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Overcoming Ecommerce’s Biggest Challenge: Fragmentation

28 May 2019
Victoria Wallace

The 2018 Harvard Business Review opened with the gloomy prediction that, “No industry is failing faster than retail.” It’s true that the disruption caused by ecommerce has seen some of the world’s longest-standing retailers driven into bankruptcy; at last count, 68 major names in the last four years.

However, there are plenty who argue that the ‘retail apocalypse’ represents a failure to accept changing customer expectation. When buying almost anything, today’s customers just have much more choice. While ecommerce represents 13.7% of all retail sales in 2019 and is predicted to have a 17.5% share of the market by 2021, these figures are coloured by Amazon’s success, which accounted for 80% of the market’s growth in 2018. The fact is, ecommerce’s rate of growth is slowing.

Meanwhile, things look rosy for the travel industry. Global air passenger traffic in January 2019 was 6.5% higher than in January 2018. This is good news for airports, and for the retailers operating within the airport terminals, because a higher footfall means more custom. Airports are profiting from non-aeronautical revenue streams, and retailers can capitalise on a customer demographic that is both fluid and captive. Those passengers who have an hour or so to kill between check-in and departure therefore become a big target for the airport and its retail concessions.

Where duty free used to represent the sole opportunity for an airport to separate customers from their cash, the lure of lower prices now means little to passengers used to searching for deals online. Many people are more interested in enjoying an experience whereby the airport becomes a destination in itself. Airport retailers are stepping up their game with attractive storefront designs, destination-tailored products and digital touchpoints, and airports are focusing on harnessing customer data to personalise the customer experience.

The airport industry has been quite slow to adapt to the changing retail landscape. With a guaranteed footfall on one hand and the speed of change on the other, many airports have been missing out on opportunities to meet customer expectation and to grow revenue.

As they begin to catch up with the ecommerce revolution, there are several things that make a difference. Most importantly, they must be able to communicate their product offer to the passenger prior to arrival at the airport, rather than only when that person is travelling through the terminal. This shifts the customer’s decision making from ‘impulse’ to ‘planned’, and provides a connection with channel offers and notifications, especially relevant for more frequent flyers.

BUT engaging with the digital customer is about more than providing an ecommerce booking solution: It’s necessary to hurdle the challenges that ecommerce presents. The biggest of these is fragmentation.

What is fragmentation?

Today’s customers will visit your airport brand on multiple devices. They will access your airport from numerous locations in both the physical and digital world during the course of accomplishing a single task such as researching a holiday. Customers also expect their experience of physical and digital to be seamless and cohesive. As smartphones and other smart devices that are able to exchange live data become more integrated, user expectation has changed accordingly.

Consider the touchpoints that connect a passenger during their journey. First, they may visit your website to search for flights. This search may result in an online booking. The customer then receives an SMS confirmation and an email containing the flight details, which may be read on a smartphone. Later the customer might check in using the smartphone but choose seats from a kiosk at the airport. Once on the plane, in-flight messages might be shown on a TV console. During the initial online booking, the customer might be told about promotional offers and upgrades, up and cross sell products or loyalty schemes. At each of these touchpoints and channels, there is a huge variety of information and interaction.

The increased number of channels presents the challenge of fragmentation. Today’s path to purchase might begin on Instagram and end at the airport terminal, or through a website landing page linked to a social media promotion. Passengers may be spurred to book through organic search results, targeting or because of engaging content.

The result is that businesses are keen to adopt a multichannel or omnichannel solution; to be everywhere for everyone all the time. The problem with this is they can easily end up being nowhere for anyone. This is fragmentation: When the customer experience across channels is ‘fragmented’, in that it is neither seamless nor consistent and the result is an unsatisfactory customer experience.

The fact is, competitive advantage can only be gained when you can guarantee experiences of value across the entire customer journey. The most important aspect of ecommerce is not what happens online; it’s what happens when your airport delivers.

Mind the gap

Passengers will find any disconnect between what your airport brand promises and their actual experience very frustrating. They don’t care about channels; they just want to feel confident they will receive what has been promised without any problems. Their image of a brand is built from their experiences across all channels and touchpoints over a period of time.

For example, if your airport promises a hassle-free journey through the terminal but the passenger ends up stuck in long security queues, trust will be lost.

Be aware of multiple devices

Most passengers will experience a large part of their multi-channel booking journey online via multiple devices. Customers no longer access media or carry out online tasks in isolation or in one sitting. They move from one device to another and sometimes even carry out their activity on several devices at once. This makes it clear how necessary it is to consider the whole customer journey and create a customer experience that consistently fulfils what your airport brand promises across all platforms.

Embracing expectation

Imagine your airport offers a pre-order or click & collect service. Passengers need to order twelve to 24 hours in advance through your system. There is a window of opportunity here for a more instant at-seat or in-lounge delivery where the retail is brought to the customer. Several airports are already experimenting with food delivery schemes within the terminal that achieve just this ideal.

