Riddle: I have two hours to kill and a plethora of name brand stores within walking distance. Where am I?
Answer: An airport.
Where else, in this day and age, do you have two hours of free time? Sure, you can pull out your device of choice and work, but expectations are low and concentration is difficult—not to mention finding a power source before you run out. Might as well go shopping.
Like many of America’s working-class travelers, airports are where we can find the latest books (even if you end up ordering them via Amazon Prime), the finest chocolates, the most interesting clothing designs, and the best luggage. More and more, it’s also where we can find some of the better everyday restaurants. Gone are the days when airport food was dull, tasteless, and expensive. Now, it’s more likely to be a recognizable high-end casual dining, with prices similar to those at home.
A major shift has taken place in where we shop, eat, and even get a massage—and it has nothing to do with ecommerce or online shopping. Whereas just a few short years ago, stores, restaurants, places to rest, multiple entrances and exits, and people ready to help meet your needs were all found at a good ol’ American mall. Now, circa 2018, it’s the airport.
• Airports are becoming destinations in and of themselves—not just interim stops. When you consider the cost of infrastructure, the size of the parking, and the close proximity of amenities, it begins to make sense that we will begin to treat them as a place to go.
• There is a built-in crowd already at the airport, considering the number of employees as well as flight crews who are there regularly, with little time to seek out life’s amenities elsewhere.
• What’s more, the typical airport crowd feels a little more entitled—and may have more spendable money—than the non-traveler. That makes them a candidate for higher-end stores and restaurants.
The airport just may be the new brick and mortar—so while you are buying online, you are also shopping and buying on-the-go. We’re seeing small art exhibits, pop-up specialty stores, and grab-n-go all find a place in the airport.
Of course, the challenges are still there—taking non-ticketed passengers past security (which has opened up in Pittsburgh, PA), creating similar experiences in multiple terminals, and keeping costs down. However, if the story of retail is all about being where the customer is, the airport as a destination makes more and more sense.