Airports & Travel RetailersBlogOpinion

Introduction by: Peter Marshall

As you know, enjoys an unconventional approach to Travel Retail and, at times, adopts a touch of crystal ball gazing. The Gen Z consumer is certainly an increasingly important topic in the industry. Arguably, though, the importance attached may be disproportionate and this industry is currently over-obsessing on both Gen Zers and Millennials.  We need to be more measured, more balanced in our perspective. Have we completely overlooked the ‘greys’ amongst our targeting? Yes, they are aging, but they are growing in numbers across the world and they still provide a massive opportunity as they not only choose to travel a great deal but also have deep pockets of disposable income.

So, while our sources in the following feature may be a little unconventional – certainly a little different from the usual suspects –  their substance and findings are interesting to say the least. This blog is written by our newest editorial contributor, Cecilia Khan.

There’s a lot of talk in Travel Retail about catering to the needs of Gen Z customers. The conversation between travel retailers, brands and airports is supported by others in the industry  – all intent on ensuring that the sector does not miss its bite of what is considered a golden apple.

To coincide with the upcoming TFWA Asia Pacific Conference and Exhibition in Singapore, travel retail development consultancy Blueprint and research analyst M1nd-set are organising an Asia Pacific Gen Z RedY Consumer Insights workshop. Of course, the presentation is expected to focus on Gen Z consumers from that region, with Sunil Tuli as President of APTRA and Group CEO King Power Group (Hong Kong) adamant that “Gen Z will be the biggest and most significant demographic in Travel Retail in a matter of years”.

But will it?

The industry needs to understand Gen Z’s motivations and their attitudes to travel and duty free shopping.  Are they interested at all in the products/brands that are offered? Do they even think of buying anything as they travel? And, perhaps more importantly, is there a steady barometer of their purchasing interests?


Gen Z’s – or Zoomers – succeed the Millennials and precede Generation Alpha, born from the mid-to-late 1990’s to the early 2010’s. These young travelling consumers, currently aged between 14 and 27, are the ones that are “set to dramatically transform the Travel Retail industry within the coming few years”.

Whilst data related to Travel Retail remains fairly limited, let’s consider some details which are available. Jemima Scott, a consultant from UK-based Pragma Consulting, which specialises in travel and retail property, believes airports need to acknowledge the increasing importance and propensity to travel among Gen Z passengers and to understand how their shopping behaviours differ from older generations.

Departing Gen Z’s, she says, spend more time and money in F&B outlets than in duty free stores. They also prefer to “find a comfortable place to sit and relax” (and possibly recharge – not just themselves, but the mobile phones that are inevitably umbilically attached to their hands). Over 50% of Gen Z’s find local F&B brands the most appealing concept to purchase from.

Scot says Gen Z travellers demand a new type of shopping experience. “Technology drives their shopping habits, but they still enjoy the social aspect of shopping at a physical location. Just over 80% of Gen Z’s browse products online but purchase in store and 56% claim they would consider using an online pre-order or click and collect service at the airport”.

Sadly her data also shows that Gen Z’s generally regard duty free stores as a place “to visit or kill time before their flight”. Scott points out that, according to M-Cube, 49% of Gen Z’s say in-store shopping makes them feel anxious, which has led to the rise of consumer brands investing more in immersive experiences.


“Physical retail still plays a fundamental role in this customer groups’ purchase behaviour”, she says. “Therefore, making highly engaging concession units, with story-telling, in-store theatre and digital integration, operators will be able to attract footfall and spend in their stores. For Gen Z’s, there is a greater emphasis placed on experiences over material wealth, and experiential activation therefore allow brands  to give this audience what it craves”.

While not focused on the Travel Retail industry, ‘next-generation’ consultancy Sia Partners notes that Gen-Z consumption habits follow major trends, with a “notable shift in their mindset, with an increasing emphasis on authenticity, sustainability, and innovation”.

Sia Partners points out that Gen-Z consumers tend to look for products that can be personalised or customised, for exclusive and limited-edition products.

This could obviously work well in Travel Retail as the sector has always welcomed exclusivity and personalisation across most categories and products.

Sia Partners cites a McCann Worldgroup study which reveals that 69% of Gen-Z in the APAC region are on the lookout “for the next cool thing” versus 60% globally. “These young consumers seek out products that allow them to express their uniqueness. For Gen-Z, a luxury item doesn’t have to be the rarest or most expensive,” Sia Partners says. Interesting point.

In countries like South Korea and China, at least half of the Gen-Z population conduct thorough research before they make purchases. They rely on community recommendations and word-of-mouth from peers or influencers on on-line platforms, with sustainability and environmental footprint a major concern.


Sia Partners believes Gen-Z in Asia “presents both a challenge and an opportunity for brands”. “By understanding their unique mindset, values, and consumption behaviours, brands can tailor their strategies to engage with this segment successfully. Through personalisation, innovation, digital engagement, and social responsibility, brands can establish a strong connection with Gen-Z in Asia, securing their loyalty and future growth in the process.”

Let’s also consider studies of Gen Z from multinational investment bank and financial services company Piper Sandler. The company produces ‘semi-annual’ Taking Stock With Teens surveys, highlighting spending trends and brands’ preferences across 49 US states. As Piper Sandler, points out, it’s evident that Gen Z’s preferences in the world of fashion and accessories are “creating ripples”.

Over one third of Gen Z’s surveyed favoured Nike in clothing, followed by the athleisure giant Lululemon at 6% and American Eagle at 4%. Notably, socially conscious brand Pacsun claimed the fourth spot with 3%, signalling Gen Z’s inclination toward brands that champion inclusivity and diversity.

Nike has a “stranglehold” on Gen-Z preferences in footwear, with Converse and Adidas also popular. Top cosmetic brands included e.l.f at 29%, Rare Beauty 13%, Maybelline 6%, and Charlotte Tilbury and L’Oreal both with 5%. Skincare brands were led by CeraVe at 37%, followed by The Ordinary 9%, La Rosche-Posay and Cetaphil at 5% and Glow Recipe 4%.

Top handbag brands included Coach, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Chanel.

It’s worth noting that while these figures do not relate to Travel Retail, they do give a clear indication of what the Gen Z consumers in the US region are buying. Interesting to note, however, that ‘ self-reported’ spending was slightly down while parent contribution had increased slightly.

On Gen Z’s power in shaping brands, Piper Sandler says, “As Gen Z navigates economic uncertainties and leans into sustainable practices, brands face the challenge of aligning with these evolving values. The data speaks volumes: brands that resonate with authenticity, inclusivity, and sustainability are the ones gaining Gen Z’s allegiance.”

Nike may be a dominating name but “the door is wide open for brands that can authentically connect with the values and aspirations of Gen Z”. According to Piper Sandler, “the game is afoot, and the brands that understand and embrace the shift will undoubtedly find themselves at the forefront of Gen Z’s ever-evolving fashion outlook”.

Travel retailers, brands and airports take note: “ever-evolving” is worth highlighting. The Gen Z consumers are getting older, and, presumably, wiser.


That said, a recent report from a UK daily newspaper offers a not-so-positive thought underlining an increasing Gen Z trend towards economic inactivity. At least three million in that demographic in the UK are not interested in working, preferring to rely on benefits and parental support.

So, what does that say for their future spend in Travel Retail?


Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
Back to top button