Back when flying was noisy, expensive and risky the in-flight retail experience centred around a cake trolley and a large coffee pot.

Nowadays, airlines aren’t only catering for onboard food and drink but they’re also selling a whole range of products from gifts to entertainment. And with cheaper flights putting more customers in the air at any one time, the airline industry is looking for innovative ways to develop these markets-in-the-cloud.

According to the International Air Transport Association’s latest published figures, the ancillary sales (i.e direct sales to passengers apart from tickets) market in 2012 was worth €36.1 Billion and in 2011 it had increased by 11.3%.

As the market grows it’s becoming more complex. Firstly, this complexity is being driven by fragmenting customer tastes. Secondly, flying imposes a whole raft of restrictions on the retail business. Airbus is building a new 11-abreast economy class airliner that will increase the number of passengers on board by up to 40; ostensibly this will boost revenue from having more passengers to sell to on the flight. However, operators like Retail InMotion need to balance seat numbers against the tighter weight and storage restrictions this could impose on the merchandise carried on the aircraft. As a result it’s possible that cabin staff will have more customers to sell to but less products to sell them.

Retail inMotion

Retail inMotion is a services company supplying this market. They, just like the new breed of hyper- competitive airlines, noticed a fast growing market opportunity between duty free terminals.

RiM aims to make selling in the sky simpler, more effective and more efficient for their clients. They offer an integrated value chain solution from sourcing the right brands to training cabin staff as sales professionals.

In their offering they cover catering, procurement, logistics and distribution. These are functions that previously were separated out into different service suppliers. The thinking behind this consolidation was to drive efficiency and control cost.

The planners at Retail inMotion are tasked with a disparate range of responsibilities from sourcing products that will be a good fit for this specialised market (they have to source brands that will be successful) to managing the just-in-time delivery system that’s now standard for all large retail operations.

And the value chain is integrated right up to the shop counter: RiM train airline staff in selling techniques like up-selling and special promotions.

 “Seamless journey: The goal is to smooth out  the passenger journey beyond the airport by facilitating information exchange with partners throughout the journey (ground transport, hotels, tour companies, cruise ship operators etc).”

IATA: Future Simplifying the Business Program 

Retail inMotion don’t just provide value chain services and software they also deliver crucial sales training to cabin staff who might not have sales as a core competence of their original training. Crucially, they are trained in knowing the range of products and brands on offer inflight. They are also given training in dealing with different types of customer and identifying opportunities to up-sell and add real value to their role.

 

Technology inMotion

To create an integrated value chain you’ll need software to pull all the sections together and support the whole operation. RiM market their own suite of applications delivered from the cloud as a SaaS offering that supports the client’s management of product procurement, design, logistics, warehousing, marketing and sales.

The vPack application is the fulcrum in the system: it pulls in data from logistics and warehousing and matches this with the order placed by the passenger online before the journey. The ordered items are then packed and stored on the aircraft. The customers’ order details can then be accessed by the cabin sales staff using a mobile app called vPOS. This also equips them with a customer seating plan allowing them to deliver the order directly to the passenger.

The application also supports sales staff in cross-selling and suggesting promotions targeted at customers.

Data Analytics

vPOS uses big data analytics to pull in data from the huge volumes generated by the airline’s operation to create a real time profile of each customer. This could include information on the passenger’s engagement with the customer loyalty programmes and allows cabin crews to pitch the right products at the customer who wants to buy them. Technology in Motion With Retail inMotion

Ironically, as travel and tourism are becoming mass global industries processing millions of people per year, the latest technology gives companies the  opportunity to treat passengers like people rather than widgets to be processed. Airline’s are finding it impossible to avoid aggressive price wars but by being smart in using this technology they could create a competitive advantage in great customer care.

 

Talent

To build this operation and keep it going RiM look for world class engineers like developers that can build apps on those crucial mobile platforms including Windows, iOS and Android.

This brings the traveler and airline customer into the value chain: they can browse and order items before the flight and have them delivered in-flight.

Design is prioritised in the best retail operations and RiM’s designers can work on any number of projects including the latest one of developing the front end of a new wireless in-flight entertainment system that offers airline customers TV programmes, movies magazines and much more.

Flying can be a much appreciated stretch of calm and reflection for passangers in an otherwise hectic even chaotic journey. Having the chance to shop on the flight will give travelers an opportunity to buy things that they might have forgotten to buy before boarding. In this sense the cabin staff could end up acting as travel consultants as well as sales staff.