Retail tech: making connections
Benjamin Coren finds out how airlines can make use of technology to increase inflight sales
As airlines seek to monetise each step of the passenger journey it is the 'black hole' period of time when passengers are in the air which has become the key focus for change. Onboard technology is increasingly seen as the solution.
Airlines can easily miss out on ancillary revenue if they have inefficient inventory management, fail to personalise the offer or neglect flight crew issues. Attendants today have limited time to wait on passengers with fully booked flights and safety obligations, so onboard retail technology needs to work hard to enhance the inflight retail experience.
Mike Boote, md for flight POS, defines the challenge: “Retail onboard is about bringing together a set of parameters. The airline must get the correct inventory in front of a passenger who wants to buy, at a time when they want it, and they must present it in a way that the passenger can relate to. Then selection, payment and fulfilment processes have to be both seamless and pain-free experiences.”
Focused on the use of retail systems to support new revenue streams, Flight POS has developed technology which better supports airlines in selecting and stocking products and gets them in front of the passenger via a mobile app. Boote adds: "Currently
there is a regular inventory provided by the caterer but the technology means we can expand that to include entertainment, destination attractions, even white-labelled online gambling options on some routes. The potential is huge."
Guestlogix has been evolving its onboard retail solutions too to open up new revenue streams and transform the sales process. It will release a new platform in early 2018 which it debuted at APEX in California this year, showing a mobile app designed to support crew to deliver a better inflight experience, increase sales and streamline operations. Crew sign into its airline commerce platform through the app to open and close orders and monitor inventory.
Built-in learning algorithms mean the airline can stock inventory intelligently, converting customer data into business intelligence - hence more sales.
Mike Abramsky, ceo, Guestlogix says: “We think retail in airlines is about to change and have been engaging with clients to create a solution.”
The solution uses intuitive software to elevate the passenger retail experience, making it easy to shop, order and pay via multiple payment options. It can also use customer data to support sales, marketing and loyalty campaigns.
Abramsky adds: “There are three components. One is the trade area which helps make flight attendants more
efficient through better software and point of sale processes. Secondly, via the airline app, the platform can engage with passengers and provide a consistent experience with virtual and physical ancillaries. By taking purchasing habits data we can make relevant recommendations. Thirdly, we offer a set of tools giving airlines insights they can use to promote relevant products and services, something new for the UK air industry.
"The entire platform is designed to be easy to use and reliable and our mission is offer personalisation in that current gap - the time the customer is in the air."
Abramsky believes personalisation improves the passenger retail experience by using tools already onboard and apps that mirror those they know through brands like Amazon and Starbucks, offering a quick, simple and positive experience.
Certainly, personalisation appears to be at the centre of most plans to grow inflight sales. Likely developments include more coherent integration with chat-bot technology in user apps such as Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger. After ordering a meal, suggestions of a suitable wine or the offer of a discounted dessert could be made without crew intervention. Carriers could also build passenger profiles and use spending habits data to target specific sales. They will also be able to automate loading decisions to optimise trolley contents by route and time of day, bringing sales revenue benefits and reducing waste.
Stefan Patermann, ceo Retail INMOTION, has worked on retail tech solutions for over 40 airlines. He says: "While most major forecasts show the onboard retail industry continuing to grow, the 'how' of that growth is very intriguing. We are developing a truly comprehensive digital platform for airlines that touches each and every customer touchpoint. However, there is much more to it than that. Airlines need a solution that maximises the efficiencies of their onboard retail programme through one system, controlling supply chain management, monitoring product mixes, increasing the intersections along the passenger journey where purchases can be made, and providing apps that enable crew to run the entire process. The power comes in connecting all these things in an all-inclusive digital retail platform. That will be exciting."
Lufthansa Systems has also been developing opportunites to monetise the 'black hole' of the travel chain through its boardconnect software.
These developments focus on IFE provision through personal devices. The new boardconnect 5.0 features a refreshed user interface that can be themed and optimised. There is also a new content management system, enabling the airline to make any content changes quickly.
Lufthansa System's head of passenger experience products and solutions, Jan-Peter Gänse, says: “We are moving to make use of smart interfaces. Our server has data on aircraft positioning and you can use other data too, to enhance the travel experience. Opening up the digital space on the aircraft is the next big thing that will happen. All aircraft will be connected in the future.”
Pictured: Intuitive technology is helping to support onboard sales and inventory management