Flying off the shelves

Written by Vaishnavi Bala | Updated: Jan 19 2014, 07:34am hrs
Chung wa tobacco, a favourite among Chinese nationals, always gets frontline display whenever a flight from China lands at the Delhi airport. Chinese literature and price tags replace the English ones, along with salespersons fluent in Mandarin, to cater to customers. The stores then scurry to make more changes to the merchandise once flights from other sectors start landing.

Similarly, when a flight from Japan lands, the literature is changed to Japanese and popular itemsIndian destination merchandise like replicas of Taj Mahal, stones, artifacts, souvenirsoccupy the front rows at the retail counters. Russians prefer hard vodka, so we line them up at the front whenever a Russian flight lands at the airport, says an official of Delhi International Airport.

This is just one day in the retail arena of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The hectic pace is common to all airports nationwide and across the globe, making retail at airports a dynamic aspect of airport operations. As Romy Juneja, chief commercial officer (non-aero), Delhi International Airport, says, We are looking at shifting from a product-centric approach to that of a experience-centric one.

Airport retail business in the country, which touched about R5,500 crore during 2013, is set to cross the R6,000-crore mark during 2014, according to Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at Third Eyesight, a retail consultant.

The airport retail segment is seeing a year-over-year growth of about 15%, as an increasing number of travellers are shopping at airports, he says.

The recently inaugurated terminal 2 (T2) at Mumbai is adding to the excitement for retailers, partly because of the added opportunity and partly because of the immense retail space21,346 sq mavailable. The experience of shopping at a swanky terminal is an added plus, and the new terminal is expected to drive growth by more than 15% annually.

Dutta adds that T2 has a lot more retail space than the existing domestic airport at Santa Cruz. This, coupled with the wide range of merchandise, will definitely drive growth of retail at the Mumbai airport.

Amit Burman of Lite Bite Foods, a subsidiary of Dabur that operates in the F&B sector and which will operate 32 stalls at T2, is bullish about his sales from T2, especially as the new terminal is expected to handle 40 million passengers yearly.

While the company plans to open 17 stalls by January 15, it will open the remaining 15 by September. At the terminals F&B section, apart from Lite Bite, 20 other stalls will be operated by Devyani Food.

Burman, vice-president of Dabur, says currently food stalls at Delhi and Mumbai airportswhere the company has a presenceconstitute 10% of Lite Bite Foods overall sales. This is set to touch 35% by the end of this year on the back of T2 operations. He also expects his total sales from the airport businesses to be around R80-85 crore by September this year.

Switzerlands Nuance Group, which is a travel retailer, gets about 93% of its total revenues from airports. According to Nuance Group, perfumes and cosmetics constitute 38% of its sales, followed by liquor at 19%.

Delhi Duty Frees marketing head Abhijit Das says they try and provide distinctive value to shoppers in every area, besides initiatives like loyalty programmes, etc.

Perfume, cosmetics and destination merchandise are the largest-selling items at the departure section of the Delhi airport, while liqour is the largest-selling item in the arrival section, adds Delhi airports Juneja.

But not everything is rosy and retail at airports comes with a big challenge as well. As Kimaya Fashions founder Pradeep Hirani says, Retailing at airports is quite challenging, but, at the same time, has high returns. Kimaya is a fashion house that retails designer brands. It has a 2,000 sq ft store at Delhis international terminal and is soon opening a new store at Mumbais T2. The companys Delhi store saw sales zoom 56% last year, from an increase of 38% a year ago. The company did not divulge absolute numbers.

Hirani also points out that retailers at airports need to be flexible and should be able to turnaround their merchandise quickly. Most regional flights are clubbed together and depending on the origin of flights, we keep making changes in the store. For example, we rotate the merchandise every two-three hours. If there is a high frequency of flights from Africa, then we keep merchandise and motifs that would be appreciated by locals there, he says. Also, the profile of passengers differs at each airport. For example, Delhi gets more Japanese tourists than Mumbai, so retailers in Delhi try to have a product mix after studying the trends at the airport, Hirani adds.

Airport stores have 120% higher sales than sales at high-street retail outlets. But high costs are a prevalent factor. Shoppers Stops managing director Govind Shrikhande had previously stated that airport retailing has high risks. Shoppers Stop has four stores at domestic airports in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur, and one duty-free store at Bangalore International Airport that is operated as a JV.

Retailers also point out that costs of operations are higher at airports as stores need to remain open through the day, thereby doubling employee costs. On an average, per square feet rentals at airports are almost double of what retailers pay at high streets. For instance, New Delhis South Extension commands rentals of R725 per sq ft a month,while rentals at the T3 terminal hover upwards of R1,000 per sq ft.

Similarly, Hyderabads Banjara Hills commands rents of R130 per sq ft a month, while rentals at Hyderabad Airport are way higher at around R400-500 per sq ft.

Retailers point out that a stores location at the airport is of utmost significance. Kimaya, for example, has both its stores located right next to the liquor stores, which generally happen to be hotspots at any airport. Of course, this means even higher rentals.

Airport operators at the Delhi and Mumbai airports, however, say they dont charge rent, but work on a partnership model with outlets/brands. The revenue-sharing arrangement between operators of Delhi airport and the brands present at the retail segment of the airport vary from 15-60% depending on the brands, adds Juneja of Delhi International Airport.

Both GMR and GVKoperators of Delhi and Mumbai airports, respectivelydid not comment on the exact footfall of customers to their retail segment, nor on the business figures from their airports retail business.

At present, the total number of passengers at airports gives an idea of the average footfall at airports. As per latest figures, during the April-October 2013 period, Mumbai airport saw 18.28 million domestic and international passengers (both arrivals and departures), while Delhi airport saw 27.52 million domestic and international passengers (both arrivals and departures) from January-December 2013.