Omnichannel retailing lands at the airport

Photo: At Your Gate
Oct 01, 2018

Some fledgling apps are enabling travelers at a number airports to order food, gifts or other items for delivery wherever they are for a small fee.

Billing itself as “Your in-airport personal shopper,” AtYourGate officially launched at San Diego International Airport in March and recently expanded to Newark Liberty International Airport.

Travelers use their mobile devices to shop from airport food and retail outlets, then choose to pick up or have their order delivered to a location inside the airport. Deliveries can be made across terminals and arrive within 20 to 30 minutes.

According to USA Today, airport personnel and flight crews in San Diego have embraced the app with its promise of more choice and convenience, but also because flight crews often face short turn-around times. AtYourGate research also finds 60 percent of travelers want to make a purchase at the airport, but don’t due to lack of time. 

“We solve the common traveler issues of ‘no time’, ‘too far’ and ‘limited choice’ that have historically prevented them from ordering items at the airport,” AtYourGate president David Henninger told APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association).

Airport restaurant and retail outlets partnering with the service are promised to increase their exposure while earning opportunities for new purchase occasions and increased transaction sizes.

Airlines can also offer vouchers for such services to passengers to help manage lengthy delays. AtYourGate is working on delivering meals to passengers stranded on runways.

AtYourGate charges $2.99 per delivery for airport and airline employees and $6.99 for travelers, while pickup is free.

Airport Sherpa, a similar service operating at Baltimore-Washington Airport, charges between $3.99 to $7.99 based on how far the delivery person has to travel. Both AtYourGate and Airport Sherpa have aggressive plans to reach other airports.

Grab, another app accessible in 18 airports in the U.S and four in the U.K., enables mobile ordering in terminals, but only for pick-up.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see mobile delivery inside airport terminals becoming commonplace in the years ahead? What hurdles may such services face?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"When you’re hungry and exhausted and a jumbo bag of M&Ms starts looking good for dinner, I think travelers will embrace this option."
"As a traveler, if I’m at a gate waiting for my food and the plane starts to board, the food loses. So does the retailer."
"I’d expect usage might be broader if they could bring out-of-airport product into the airport via delivery."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Omnichannel retailing lands at the airport"

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Peter Charness

I think this is solving the wrong problem. I’d rather see it, buy it and take it with me. Unfortunately too many airport locations (and I visit them on almost a daily basis) don’t make the buy it part very easy with long line ups at understaffed checkouts. Paying someone to do the checkout for me, and then hopefully getting it to my gate on time doesn’t seem like the most straightforward path.

Kenneth Leung

I think for certain large airports with multiple buildings, it makes sense especially for food delivery, which I think is the number one use case. Each terminal building has different food selections especially with local specialty selections. Since getting between the terminals often involves a train ride or a very long walk, the ability to do an order from a restaurant or food shopping from a different terminal in between flights, I think, is a great service. I am thinking for example the Rocky Mountain Chocolate company in Denver Airport or the restaurants in the United terminal in Chicago when I am flying another airline.

Shep Hyken

My first reaction to this is, “why not?” With all of the apps being developed for retail and food delivery, this makes sense. Another convenient way to order food at the airport. The key will be that the time expectation is met. Promise a time for delivery and keep it. As a traveler, if I’m at a gate waiting for my food and the plane starts to board, the food loses. So does the retailer. I’ll want a refund and I’ll probably never try it again.

Georganne Bender

This makes sense to me. Travel is a huge part of our business and we are not always in the terminal with the best food choices. Hopping a tram or facing a long walk to another terminal while hauling luggage isn’t always an option. I think my fellow travelers would agree.

The delivery fees for travelers are steep, and just about as much as most airport quick service food options. Still, when you’re hungry and exhausted and a jumbo bag of M&Ms starts looking good for dinner, I think travelers will embrace this option.

Ananda Chakravarty

Neat concept, and it caters to the convenience shopper in the airport and those who don’t enjoy standing in lines just as their airplane is boarding. Problems will be speed of delivery, security for employees, engagement and relationship building with airport authorities, and competitive pressure from existing players like Hudson News (Dufry) et. al. who may want a larger piece of the cut due to highly monopolized relationships. Lastly, the business model has few protections from copycats — and success will breed imitation quickly. The service can be a hit with frequent travelers, but it also limits market size. Missing delivery to a customer as they board a plane or even worse, delaying the plane would be a nightmare in the making.

Neil Saunders

This sounds great for ordering food, snacks and beverages. Having things delivered to the gate where you are sitting is a real benefit, especially if you are carrying luggage and the best eating options are a long way away.

However, when it comes to non-food retail at airports, the problem is that so many American airports have crummy retail offers with little inspiration and no thought. All the apps in the world won’t solve that!

