emotional and visceral needs. Around the world, airport authorities are beginning to realise the benefits of blending the virtual and the physical within their retail environments, and of reaching across all five senses to engage passengers/​consumers.

At the Loius Vuitton Lounge at Hamad International Airport in Doha, for example, designers have taken a strong approach to visual and tactile branding, linking their flagship store with a three-star Michelin chef-branded space. This innovative and exciting collaboration activates a multisensory experience, deepening customer connections through quality personal engagement. 

As airports look to explore these opportunities, Benoy and Pragma are well placed to leverage their data-driven research and design capabilities to deliver world-class terminal spaces. By engaging customers across diverse channels, senses and environments, we aim to maximise return and experience within the evolving aviation landscape. 

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