I am the customer who will never come back

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By Marco Passoni

Sam Walton, the founder Wal-Mart, once started a training program for his employees, and he started every programme with these words:

I am the man who goes to a restaurant, sits at the table and waits patiently while the servant does everything except write down my request. I am the man who goes to a store and waits quietly while the salesmen end their private conversations. I am the man who enters a gas station and never uses the horn, but waits patiently for the employee to finish reading his newspaper. I am the man who explains his desperate urgency for a play, but does not complain when he receives it only after three weeks of waiting. I am the man who, when entering a shop, seems to be asking for a favour, begging for a smile or just waiting to be noticed.

You must be thinking that I’m a quiet, patient person, the kind who never creates problems … Fool yourself. Do you know who I am? I am the customer who will never come back!

I have a lot of fun watching millions being spent every year on advertising of every kind, to take me back to a company, and when I went there for the first time, all they should have done was just a little kindness, simple And cheap: treat me with a little more courtesy.

There is only one boss: THE CUSTOMER. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

These words and this lesson have never been more important for the travel retail sector than they are today. We, as an industry, spend a lot of time talking about the brilliant work we are doing – and in places we are. But do we spend enough time asking what our customers want and whether we are delivering it?

Make no mistake, travel retail is incredibly vulnerable to the power of the customer who will never come back. Our customers are presented with a short, often high-pressure, window to enter out stores, engage with our brands and make a decision about our market.

And you can be sure that they do make a quick and important decision about whether travel retail is a market they enjoy.

Competition for the attention of travelling shoppers has never been greater. While the domestic market and digital sector pile on the pressure with omnichannel engagement and price challenges, there are countless distractions for the modern traveller. From F&B, through lounges, to the power of the mobile phone, travel retail must work to ensure our shoppers instantly feel engaged, cared about and inspired by our offer.

Otherwise, they will not come back. A travelling shopper who does not receive the experience or service they expect will return to an airport, but they will not return to the shops and businesses which disappointed them.

One of the key issues highlighted by Sam Walton is how vital it is that staff are engaged and engaging. This is especially true for travel retail. Our frontline staff, as I have said before, are our greatest asset in creating a truly exquisite experience for travelling shoppers, but as the case of the customer who will never come back shows, staff can also be a huge part of the problem.

A travelling shopper who does not receive the experience or service they expect will return to an airport, but they will not return to the shops and businesses which disappointed them

It is vital that staff in travel retail are given training tailored to their location and their shoppers. Some customers require assistance, others want to be allowed to browse in peace. Getting that wrong can be the difference between creating a repeat shopper and one who will not come back.

Staff must be equipped with this knowledge and given training and support which is as unique as the industry we work in. If we do not set our teams up for success then we will not see any.

Travel retail is as exciting and engaging as we all say it is – but we have to work every day, at every level, to ensure it remains that way. Our shoppers are not visiting airports to come to our stores, we must make it worth their trip. Otherwise they will not come back.

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.