While malls may be echoing the sounds of silence, I noticed that there was no lack of foot traffic in our U.S. airports this week. There seems to be a healthy number of travelers walking past a healthy number of stores filled with a healthy amount of merchandise. I wondered if there was also a healthy number of transactions taking place, or if, like their mall counterparts, airport retailers were swinging cats and hitting nothing in particular.
After some quickie mystery shops I am glad to report that gum is still being chewed, ball caps are still being worn, and fisherman footwear is still in style. I was informed by the man who was purchasing the shoes that fishing style never goes out of style, an opinion that was not, apparently, shared by the disapproving woman standing next to him. The point is, people were both shopping and purchasing, and the retail economy is not at a complete standstill.
In fact, AviationRecord.com reports that in all the ways that traditional malls are suffering, airport mini-malls are thriving. According to UK based Verdict Research, airport retailing will grow globally by 11% in 2008, a growth that will be second only to e-commerce. Now knowing the facts and figures, I am stunned by the airport retailing practices I observed. More accurately I am stunned by the retailing practices I didnít observe.
It seems to me that if you are lucky enough to be positioned in a place where shoppers are still shopping, you would see that vein of gold and mine it with every tool known to retailing. Yet, overall, what I observed was apathetic, counter-hugging cash register attendants who were making change and watching for shoplifters. A notable majority of the airport retail employees I observed spoke when they were spoken to, proactively offered nothing, and contributed not at all to the storeís shopping experience. Do airport retailers know that there is a shopping experience? From their merchandising efforts I have to conclude that somebody does.
For example, when you walk through the Spirit of the Red Horse store or the Metropolitan Museum of Art shop in Houstonís Intercontinental Airport, the layout, the inventory, and the visual displays are all very engaging. Yet, I walked through both stores looking, touching, and merchandise handling without being engaged once by any of the four employees I saw. At the Metropolitan Museum shop, I didnít learn what made the earrings I held up to my ears worth $150, or why the tie I picked up was so special that I would want to pay $75 for it. I did learn, however, why the SKUs werenít triggering the reorder system, and why the blankety-blank home office people wouldnít let the cashiers use any of the workarounds. That discussion was apparently more important than any conversation that involved me.
Missing opportunities in a good retail economy is a passive act of negligence. Missing opportunities in todayís economy is a willful crime of abandonment. If you canít do any better than show up and open your doors, then please turn over your keys to someone who cares now. Thatís what youíll be doing eventually.