CircleSquare Creative Director and Founding Partner Philip Handley said that brands and retailers should “hit the ground running” and start planning retail activations and experiences that will resonate with modified consumer behaviours

"If brands and retailers spend this enforced downtime developing ideas and plans for an eye-catching comeback when traffic starts moving again, they will be the winners post-COVID"

Handley — whose company has long-standing relationships with leading travel retailers such as Dufry, DFS and Gebr Heinemann and brands like Diageo, Mondelez and L’Oréal — added that the industry needs to adapt and create retail experiences that can engage with safety-conscious travellers.

“More agile brands could make huge gains over competitors by acting now and preparing properly,” says CircleSquare Creative Director and Founding Partner Philip Handley.

He added: “Given what has happened it’s easy to put the brakes on but that means you are likely to miss the chance to access a significant share of the consumer spending that will surely come when people can move more freely again. There are going to be a lot of people who are not going to be ready to start that race and, from what I understand, it will be a race like no other. More agile brands could make huge gains over competitors by acting now and preparing properly.”

He added: “Most of the best retail experiences we create for brands take between three and six months to execute, from strategic planning and conceptualisation to fabrication and installation in store. That means brands and retailers need to start briefing their creative agencies now to be ready on time.”

Handley highlighted the ‘green shots’ of travel retail spending in China’s offshore duty free business. With domestic COVID-19 cases in manageable levels, and strict government regulations in place, China’s domestic travel is seeing a steady return. As reported, China Daily quoted a Ministry of Transport spokesman saying an expected 117 million trips, mostly domestic, would be made during the latest Golden Week holiday period.


Businesses in countries where the pandemic is still at its peak — including the US and several countries in Europe — will likely follow a similar pattern to China which has seen a resurgence in consumer spending. This retail revival is what Handley refers to as ‘Revenge Consumption.’

CircleSquare implemented work-from-home protocols for its international offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Taipei in the early days of the crisis. However, Handley notes that it is ready to mobilise its teams as soon as travel retail activity restarts.

“We have been offering clients a free planning service, so if anyone wants advice they should come and talk to us now. We have the proven ability to create activations that drive footfall, increase dwell time and change the focus away from a product’s price and onto a product’s experience – this is what you will need to succeed in winning the early business when it becomes available.

“So my strong suggestion to all brands and travel retail directors out there is that I know many of them have budgets on hold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning now; you can start testing new ideas for retail space without sacrificing revenue and be ready to move quickly when the time comes.”


“We all need freedom, we all need to dream, and we all want to reconnect to the outside world, which is a powerful motivating factor. Our industry will be helping to bring friends and families back together in what will be a massive opportunity for us all, especially those companies who have seen revenues dry up.

“Naturally things will be different but there will still be a great number of air passengers who are hungry to reconnect with great retail experiences and brands and retailers must be ready. If you are not on that start line with loads of great ideas, then you’re in trouble.”  ​

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