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
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
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.