DIGITAL AND MOBILE TECHNOLOGIES ENHANCE TRAVELERS’ EXPERIENCES, MAXIMIZE REVENUE
By Sheryl Jackson
While technology plays a large role in many different aspects of the airport industry from operations and security to customer service, airport concessions have just begun their digital transformation in recent years.
While the transformation may be recent, airport leadership and concessionaires realize the impact it can have on the industry. Between 50 and 75 percent of airports plan to develop or use mobile applications to enhance travelers’ experience and to maximize revenue by 2020, according to a study conducted by an airline industry technology company. These efforts include the use of airport beacons and sensors to tailor offers and promotions to smart devices for items such as food, beverage, duty-free merchandise and delivery of food or merchandise to the gate.
CONVENIENCE: GOOD FOR BUSINESS, CUSTOMER
“The main driver of innovation, technological or other, is customers; wants and needs,” said Gregg Paradies, President and CEO of Paradies Lagardère. “For instance, there is an increased expectation by travelers that the convenience delivered by technology in their everyday life is going to be available at the airport,” he said. “Along the same lines, our airport partners expect us to embrace innovation so we can properly align with their goals. Ultimately, for us, it’s just part of how we want to continue to deliver first-class customer service.”
Making the purchase of food, retail items or services in an airport more convenient is not only good for the airport customers, but also for the airport and concessionaires, pointed out Liz Grzechowiak, Assistant Director of Concessions and Business Development at Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission. “It’s all about revenue growth because when you reduce the length of lines, more people are likely to purchase because they don’t perceive a long wait and throughput is increased,” she said. “Technology such as point-of-service ordering and pay stations and mobile order and pay apps make it easy for customers to get food quickly and improve customer service.”
ESTABLISHING STRATEGY, BOOSTING REVENUE
Technology can also help in the back of a restaurant, explains Grzechowiak. “Smashburger is implementing new cooking technology that reduces the cooking time for their burgers, which also speeds delivery of food,” she said. Another emerging technology that she has seen demonstrated is robots in the kitchen – sautéing, stirring and performing other repetitive tasks that reduce the number of line cooks needed. “This will be a valuable technology as food service vendors look for ways to handle today’s difficult labor market.” Not only will fewer line cooks be needed, but employees can spend time taking and filling orders rather than handling tasks in the kitchen.
Paradies’ technology strategy is built on three dimensions: the transactional, the functional and the experiential, said Paradies. The first one is about user-friendly payment solutions, the second one helps our stores operate with speed, accuracy and reliability, and the third one is all about using technology to create fun and “cool” factors in airport retail and dining. “We believe that executing on these three dimensions delivers the ultimate customer experience and drives higher revenues.”
Examples of Paradies’ use of technology include payment options such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Mobile POS and Samsung Pay. “We were also the first to partner with Grab, an app that allows travelers to pre-order meals at airport restaurants, and we’re working to leverage the partnership in our retail stores,” said Paradies. “We also have a Server Pager system in our restaurants to assist with orders and to help travelers check out faster, and Vino Volo has developed a proprietary app that combines a customer rewards program with the ability to locate stores and products.”
In the retail arena, visitors to TripAdvisor stores can use a touchscreen that brings the world’s largest travel website to a traveler’s fingertips, allowing them to plan their visit or the next leg of their journey while in our store, said Paradies. Not only is this a valuable service for visitors, but it creates a reason to enter the store and spend time in it, creating more opportunities for sales.
Another example of how technology can increase revenue, Paradies points to his company’s Mobile POS, which allows for menu orders to be taken and payment processed remotely while customers line up at peak times. The orders are instantly sent to the kitchen staff for preparation while the customer is in line. “This solution was tested at DCA at several of Paradies Lagardère’s bars and restaurants, such as Wow Bao and Washington Pour Bar in 2016 and 2017,” he said. “After it was used during the lunch and dinner rush periods for several weeks, sales went up at Wow Bao by 10 percent and at Washington Pour Bar by almost 17 percent as a result of faster order processing and delivery of menu items to the consumer.”
Grzechowiak said that kiosks used by McDonalds at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have also resulted in higher sales. “Although employees might forget to suggest additional menu items to customers, the kiosks suggest another item with every order, and images entice customers to add bacon to their sandwich or add a dessert to the order,” she said. “Human behavior also plays a part in this result because I might say no to bacon when I’m asked by an employee because I don’t want to be judged as someone who doesn’t eat healthy; however, a kiosk doesn’t judge!”
DIGITALLY ENHANCED INTERNAL DELIVERIES
Food delivery within the airport is a fast-growing convenience made possible by technology, points out Grzechowiak. “As airports and their concessionaires consider these services, be aware of how each might differ and what additional support they need to succeed,” she suggested. Grab is an application-based program that allows people to order and pay for food from a participating restaurant via mobile phone and then pick up the food with no wait.
At Your Gate is an actual delivery service for food and retail items that has been pilot tested at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “The test was limited to our employees, and it was successful,” said Grzechowiak. “Although there is a $2.99 delivery fee, many of our employees choose to pay it to save time since they might spend as much as 28 minutes of their 30-minute lunch break walking to a restaurant, waiting in line, waiting for food and walking back to their post if they are not close to food service areas.” Now, employees can order food for delivery and enjoy their full 30-minute lunch break, she added.
While Grab does not require physical space at the airport, At Your Gate does require space from which employees operate, said Grzechowiak. “It is also important for each of these services to have marketing support from the airport and its airlines to make sure that customers know about the services and understand how to access them.”
‘TIME’ FOR TECHNOLOGY
Technology will continue to play an important role throughout airport interactions with customers because “time” is the most precious commodity, said Dominic Lowe, Executive Vice President of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Airports. “To effectively serve the customer, however, technology must be relevant, simple to use and connect seamlessly,” he said.
Lowe said that this means that airports, concession operators and service vendors need to work together to create a connected infrastructure that supports all digital touchpoints – mobile phones, point-of-service applications, airport directories, retail catalogs and food menus. “While mobile technology is important, we have to remember that mobile is beyond a phone – it extends to tablets and wearables.”
As more applications are adopted and new technologies introduced, it is important for airports and concessionaires to make sure that the technology is agnostic, which means it can connect to other applications or platforms easily to share content and information, said Lowe. “We must work together to get customers what they want – easy access to information, shorter wait times and a way to find and obtain the product or services they need.”
As everyone looks toward the future of technology in concessions, Paradies points out that technology that enhances the traveler experience will be paramount, whether it’s tools to make it easier to make purchases, or order meals, to entertainment. An example of entertainment made possible by technology is his company’s partnership with JFK Terminal 4 that enabled the deployment of PeriscapeVR, the first-ever interactive virtual reality center of its kind in an airport – offering travelers an interactive and blissful escape, he said. “Also, I think it’s fair to say that smartphones are here to stay and will likely become the preferred vehicle for payment. This will not only make interactions with the consumer more fluid, it will also create an opportunity to enhance the intimacy between concessionaires and the traveling consumer through better and faster access to data.”
Paradies does caution airports, vendors and concessionaires about adopting trendy or cool technology. “I would advise against technology for technology’s sake,” he said. “Paradies Lagardère is doing our research on the needs of our airport partners and travelers throughout North America. We’re excited about what technology and innovation can offer. But we want to make sure it fits the needs of our partners and our customers.”