By: Kevin Rozario   •   email:

The lack of a unified approach to digital in the global $63.5bn duty free and travel retail business is hampering its success. The channel has many things going for it, but joined-up thinking on digital is not one of them.

At the end of 2017, tax refund specialist Global Blue unveiled an improved tax free app for shoppers. That is great for consumers, but it is a clear example of how sales will be diverted away from DF & TR stores, NOT into them.

Called ‘Shop Tax Free’, the app offers powerful features such as live tracking of tax refunds, shopping guides for global destinations (with advanced mapping), and a digital ‘Shop Tax Free’ card. The app offers high spending shoppers everything they need to buy tax free and bag a bargain – downtown.

The upgraded app allows regular travelling shoppers to plan, browse and claim tax free refunds – all in the palm of their hand. So, why wait to buy at the airport DF & TR stores at the end of their trip?

Global Blue defines regular travelling shoppers as those who have bought tax free over three times in the past 24 months. The company says this segment accounts for 8% of travelling shoppers, but over 40% of the spending. This is the same valuable segment that DF & TR operators crave.

The app’s live tracking of refunds is accessible at the touch of a button while geo-location services guide users to the nearest customs and refund offices. A refund calculator provides live currency updates and automatic home currency conversion.

Mapping downtown tax free opportunities

Shoppers can look for retailers by city, brand and store name when planning a trip. The app also pinpoints densely clustered stores and aids navigation to affiliated merchants. Luxury hubs like Bond St in London, Via Monte Napoleone in Milan or Avenue Montaigne in Paris are far more attractive to luxury shoppers than any airport – no matter how versatile their luxury offer is.

Global Blue says it will be updating its app to include all its global points and merchant locations in the coming months. These geo-location services can promote specific stores or refund offices, providing marketing opportunities for brands. Tomas Mostany, Senior Vice President, Product Tax Free Shopping at Global Blue, comments: ”Aside from the customer satisfaction and service benefits, the app will help deliver more travellers to stores”.

Furthermore, enrolment with Global Blue’s ”Shop Tax Free” card offers access to over 300,000 stores worldwide, where consumers can bypass the the hassle of filling in tax free forms. In other words, the tools are there to manage their tax free shopping trips – and all before they have even started their holidays.

So where does that leave the DF & TR channel? Without its own USP, or an integrated approach to promoting its message, airport stores will be seen as increasingly inconsequential. Some airport apps have made headway – the most notable being Flio, which is attempting to become the go-to app for airport commercial services globally.

Omni-channel e-commerce is also now seriously in play via digital solutions company AOE at Frankfurt Airport – soon to be followed by Auckland and London Heathrow. These new platforms are definitely a move in the right direction and will, no doubt be on a fast track learning curve.

Digital technology is a wonderful – but very fast moving – thing. Unless the DF & TR industry harnesses it as fast as its competitors, the channel will drop off the radar of tech-savvy travellers. These days, that is the majority of airport passengers.

Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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