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Jet-set-collect: why transport hubs are a high-growth retail opportunity

We’ve all fallen victim to the ‘travel trolley dash’; running into the train station newsagent for a sandwich and magazine, or doing a toiletry top-up in the airport departure lounge. But for retailers, this barely scratches the customer spending opportunity within transport hubs.

Convenience consumerism is a high-growth area, as is travel – providing a perfect alignment for increased retail spending across rail terminals, coach stations and airports.

We’re already seeing big-name brands investing in transport hub stores; now they need the right technology and customer service techniques to make shoppers stay longer and spend more.

On the right track

One of the fastest growing retail hotspots is the UK’s rail network. 17% of the population already travel to work by train or bus, according to Department for Transport data, with the ratio rising considerably in major cities.

These commuters are looking for ways to make everyday shopping more convenient – and this means more than just picking up an M&S dinner on the way home. A recent Retail Gazette article notes that railway stations “benefit from frequent use by the same people multiple times a week. This repeat custom means there are plenty of opportunities to offer shoppers something new at a destination that’s already on a daily commute.”

More and more retailers are realising that the transport hub opportunity is relevant to their offering. This is demonstrated by the broad spectrum of brands involved in London Bridge’s recent £1 billion station development; alongside the ‘usual suspects’ like Boots and WHSmith are premium fashion, beauty and lifestyle retailers including Hamleys, Hotel Chocolat, Kiehl’s, MAC and Ted Baker.

Click and keep collecting

One major factor diversifying rail station retail is click-and-collect. This service by its nature is convenience driven and placing collection points in commuter locations makes a huge difference to uptake.

John Lewis is a prudent example of this; 50% of all its online orders are now collected by the customer, and 70% of these collections take place at a Waitrose branch. Waitrose has invested heavily in its rail station presence since opening its first store at King’s Cross in 2014.

The benefit of having a physical presence at transport hubs, rather than relying on third party collection points like Doddle stores and Amazon lockers, is that it gives retailers the chance to nurture impulse spending. How many commuters pop into Waitrose for their John Lewis order and come out with a few days’ worth of shopping? Or visit MAC for their replacement foundation and purchase a limited-edition lipstick?

And the value of a convenient collection point will only increase during peak periods like Black Friday and Christmas. There will always be a last-minute rush, but travellers now have a better choice of retailers from which to purchase final gifts.

Profits are taking off

Clearly, land transport hubs have taken their cue from the success of major international airports. It’s commonplace to see designer brands next to duty free when flying abroad, as retailers capitalise on travellers ‘killing time’ before their flight, hoping they’re in the mood for a pre-holiday splurge.

Some retail brands are seeing their airport stores buck wider sales trends. For example, although Superdry experienced a dip in Q4 sales affected by overall High Street footfall decline, its transport hubs continue to deliver strong performances.

A recent FreedomPay study found that the average person spends half an hour shopping pre-flight, spending £62 before they board the plane. Superdry’s investment in in-store technology enables staff to maximise this extended dwell time, using an assisted sale iPad app to engage the customer and offer them relevant upsell opportunities.

Another interesting point raised in FreedomPay’s study is what shoppers are looking for prior to take off. Value for money is critical, as many consumers are seeking duty free discounts on their favourite products, but convenience and speed also feature highly. Clearly, they have time to browse at their leisure, but the physical act of making a purchase must still be seamless.

One way in which retailers are tapping into this need for speed in transport hubs is by promoting their click-and-collect services. Instead of the aforementioned travel trolley dash, brands like Boots are encouraging customers to pre-order holiday essentials like sun cream, baby formula and insect repellent in advance, to pick up after they’ve cleared security.

In addition to being an excellent way to forecast and balance stock demand, store associates know what shoppers are collecting in advance – and can potentially use this information to make tailored upsell suggestions. If a family comes to collect wipes and nappies, for example, have they thought about adding armbands and swim nappies to their order?


Today’s consumers want ease, convenience and speed, and these demands are placed under a microscope when they are shopping at transport hub stores. However, efficiency shouldn’t be seen as a reason for retailers to bypass upsell opportunities.

With the right in-store technology, retail brands can use assisted selling, self-service and clientelling techniques to support the customer journey effectively and increase order value at the same time. A time-strapped shopper is focused and decisive, so may be more likely to add items to their order - providing suggestions are relevant and the service is slick.

By investing in the right tools to assist the sales process, retailers can turn the jet-set-collect model into a high-growth revenue stream for their business – and see their profits take off as a result.

Enhance the experience commuters receive in your transport hub stores, with One iota’s technology.