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Driving innovation in duty free

Selling of luxury brands in duty-free retail is a different value proposition than in reputed concept stores in a mall or the main shopping street of your nearest city.

Research shows that most travelers have money to spend and due to the environment of duty-free, are likely to be in a mindset of spending, just as part of the travel experience. This can be for self-pampering or as a gift; around 46% of passengers are buying as a gift, and it can be both business people as well as people traveling for well-deserved holidays.

Research company Statista reflects that customers value the following points:

To fit these desires, and to be able to create such an experience, products should reflect quality, be different, have a price advantage, be convenient, suitable as a gift, but the approach of the selling process should also be very personal. Simply because travelers experience travel as me-time and are super sensitive to that idea while buying and spending their waiting time.

In all of my previous sales and marketing experience with corporates, I always made sure the brand invests enough in training the sales people; nowadays even online tools and social media (= a new competitor for time-killing moments!) are being used to inform the customer in-depth.

Cultural awareness: Different cultures consider a different sensitivity to issues like showing skin, applying deodorant, interpreting printed (sexual oriented or even potentially perceived racist) slogans on T-Shirts, family privacy, consuming alcohol, or consuming pork meat. Depending on each culture and location, the duty-free ambassador needs to be very aware of those facts.

Empathy: Salespeople need to understand the mood travelers are in and apply the same mood when engaging in a sales talk to get a quicker buy-in. Leisure travel is different from business travel and being on the way to see your relatives, attending a marriage, or traveling for a health emergency requires all different ways of showing empathy to the customer. It is therefore also imperative for brands to invest in duty-free marketing activations that reflect and re-create the targeted consumer mood.

Product knowledge: The ability for quick and right answers is mostly closing the deal. Storytelling and the must-have self-experience with the product the ambassador is promoting is the best way to convince. A new vendor should never feel discouraged to give samples to sales promoters, it will pay off in the long run. It is often a forgotten factor and too many times it is assumed that salespeople know how to sell “everything”.

Service attitude: Especially in duty-free retail, sales promoters need to make the customer feel special, individual, and worth doing every effort for. Different cultures have specific expectations when it comes to customer service and will be more likely to buy certain types of products than others.

Wellbeing: Salespeople should be valued by their organization and given attention for social well-being. When the sales promotor is feeling great in their skin, it will convey the same positivism to the customer.

The Duty-free retail environment, based on history and investment by the respective brands, is also very stubbornly organized into pillars (e.g., LTC, P&C, Food), which sadly often results in sales promoters being categorized into one of those pillars and remaining in their category forever. In my opinion, this delays the innovation that is so badly required and mentioned by almost everyone in the industry. It delays emerging categories from being taken on board and it doesn’t create a long-term sustainable sales model. This innovation drive should be driven by every Duty-Free Management Team: they should create an innovation culture and set up a process from within the organization, which should be part of the salespeople’s role as a dedicated theme and include data from customer surveys. It will support the efforts made by new on-trend brands to enter the global duty-free retail and create a whole new level of engagement, shorten the current lead times required to bring change, to reach new sales heights in the future.

Hendrik Verbrugghe is Level 7 qualified and a Chartered Marketeer from CIM and is founder of Dubai based TRBizz, an office that works closely under the JES Partner Programme (

For more information on the work of TRBizz visit

Disclaimer: Guest posts and comments represent the diversity of opinion within the travel retail world, the views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author.

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