While the news about a thriving airport market is worth celebrating, the challenge for designers and retailers alike is striking a balance between two very different customers with needs that are essentially polar opposites of one another.
“We’ve got two core travelers,” explains George Waite, program manager at Columbus, Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman. “The rushed or hurried person who might be late or stressed on the way to a quick connection—maybe doesn’t have a lot of time, wants to have grab-and-go options, get in and out—vs. the more leisurely traveler. How do you entertain them, let them relax and enjoy themselves as much as they can in that kind of a situation?”
Catering to differing end users may seem tricky, but it need not be overly complicated. People carrying multiple pieces of baggage or traveling with children likely experience additional stress, so a few simple design decisions can go a long way to alleviate their tension, says Melissa Mizell, senior associate at Gensler.
“As much as we can make the airport environment and the retail and concessions environment as easy as possible to navigate, as clutter-free, well curated, with plenty of space to walk by with your luggage—all of these things can help entice people in and help them relieve stress,” she says.
“Removing the stress from travel is a key objective,” adds Nick Giammarco, creative principal of retail strategies for studioH2G. “Relaxation areas, piano bars, entertainment, and social zones along with the use of technology are key components to successful retail environments.”
His firm has created gate-hold seating areas as part of the brand experience. “One will be able to sit in a branded gate-hold area, order online from integrated iPads, and the food can be either delivered to your seat or you will be notified that your order is ready,” he explains.
Planning for technology is also about removing pain points. Among the biggest complaints from travelers about airports is the lack of places to charge mobile devices, which exacerbates their stress. So architects and designers need to pay careful attention to space planning that supplies easy access to power.
“As we move to a more digital age, everyone has a digital device with them. So how do you create zones that let customers sit down and plug in or feel safe to leave their device if they were to charge it and grab a couple of things in a retail store or restaurant?” muses Waite. “Adding power is not even a bonus anymore. It’s an expected amenity.”
The reason for the improvement in the quality of airport retail is twofold: the massive increase in the number of travelers and delays resulting from airline consolidations, according to Joseph Bona, president of branded environments at New York-based design firm CBX Retail. “Shopping is sort of a social behavior even under normal, everyday life, so airport retail is a way of getting people to take advantage of the time they have waiting for delayed flights or for families on vacation,” he says.
Tightened security requirements also have changed travelers’ schedules and habits, prolonging the amount of time they spend in airports. “Pre-9/11, you could probably get to the airport maybe a half hour before, sort of run through and just barely make it on the plane, and you’d be OK,” Bona recalls. “Well, those days are long gone.”
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