CircleSquare Managing Partner Stephane Zermatten indicates cosmetics brands are facing several challenges; from the lack of travellers, to the rise of touch-less shopping. Fortunately, pockets of travel retail, such as Hainan, offer some insight into what the future of connecting with customers looks like for the future.

“Thanks to the current closed ecosystem of China Travel Retail, brands have jumped into ‘omni-channel’ activations to drive traffic to their point of sales – sometimes, however, without understanding the full meaning of omnichannel,” explains Zermatten.

“We have recently seen an increased interest in the use of targeted digital media campaigns, personalised content creation, KOLs live-streams or campaign specific WeChat mini programs. Unfortunately [this is], more often than not without the glue that holds all of these together.

“While it’s still the Far West in terms of omnichannel in travel retail, the positive consequence of Covid is that digital, and its use in engaging with shoppers, is in everyone’s mind.” In order to succeed, brands need to ensure they don’t simply patch a customer engagement model that is no longer fit for purpose, according to Zermatten.

AR/VR, live streaming or other digital retailtainment concepts are relevant tools, but they are not the starting point of a marketing campaign. The shopper is.

Brands that want be successful need to break down their internal silos and look at the shopper journey holistically. Start by defining the journey, mapping the touch-points and crafting the content strategy, advises Zermatten. “Only then decide which of the tools, digital or old school, are the ones that are the most adapted,” he states. “And this is the opportunity, to transform a static promotion into a meaningful, on-going conversation with your consumers.”

While the existing experiential format of brand promotions – mainly outposts augmented with digital retailtainment – will be relevant again, consumers are eager for the kind of experience that travel retail is ideally placed to deliver. “However, simply repeating the ‘old model’ will not be sufficient,” says Zermatten. “Shoppers will respond to brands that engage them along their entire journey, starting weeks before the actual store visit.

Promotions need to become an on-going conversation with shoppers, and brands need to see their marketing campaigns through the three intertwined lenses of data, content and retail.

The Shilla Duty Free also points to three major elements that bring profound changes to the industry: data, digital technologies and experience. “Every future initiative or digital platform will be based on these three elements,” states The Shilla Duty Free spokesperson. “We’re currently gathering data from online and offline [channels], at the airport and downtown, domestically and internationally. This multi-dimensional database now gives us the insight to utilise digital technologies more efficiently, and provide genuine shopping pleasure to our customers.”

Zermatten emphasises a last thought on considering the whole promotional picture. “Remember that no data, content or pop-up store will resonate with your consumers if you don’t take a customer-centric, holistically creative view of your shopper’s journeys.”