By: Ivor Smith   •   email:

The www. we all use will soon be 30 years old. Does anyone reading this recall Netscape, Orkut, Encarta or Friends Reunited? Baby Boomers for sure, Millennials only just, Post Millennials highly unlikely. All things digital move fast, very fast, scattering commercial debris in its wake.

‘Digital’ now includes the web, apps, devices and things. But as we age, the march of the mobile is unstoppable. And another issue has unfolded: standardisation for domination. The hamburger is where we find the menu, but not from McDonald’s; the eyeball is to see our passwords and for sign-in we only need to be registered on Google or Facebook.

‘Big Digital’ has limited winners and losers. But even then, these winners might disappear tomorrow – replaced by a trendy, new kid on the block. Meantime, standardisation helps to protect those winners. Icons and layout, SEO, indexing, content, uploading, sharing, commenting, payments and, of course, protection – they all play their part to secure elite traffic status.

There’s a template out there that works. The problem is we never really know which one or why. But relevancy, muscle and scale spring to mind.

Search for any travel item and you’ll mostly get TripAdvisor or A taxi? Uber, Lyft or Grab. Food? Just Eat, Deliveroo or Uber Eats. Frequent flyer or airline guides? The Points Guy or Flyer Talk.

Now let’s search for Duty Free Shopping, because we want to buy on our travels. Nobody has yet dominated, but standardisation is settling down. Israeli ShopnFly app was really the initiator, but they have disappeared. Whilst FLIO has also now departed, their founders having sold to an Italian company.

In a more complex tech form, AOE has built omni-channels for huge airports like Heathrow and Frankfurt as well as Auckland Airport, and have enjoyed success with some airlines of late, notably Singapore and Avianca. But there seems to be a hiatus now, and no one has spotted the exponential growth of the Ukrainian start-up, MyDutyFree advancing under the radar, swallowing up 25 travel retail locations for pre-order and now with their own version of an omni-channel for Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport.

Recently the Collinson Group, the global lounge specialists, launched their Airport Alliance, specifically designed to offer a portfolio of revenue enhancing tech products. Their current stable includes Grab, an airport catering pre-order platform (not to be confused with Grab taxis in Asia), and Inflyter, which is a duty free app structured on similar lines to MyDutyFree – except their usp offers delivery lockers at the airport. Collinson are now searching for others to join this alliance.

To his great credit, Stephan Uhrenbacher, the Founder of FLIO, wrote an open and honest obituary of his app on his blog –
Departed. An update on FLIO, stating: ”While our cost to acquire new customers was super low, they just did not stay. Our user numbers did not develop..” Northstar’s influential Phocuswright concluded with their own summary: ”He signs off with some valuable advice for start-ups, of which most important is perhaps: ”If all your VC friends say no, could they have another reason than ‘not getting it’?” Perhaps they read his bombshell comment: ”Retailers were not prepared to pay us any money”.

However, what seems clear is that the huge Digital winners do everything for everyone, have standardised and scaled so fast, setting themselves apart from direct alignment with specific operators. They kept their independence whilst being useful, needed or enjoyable for the mass market. Admittedly, easier said than done, but this means that any customer gathering will always need to go through the likes of Google, WeChat, Facebook, Instagram, Trip Advisor or Ali Baba.

To date, almost none of the Travel Retail game changers have really addressed acquisition via mass consumer interest content for discussion or share. They have concentrated instead on a conventional e-commerce template.

For sure, there is a curveball out there, sneaking up on the Travel Retail blind side. There’s a hint above, but also from Google and Boardingarea. Analyse what they do, then think outside the square.

In other words, create relevant, fluid content, using sophisticated marketing and traffic gathering for lucrative Affiliate profit. But only with those who wish to pay.

It’s a formula for global Travel Retail domination, no less. So, watch this space.

Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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