Brandon Rael

This could resonate, as the airport is one of the best potential areas where retailers and service providers have a captive audience, and if done right could lead to something meaningful. However, more often than not our airport experiences are far from optimal, and we are usually faced with delays, rushing from gate to gate, and long security lines.

The more modern airports, in particular, one of the better layouts in at the new Delta terminal in LGA, are designed with the traveler experience in mind. There is an abundance of self-service food offerings, however, in the race against time, business travelers are faced with deadlines, rushing to get some work done, and getting on board.

Michael La Kier

With the hustle and bustle of most airports, this idea will be logistically complicated. However, since finding a seat at many airports these days is complicated, if people can plop down and have delivery of snacks and other items, it could (pardon the pun) take off.

Bob Amster

One problem that this service may solve is that the airport retailers don’t have the staff to deliver product themselves. By contrast this can be a dedicated delivery service that picks up the product in the airport from the retailers and delivers it to the passenger at the gate. The system would work more effectively if the apps could relay the orders to the airport retailers electronically, so that the orders are ready sooner, and when the delivery service comes by to pick them up.

Adrian Weidmann

It would take a lot of convincing for me to order food from my mobile device and believe (trust!?) that it would be at the gate and get into my hands before getting onto my next flight. Air travel has already turned into an unpleasant experience- cramped, uncomfortable, and impersonal. Now you want to turn it into a flying cafeteria? I think not! The focus should be on enhancing the speed of service at the counter and giving people a clean and comfortable respite to enjoy the meal.

Anne Howe

I like the disruptive nature of the app but really, the food choices at many airports are largely poor and not nutrition-friendly. So adding a $6.99 delivery fee doesn’t really fix the core problem! Not to mention, expert travelers want shorter possible connection times, so a 30-minute delivery window seems risky — like forever — to those wanting to board the connection!

Harley Feldman

Inside airport delivery will become more commonplace due to passengers being in unfamiliar airports, wanting a retail item in an inconvenient part of the airport, and the lack of time on the ground between planes. The delivery fee is not small but, over time, competition and volume of purchases should drive the fee down. If the choice is to get what the traveler wants without expending much effort or not get the item or food at all, the service will win much of the time. The hurdles for the service will be the fee charged, having the item in-stock or the food cooked in time to deliver them to the traveler and dealing with last minute changes to flights.

Jennifer McDermott

Being able to deliver quality-controlled and on-time products within such limited windows sounds like a fabulous idea, but a logistical nightmare. There are so many variables that we’re met with at the airport as it is.

Rich Kizer

Through the years, we have become very familiar with most of the major airports we frequent. That being said, YES, I will use this app. Standing in long lines for a table or waiting to order is an incredibly waste of productive time. If can order my desire after going through security, and have it delivered to my gate while I am working — that’s winning.

gordon arnold

Observation for the sake of raw data gathering is how we can learn why this service type is an all new growth industry by itself. Let us first take hold of time as an adjudicatory factor in the need for these services. Moving past that, we now search for bottlenecks and seek remedies to improve efficiencies. Creating application software that will allow one or more persons to bypass potential delays for any reasonable price will be more acceptable as the time crunch increases.

The biggest obstacles to the success for this market is arriving on time, presenting a complete and accurate order and of course, shrink due to poor recognition and pilfering. It is necessary to seek improvements these inhibitors as a means for growth both for the industry and the company without falling to the traps that come with ambiguous and/or unrealistic customer satisfaction goals.

Sterling Hawkins

There’s a place for it; however, if travelers are cutting connections too close to stop to pick something up, the complications with delivery logistics will only help minimally. I’d expect usage might be broader if they could bring out-of-airport product into the airport via delivery.

Cynthia Holcomb

For me personally, travel is stressful enough without the added stress of waiting and watching the time for the delivery of food or a book etc. I ordered as my plane is boarding. Investing $6.99 into the experience, blindly trusting the food will be palatable is a deal breaker. Time will tell if passengers are up to the wait and see aspects of the app.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
3 years 7 months ago

When I travel and know that it will be around a meal time during a connection, I often search out the best food options at the connecting airport online. Unfortunately, the best options are far from my gates and I end up with a suboptimal choice. I would welcome this service and I expect it will be embraced by a lot of travelers.

One of the biggest hurdles I see is staffing that can scale with peaks in demand.

"When you’re hungry and exhausted and a jumbo bag of M&Ms starts looking good for dinner, I think travelers will embrace this option."
"As a traveler, if I’m at a gate waiting for my food and the plane starts to board, the food loses. So does the retailer."
"I’d expect usage might be broader if they could bring out-of-airport product into the airport via delivery."

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