Caroline Cook explores the new retail space offered at Birmingham Airport, UK.
On May 13, 2011, World Duty Free (WDF) announced the official launch of its new store, based in the departures lounge of Birmingham Airport’s (BHX) new single terminal. At 18,761ft2 (1,743m2) the new store is almost twice the size of its predecessor, Alpha Airport Shopping, and offers a larger range of products across all categories, including liquor, beauty, luxury items and confectionery.
The new retail space was built on the site that was occupied by security before BHX’s recent reconstruction. After almost two years of planning, construction of the new walkthrough store was completed during the first part of this year and opened six days ahead of schedule, according to Store Manager Shaun Stanley.
“It was always mapped in terms of having a central walkway and the tertiary walkways. There are around 50 supporting pillars – what we’ve tried to do with the design is ensure that they don’t look out of place,” he told Airports International. WDF has transformed the columns into features that incorporate the various products around the store.
WDF worked closely with BHX in the creation of the new space and has prepared for the future planned expansion of the airport. Mr Stanley explained: “The size of the store is future proof. The airport currently has nine million departing and arriving passengers. That number is set to rise to 17 million over the next ten years.” He believes that the store is more than capable of coping with these increased levels of customers and outlined other features that will prepare it for future changes.
Recent legislation in the UK stipulates that by October 2011, all large retailers must remove tobacco products from display. In its new Birmingham store, WDF has a self-contained Tobacco Display Area (TDA), the first in a UK mainland store. The walls are 6ft (1.8m) high, to comply with the new regulations, and can be easily closed off from the rest of the store.
Another integral section is the beauty category. WDF offers 13 boutique areas, from brands such as Bodyshop and Chanel. “Beauty makes up just over 50% of the store,” said Mr Stanley. “We have a really strong mix across all of our categories. We’ve effectively allowed the brands to lay out their own space. They have their own distinct style, with individual furniture, tiling and displays.”
“All of these brands have skincare, cosmetics and fragrance within them. Sales have proved that there’s definitely an appetite for that luxury brand, for that luxury product.”
Chanel in particular offers a new concept called l’Espace at BHX, which is only available in two other high street stores. The 646sq ft (60m2) space includes the prestigious Chanel Beaut range, 12 exclusive fragrances and limited edition lines. Next door, the new Cocoon concept offers niche, high-end products such as Hissyfit and Molton Brown, clustered together to form a spa environment.
Each boutique is manned by brand specialists to help guide the customer through the retail process. “We have over 120 staff. With the brand consultants, that number goes up to about 170,” said Mr Stanley. “We’ve created 25 new jobs since we opened the store and as we go into summer, we’re finding the need to increase that. We’re set up to open 24 hours a day. Any time a passenger comes through security, we’re open. You need a great team to be able to deal with that.”
WDF claims to offer world class customer service and with the new features now on offer at BHX, it is difficult to argue. The new store creates a calmer atmosphere with more interactive activities aimed towards creating a better customer experience. Mr Stanley recalled the marketing preparations before the store’s official opening: “We had a major landside advertising campaign for a six-week period that Estee Lauder helped us with. We had media advertising and in the departure lounge, we had experiential activity.
“The airport is great in terms of the support it gives is to help promote outside the confines of our store. It is a really good passenger experience,” he claimed.
At the centre of the store is perhaps one of the most innovative features found in a terminal’s retail space. The Events Area aims to inject “in-store theatre and promotional activity” into the passenger’s shopping experience. At the time of writing, the Events Area invited customers to play a dance-themed video game, promoted by fragrance brand Escada.
Mr Stanley is pleased with the outcome of this concept: “It’s not just about the product, it’s about traffic stopping. We’re adding to the customer experience and the events change once every six weeks. We’ve only had two events since opening but they have been massively popular.”
Almost adjacent to the Events Area is WDF’s new “Contentainment” division, which is planned to be introduced in all new store builds. At BHX, there are 24 high-definition screens offering brand partners the opportunity for digital marketing. “It’s been a fantastic concept for us and we’ve been running live events through it, like the [British] Royal Wedding and Wimbledon [tennis championships]. Driving the customer experience is the number one priority for us at World Duty Free,” said Mr Stanley.
The liquor area has plenty of offerings to add to the customer experience. With dedicated tasting areas based near the store entrance and a wide range of products, the liquor area is one of the first sections that passengers will encounter on their way through the store. Mr Stanley explains some of the limited edition products offered at BHX: “We have a whisky festival running at the moment. There are over 40 exclusives that can’t be bought on the high street. We have over 250 different whiskies available that are 40% off the high street prices. They range from well known brands to more niche labels.”
In fact, WDF claims to have a particular focus on locally-sourced products. “It’s about having something that’s just a little different,” said Mr Stanley. “Part of the company ethos is to try to source those local exclusive products. We’re looking to expand our partners in localised brands.”
A better known local name is Cadbury’s. WDF has recognised Cadbury’s importance to Birmingham and has created an individual area in the confectionery zone to emphasise this significance to the customer. Other personalised confectioners include Thorntons and Godiva.
The luxury area is also well stocked with big brands. Products from Rayban, Radley, Swatch and D&G among others are joined with lesser known names such as Timex and Charmed. The whole area is complemented by further offerings from the Collection store located next to WDF, which aims to offer savings of at least 20% off high street prices.
WDF has clearly strived to create a unique space that offers a little extra to BHX’s passengers. “The other area – and I believe we’re the first to use this space – is having a queuing system like this,” said Mr Stanley, referring to the cashier tills located away from the door. “A lot of walkthrough stores have tills on the exit and then people leave. Effectively, we have a second entrance to the store so people can come back from the departure lounge.”
Mr Stanley feels that the new store epitomises the WDF standards for customer service. He said: “Value is two things: there’s the price and there’s also the added service that comes within that. We have a 60-day return policy and customer schemes, such as collect and return, which enables you to collect your purchases when you return from our arrivals store.
“Having 100% walkthrough is a major benefit but actually the design of the store has meant that people quite like the atmosphere and have a nice wander around the different sections,” he says.