The Uber After Effect: why airports have to turn waiting into dwelling

Airports have to turn waiting into dwelling

Uber changed something more than just the taxi market. It changed our allowance for waiting on just about anything. And if there is one place where waiting is standard procedure, it’s at the airport. If airports will keep on increasing consumer spending there, they need to focus more than ever on how to change waiting into dwelling.

Into something that takes the haste and unease out of the airport experience. Something that makes passengers feel they really have enough time to shop around, so that they’ll happily shop around more than they are doing now.

Waiting has become an old-fashioned concept

Thanks to the explosive rise of e-commerce people were already getting used to the “order today, get it tomorrow shipments”. That wasn’t a big leap of faith of (potential) customers; after all, it was about relatively simple to ship packages – they could easily understand the benefits and almost instantly welcomed the hassle taken from their lives.

Willingness to wait in a city

But then Uber came to town and shipped taxi’s to us, no matter where we were, how late it was and for an until then transparent and unbelievable low fee.

Taxi’s! Those things kept you waiting forever for during rush hour and at night and had a knack of never appearing when it was raining.

Uber made us see that waiting is an oldfashioned concept. From now on, we won’t take waiting time for granted anymore. The waiting is over.

Impact on airport expectations

It is not that long ago that airport retail entailed not that much more than magazines and souvenirs. Only in the last decade or so we have seen luxury goods and brand experiences entering the fray. And at the same time airports started to reinvent themselves to become a luxury shopping area.

Obviously, not without reason. Nowhere else in the world you’ll find a more captive audience than at airports. You can easily guess how that works out in consumer spending.

Known in the industry and confirmed in a report by Swiss airport research firm DKMA, passengers who spend more than 60 minutes at the airport are +33% more likely to buy F&B, +27% more likely to buy retail and +13% more likely to buy duty free than passengers who spend fewer than 60 minutes at the airport.

The challenge is to match the staggeringly high expectations of today’s consumers with the Retail and F&B presence at the airport. That will need some doing on an almost continuous basis. Airports are not only competing against the clock, they are also competing against the customer’s perception of time.

The stakes in this competition are high, so it’s certainly worth the money and the effort. An improvement in global satisfaction with the airport of 0.1 (on a 5 point scale) leads to an increase in non-aeronautical revenue per enplaned passenger of US$0.80, also according the DKMA findings.

Strangely enough, however, most airport commercial data focuses on spending patterns: how, where, by whom, when. But it would be more useful to link these with the satisfaction levels of today’s demanding consumers.

Improving dwell time and perceived value

So don’t only map out your customer journey in the office for your persona’s, target groups and such. See what these people use as a benchmark. See what fuels their expectations. Translate that to the airport environment. You will start designing different products and different solutions.

1 Gain dwell time. Hard to execute, but extra spending does start here. Not having enough time is one of the top reasons for not purchasing more or, worse, anything. So make sure that the necessary processes do not eat up too much of the time passengers have at the airport or raise their stress and anxiety levels.

Any time gained at checking-in, security and – underestimated element – people not getting lost or confused by a jungle of signs will increase dwell time.

Already, some airports have redesigned their secutity area into a more speedy and comfortable one. Other have introduced signs telling passengers how long the walk to their gate will take – very helpful as it calms the nerves of people and will help to keep them around the retail area longer.

The next step is the Smart Airports, such as some UK based airports are tracking travellers’ smartphones to reduce queuing times.

2 Re-design the airport offer in line with your customer expectations. Passengers coming to the airport with the intention of buying are three times more likely to purchase F&B, six times more likely to purchase retail and eight times more likely to purchase duty free.

Therefore, go beyond bricks, think clicks. Have a good hard look at your airport’s website. How attractive are the shopping possibilities presented here? Even more: is it possible to order here too? Why should airport shopping be limited to the airport?

"Go beyond bricks, think clicks"

The goal is to enchant and engage your customer. Invest in building a relationship, building a community of regular travellers. Once there is a connection, once the airport is seen as a place of entertainment, shopping and convenience, the spending will rise.

3 Improve your perceived value. In non-duty free retail, more than 45% of passengers who come to the airport with the intention of buying go away empty handed. The lack of time plays a part in that, but also the position of the shops and the choice of products or services they have on offer.

Also, airports need to identify ways to create more perceived value to convince passengers they should buy at the airport rather than wait for the next occasion. Inspire retail partners to continuously come out with innovative ideas. Go beyond the special offers, engage. Organise attractive events and experiences, new convenient order-and-shipping initiatives.

It is easy to underestimate the impact of local and global business on the airports performance perception, but that impact is something that should be taken extremely seriously.

The moment customers just might feel that your offering of products and services don’t fly anymore, they will lose interest fast and with it the feel to buy.

Performance minus Customer expectation = Quality

If your performance remains at the same level and passengers expectations shift more dramatically, you will loose your quality perception.

If you have no or little quality differentiator as a product or service, you become a commodity in the eyes of your audience. The moment you have become that, you’re fast on your way of being seen as outdated.

The perception of this out-dating, that is the Uber Aftereffect. As an airport the increased consumer expectations are forcing you to look harder at the overall quality of the provided services and products.

Therefore, in the years to come, it is not even about meeting their expectations to succeed. It is about surpassing their expectations to survive.