Opin­ion: Make re­tail easy

Buy-on-board ser­vice is now a key rev­enue earner and air­lines need to pay close at­ten­tion to some ser­vice de­tails if it is to suc­ceed, says Rob Brit­ton

Onboard Hospitality - - Contents -

Since the early 2000s, es­tab­lished air­lines and start-ups alike have en­thu­si­as­ti­cally adopted on­board re­tail­ing as part of a larger shift to un­bundling ser­vice el­e­ments that were once in­cluded in the ticket price. Rev­enues from a wide range of an­cil­lary ser­vices have be­come ma­jor el­e­ments in air­line prof­itabil­ity.

As part of this, on­board sales are recog­nised as a big growth op­por­tu­nity but I have ob­served wide vari­a­tions in the plan­ning and de­liv­ery of buy-on-board ser­vices, re­duc­ing their fi­nan­cial po­ten­tial and, more im­por­tantly, frus­trat­ing the cus­tomer. Many car­ri­ers seem to ig­nore the maxim 'make it easy to buy', and best prac­tices are slow to evolve and slower to spread.

Keep it sim­ple

Here are three ba­sics to con­sider. First, be sure to stream­line and test the en­tire chain, from whole­sale pur­chas­ing to de­liv­ery. Pay at­ten­tion to ev­ery part of sup­ply. Mon­i­tor and track what’s put on board, what sells, and what gets left – and use that data. Air­lines can now cap­ture this data quickly and eas­ily and un­der­stand­ing what works re­duces waste and im­proves both the guest ex­pe­ri­ence and the bot­tom line.

Se­condly, sim­plify pay­ment sys­tems. Many air­lines still ac­cept cash, even though most cus­tomers use cards or phones for ev­ery­day pur­chases. Han­dling cash is ex­pen­sive: it dis­ap­pears, it re­quires phys­i­cal de­posit, and it’s just so 19th cen­tury. Get rid of it. If a cus­tomer only has cash, his or her seat­mate will gladly be the banker. Con­fig­ure your on­board pay­ment sys­tems so they don’t re­ject for­eign credit or debit cards – be pru­dent, but err on the side of trust (Euro­pean air­lines of­ten re­ject my MasterCard that is never close to be­ing maxed out!). Ac­cept Ap­plePay and other widely-ac­cepted sys­tems. And if the cus­tomer pays in ad­vance, while mak­ing an on­line book­ing, make sure the trans­ac­tion data flows flaw­lessly to the cabin crew.

Many car­ri­ers ig­nore the maxim 'make it easy to buy' and best prac­tices are slow to evolve and


Up­date tech

Thirdly, shop care­fully for on­board sales tech­nol­ogy. Don’t get tied to fail­ure-prone de­vices, like in-seat NFC credit-card readers, nor to pro­pri­etary hand­held POS ter­mi­nals. Lead­ers in on­board sales, like Delta Air Lines, use off-the-shelf hard­ware like iPads and Nokia smart­phones, which are cheap and easy to buy (or re­place); use apps that are quick and sim­ple to write and mod­ify; cap­ture what­ever data you need; and re­quire much less crew train­ing.

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