|Photo by andlun1 via Flickr|
Ellie Pithers, The Daily Telegraph, January 23, 2015
Travel retail has been growing at about 12 percent since 2009, so it's no wonder Heathrow's Terminal 5 is chock full with luxury brands. Louis Vuitton is the latest to join the party, says Ellie Pithers.
The golden hour: a time of seed-planting for Tennyson and of perfect cinematic lighting for Terrence Malick. At Heathrow, however, the term has a more mercenary ring to it: this is the window between clearing security and boarding a plane, when passengers are at a loose end and most likely to spend.
Airport shopping is now an important prong in a global brand’s retail strategy. Travel retail has been growing at about 12 per cent since 2009 and a similar growth is expected in the next two to three years, putting it at double the growth rate for the luxury goods market, according to Exane BNP Paribas. Heathrow saw sales of £200 milllion over Christmas 2014, a record high, with £1 in every £160 expected to be spent on fashion in Britain in 2015 predicted to happen at Heathrow. Not for nothing does Luxottica, an Italian eyewear conglomerate, refer to airport sales as “the Formula One of retail”.
Keen to join the Grand Prix is Louis Vuitton, which opened its first European airport store at Heathrow Terminal 5 in December – a shop with a façade so vast, it can be seen from all levels in the terminal. There are 22 fashion and luxury brands with outposts in T5, but Vuitton occupies prime position.
“We are excited by the diversity of clients who pass through Terminal 5, so we have an intelligent offering of leather goods, women’s ready-to-wear and shoes, fashion jewellery, sunglasses, accessories, fine jewellery and watches,” says Tom Meggle, the managing director.
Every idle traveller pondering the shop’s exterior can watch a digital installation by Ange Leccia, a French filmmaker and painter, whose film of the Mediterranean sea is intended to chime with the nautical touches in the Cruise collection (think navy jumpers with porthole cut-outs and coral branches embroidered on silk sheath skirts) on sale inside.
Louis Vuitton's nautical-inspired Cruise collection. Photo: REX
Many of those idle travellers will wander inside. For unlike the guarded confines of the luxury stores in Sloane Square, where the “Pretty Woman effect” often sparks a crisis of confidence and prevents many customers from buying, the airport is a democratic shopping space.
“You have to do a lot of things to get into that departure lounge,” muses Julia Gillam, the press manager for Heathrow. “Boarding card, passport, security check. Once you get in, you feel like you’ve earned your right to be there. Combined with the fact that these are all open-plan stores that you can enter without a doorman looking at you, the airport gives people the opportunity to explore something that they might be otherwise intimidated by.”
The captive audience is further ensnared by Heathrow’s data-driven shopping experience. The airport knows who their passengers are, to what destination they are travelling, in what class, and at what time. This provides retailers with granular detail with which to target specific customers: to roll out Arabic-speaking sales assistants to coincide with the daily flight to Dubai; or to move socks from the left hand side of the store to the right, because Chinese passengers prefer turning right rather than left.
“We know, for instance, that Japanese passengers prefer shoes in certain sizes, so we will get involved in the product set-out as well as the multilingual arrangement of the sales process,” says Gillam.
This works both ways: if a flight is delayed, the Heathrow app will provide passengers with special offers, such as complimentary macaroons at Tiffany & Co, or free embossing at Smythson.
Enticing business travellers, who make up 43 per cent of passengers at Terminal 5, out of their luxury lounges is trickier – but not impossible. There are 38 personal shoppers at Heathrow, who offer a complimentary service to about 2,000 customers a month. They regularly record sales of more than £100,000 per transaction – for when you can snap up a diamond-encrusted Rolex Daytona watch for just £86,000 (it would set you back £104,000 on the high street), why would you spend your golden hour reading trashy magazines and working your way through a giant Toblerone?
This article was written by Ellie Pithers from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.