The end game is to tailor your offers and products to the needs and wants of the customer in real time, and for this reason, digital screens and apps can define the customer experience of the airport. A personalised experience will use dynamic messaging in line with the passenger’s profile. The data from your CRM system gives you so much information about who is coming through the airport at any time (a luxury not available to high-street retailers) and you can even adapt advertising to specific destinations in line with your departure schedule.

4 ways to avoid a fragmented passenger experience

When faced with the multi-screen, multi-device environment through which most shoppers will experience your airport brand, the aim is to create a single, appropriate, engaging conversation with your passengers. Several core principles will ensure this:

1. Use adaptive designs
Every different device has its own characteristics and strengths. A smartphone will provide you with the user’s location, enabling a smooth transition between digital and physical channels via your airport’s app. Your app can have many features that enhance the passenger journey inside the terminal including wayfinding, time-to-gate, boarding notifications and personalised up and cross sell offers. But due to aspects such as screen size, not all channels are appropriate for all tasks. This makes it necessary to use adaptive design techniques to optimise the customer experience on each channel. If your mobile app is being used for check-in, there’s no place for extensive destination guides, but these can be located in a more appropriate place such as your desktop website, or provided via a compact destination menu that expands on click.

2. Be consistent in your brand identity
Consistency is essential to user trust. Imagine if the Coca Cola logo suddenly changed. Would you still believe in the product and buy it with the same confidence? The layout, functionality, visual design and tone of your messages must be consistent across devices. By building a consistent tone you let people know what your brand is about, and you keep their trust. Once this has been achieved, you can link from one channel to another so that you can up and cross sell. Remember, if a passenger has a bad experience in one channel, whether that’s your airport terminal or your customer service chatbot, they are less likely to order from you online, no matter how slick your website and integrated booking function is. By keeping the design of your customer facing digital ‘storefront’ consistent, seamless and adaptive, the challenges of multi-device are minimised, and customer loyalty increases, leading to better returns.

3. Seamless transition between channels
Users are often interrupted or may choose to switch to a different device mid task. This transition must be frictionless. If your flight and car park booking system is linked to CRM software, it will be possible to connect the user’s data, preferences and buying and browsing history across all devices. If a customer is viewing airport parking facilities on their smartphone and then switches to desktop, a seamless experience would be one where the new device automatically recognises the customer and starts again where they left off. The built in business intelligence in Rezcomm’s systems can then predict the customer’s needs and actions and proactively present value-add options to them.

4. Understand how your customers use their devices
People use their devices in all sorts of places – at home, at work and even on the go. Tasks, functions and information must be presented with this in mind. Using the data analytics in your Rezcomm software, you will be able to see at a glance which tasks are most commonly performed on each device and focus your resources accordingly. If your airport app is most often used for quick searches, it should feature quick, accessible information and wayfinding. You can highlight more detailed information on your desktop website.

The new face of retail

Ecommerce has raised the bar when it comes to consumer expectations. Customers demand a convenient, personalised, omnichannel experience both online and in the terminal. This new-style retail involves passengers engaging with your airport seamlessly across ecommerce, bricks and mortar, social media, mobile app and every other channel, and finding your brand, message and offering consistent throughout.

But an omnichannel strategy will be most successful when combined with the ability to leverage actionable customer insights.

The benefits to leveraging big data to optimise the customer experience

An optimised customer journey:
When your airport uses customer data to provide a 360-degree view of the customer journey, it becomes easy to optimise the passenger experience inside the terminal, improve customer service, build loyalty and retention and increase revenue.

Personalisation in marketing
When your airport can leverage data about customer behaviour and integrate that information with mobile, ecommerce and social media, it becomes easy for marketers to create targeted promotions and engage customers with personalised campaigns.

Improved margins and supply chain management
Using Rezcomm’s systems, it’s easy to analyse sales and customer data and to understand and predict peak times for services and traffic at your airport. This makes is possible to optimise pricing, identify and predict trends and forecast demand, which in turn will increase operational efficiency and save you money.

Better Business Decisions
The real-time reporting and analytics in the Rezcomm dashboard give you the information needed to make insightful business decisions. According to a survey by NewVantage Partners the most value provided by big data after decreasing expenses is the creation of new avenues for innovation and disruption.

Your airport may already have access to the data necessary to provide a better customer service. With Rezcomm’s systems you will also have the ability to combine data from multiple sources, analyse the data to identify trends and opportunities, and process the data in real time for immediate improvements. This is the secret to eliminating fragmentation.

Rezcomm has access to data from a quarter of a billion passengers worldwide and is expert in accelerating airport revenue through smart, intuitive tech. If you have any questions about how you can use our ecommerce and CRM technology to develop a seamless omnichannel customer experience, contact us for a chat.