Merchandising: embracing the lessons of Mr Selfridge

Anna Kofoed

Executive Vice President, Travel Content Sourcing, Travel Channels, Amadeus

The goal of any retailer is to capture the attention of its customers. Buyers cannot simply be sold to - shopping must be an experience, not a chore.

Consider the story of Mr Harry Selfridge, the visionary founder of the department store which first opened in 1909 on London’s Oxford Street. Mr. Selfridge was an innovator who transformed the very nature of shopping. Placing customer engagement at the core, he initiated shopping as a visionary and a tactile experience, and arranged his products on low counter tops, allowing shoppers to touch and feel items for the very first time.

Under Harry’s vision, Selfridges introduced window displays, open aisles, in-store entertainment and even the ‘ladies’ lavatory’. Selfridges became known for its architectural innovations, its colorful window displays and to this day, continues to be an exemplary in-store experience.

It’s important that the travel industry retains these lessons from history while ensuring it continues to adapt and take advantage of technological advancements. We should start to ask ourselves - what is our equivalent of the open aisle and low counter in the digital age? Unfortunately, you can’t (yet) actually touch and feel an airline’s flatbed before you buy, but technology has come a long way in providing a more immersive experience for travelers.  

The traditional booking experience

The traditional booking experience is often not particularly tactile. For an airline it usually includes identifying the seat you’d like based on origin, destination, date availability and price factors. For a hotel, it’s usually about distance to elevator and high or low floor. For a train, it usually is about a silent carriage or a shared table. And although travelers might have a sense of the experience they’ll receive with a particular travel provider, or perhaps they have certain brand expectations, this is far removed from the Selfridges experience.

The traditional experience does not allow you the opportunity to touch, feel and intimately understand the product. However, rich content changes this situation.

The rise of rich content

Just as with digital advertising, the ability to incorporate richer forms of information such as pictures and videos into the merchandising flow promises to bring a little more Mr Selfridge into the experience. And it works. Lessons from the mobile advertising world show that incorporating a picture, video or audio boosts the click-through rate by four-fold compared to standard banner ads, according to an Opera Mediaworks study.

When you’re booking a long-haul flight, the details really matter. Perhaps you have a business meeting upon arrival and so the quality of the flatbed is critical. Maybe you’re particularly tall and need to understand the specific dimensions of the seat. Alternatively, you may want to know whether Wi-Fi will be available or if there is an electrical plug under your seat.

There is a plethora of reasons why people need rich information about the offer. And if being able to give this information to the traveler undoubtedly boosts conversion and allows you to effectively differentiate your service.

Today, technology can allow the traveler to experience an immersive video or tour of a lounge or interactive photos of an economy versus business class experience. The customer might not be able to touch the products, but they can certainly visualize them.

So as this content becomes available from multiple sources, possibly under different business models, it’s paramount for travel businesses to have the levers to decide and customize how that content is managed for their own business. Having access to a large breadth of rich content means travel sellers will have everything they need to personalize its service to every traveler. This is exactly what Amadeus is doing with our Travel Platform. We are bringing together all types of content in one platform which will allow travel sellers to serve travelers simply, quickly and accurately, and offer more personalized trips.

The next step - virtual reality

In the future, we need to channel a little more Mr Selfridge and strive for ever more inspiring experiences. Virtual reality holds significant and exciting new possibilities for the entire travel industry. While the underlying technology behind VR is still maturing, and some way from mass consumer adoption, it’s the obvious next step.

I wonder what Harry Selfridge would have made of it…

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