SSP’s Noel toolan explains how its latest wave of consumer studies is bringing new insight into the post-recession consumer.
In a service business like ours, it’s vital to know how our customers think and behave if we are to serve them to the highest possible standards. We need to know how consumer’s attitudes evolve, and what changes we need to make in response.
In 2007, SSP conducted a major study into the needs and behaviours of the travelling consumer. In March this year, we revisited this study to see how consumers have changed in the postrecession environment. In 2007, SSP segmented the market into seven distinct mind-set categories. these ranged from those defined as ‘cheap food lovers’ and ‘routine refuellers’ through to the most sophisticated ‘food lovers’. These categories had not changed significantly, and the percentage of consumers in each segment remained broadly similar. The 2007 study also identified six universal needs states that can apply to any given air-travel occasion and to any of the mind-set categories. These needs span occasions when people find themselves with only just enough time to grab something to eat or drink, to a need for ‘richer experiences’, offering more indulgent food and drink in a high quality environment. Since 2007, we have seen a shift towards demand for those richer experiences, while the percentage looking for a more simple offer has fallen. So while attitudes have remained more fixed, changes in people’s needs have moved more significantly, which means how we meet those needs must also change. Tracking trends so what are the reasons driving these changes? Overlaying these shifts in needs, we also identified some key emerging trends that are having a significant impact on what consumers want from the food offered at an airport. As airports across the world upgrade and modernise, passengers now perceive their time at the airport as a more positive experience, with more passengers saying they are happy and less stressed while travelling. similarly, satisfaction with airport food and beverage is also moving in an upward trajectory, and nearly a third (29%) say airport F&B is better than they expected, compared with a quarter (25%) in 2007. However expectations are also rising, and more than half of travellers say they take it for granted that an airport will have a high quality environment. Increased dwell times have become accepted as the norm. However, passengers now not only perceive they have more time, but they feel more positive about the way they spend it. A larger number now regard the hours they pass at the airport as a chance to relax and enjoy a break from the hassle of every-day life, and this clearly presents an opportunity for the F&B operator. Nearly a third use that time to get other things done, such as catch up on phone calls. But perhaps the most significant change has been the way in which that time is being utilised as a result of rapid growth of digital communications. In 2010, these new technologies make it much easier to fill ‘dead time’, giving airport users more control over everything from booking their flight and checking in online, through to finding out more about their destination or enjoying highdefinition movies or music downloads.
This reduces a traveller’s stress, increases their enjoyment, and is more conducive to sales of F&B. Innovations such as powerKiss technology that enables customers to charge a phone wirelessly at a restaurant table (as we have recently installed at helsinki) or wireless internet access can help to attract visitors to a restaurant. Thinking creatively about how we provide these facilities (such as by offering internet access with a cup of coffee), will enable F&B operators to give consumers what they want, while Left: SSP’s insights studies helped the company to select a passenger-pleasing mix of brands at Malaga’s new Terminal 3. Above: A high level of service is expected as standard in today’s travel retail environment. Maintaining commercial viability. The expansion of ‘time at leisure’ at the airport also means that we need to consider new ways of how to amuse passengers. Brands such as the Montreux Jazz Café, which allows visitors to access exclusive music tracks and video footage, are in tune with this need.
In the post-recession economy, value for money matters to our customers, and 70% of passengers claim they are more aware of the price they are paying.
however, the number of passengers seeking the lowest price has remained static at 36%. Other trends that are being seen on the high-street are also reflected at the airport. The move towards healthy eating will have an impact on the selection of menus we offer. Authenticity and the provenance of the food are similarly rising up the agenda.
Service with more than a smile
Our 2010 research provided some food for thought about the way our customers like to be served. Service staff should be knowledgeable, and staff should be able to provide information about extras or promotions. However this goes beyond the ‘would you like fries with that’, and customers do not want to be told what food is appropriate for the season, or recommended a particular drink. We operate in a fast-paced environment, but relying only on instinctive reactions to the new ways our customers think and behave is not enough. Detailed study into how passengers’ attitudes and behaviours are changing, and intelligent response to these changes will mean we’ll meet their needs both today and in the future. •