Heathrow’s personal shoppers goose sales

Heathrow Airport, Terminal 1, airside, departure lounge, Christmas decorations, December 2012.


Some people plan long layovers in large international airports so they can do holiday shopping in high-end, duty-free shops at a leisurely pace.

Others end up doing mad, last-minute gift-grabs at airport newsstands between flights.

London’s Heathrow Airport, with annual net sales of over $2.3 billion, believes both types of traveler can benefit from the services of a personal shopper. It offers such a service free, with no minimum spending requirement.

Travelers may request a personal shopper when they arrive at the airport, or book one in advance and send details about items of interest, preferences, the time they have on the ground, favorite brands and a shopping budget.

“By the time you arrive at Heathrow, your personal shopper will have pulled out suitable products and set them aside for you,” said the airport’s retail director, Muriel Zingraff-Shariff. “They’ll then escort you to each store and make new suggestions in line with your feedback.”

Since October, when the personal shopping program was expanded to everyone from a VIP-only service, hundreds have used it to buy everything from “a sandwich lunch to a gold and diamond watch” from the airport’s 300-plus retail outlets, Zingraff-Shariff said.

Arranging for items to be sent from a store in one terminal to a shopper in another is no problem, according to personal shopper Violetta Koltay. “But sometimes our biggest challenge is reminding passengers they have a plane to catch,” she said.

With more than 5.8 million passengers expected to pass through Heathrow this Christmas season, the services of the personal shoppers are even more in demand.

Koltay and other shoppers say passengers are seeking iconic U.K. products such as English tea, Scottish salmon and single malt whisky, as well as items made popular by the Royal Wedding, the Olympics and the birth of Prince George.

“The desirability of British brands has never been higher,” said Heathrow personal shopper Dana Jaber, “Visitors are keen to take home a little piece of the U.K. for their own Christmas celebrations.”

Heathrow’s personal shoppers have also noticed other trends among international travelers:

  • English tea sold at the airport over Christmas is popular with Chinese passengers as a gift item.
  • Turkish and Japanese passengers are key buyers of Scottish malt whisky “and are keen to understand the heritage of each bottle they purchase to take home.”
  • Middle Eastern passengers are enlisting the assistance of personal shoppers to buy Scottish salmon, which is packaged and sealed for flight.

While a convenient amenity, personal shoppers no doubt contribute to an airport’s bottom line. According to a Heathrow spokesperson, while the average transaction value there is about $62 (£38), transactions rise to an average of about $1,625 (£1,000) when a personal shopper is used.

According to Airports Council International (ACI), revenue generated from retail rentals made up 27 percent of nonaeronautical income for airports worldwide in 2011—7.5 percent more than in 2010. (The ACI report tallying 2012 figures will be published in March 2014.)

“Retail has become a major source of revenue for airports,” said Raymond Kollau founder of Airlinetrends.com. “In fact, with the decline of sales via traditional retail stores at high streets and shopping malls, many consumer and luxury brands … are looking to open stores at airports, as this travel retail is still seeing a healthy increase each year.”

One problem is that many international passengers face a language barrier when shopping at an airport, Kallou said.

“Research found that having a knowledgeable personal shopping proactively approaching them to assist in a more educated and quicker purchase is very much appreciated.”

Kollau said that Frankfurt Airport was the first airport to introduce a personal shopper service for Chinese passengers at the end of 2012, followed by a similar service for Russian passengers this past October.

Heathrow’s personal shoppers speak a total of 11 languages, including Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

“I can imagine that Aéroports de Paris, operator of Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is the major gateway for Asian travelers to Europe, is keeping a close eye on how the service is being received at Frankfurt and London Heathrow airports, and will likely introduce a similar service soon,” said Kollau.

(My story about Personal Shoppers at Heathrow Airport first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)


Souvenir Sunday: cardboard airport from Heathrow

Dancing Turkeys at Heathrow Airport. Courtesy Andy Catterall

These dancing turkeys were spotted at Heathrow Airport on Thanksgiving Day and luckily they didn’t gobble up all the cool souvenirs to be found in the shops, such as this cardboard airport.

The package says this is for kids and I bought two sets, for about $9 each. One I tried to put together – and failed. But the one pictured here I’m saving as a thank-you ‘prize’ for the next reader whose photo nomination of an airport souvenir that’s inexpensive, local and bit offbeat is featured here on StuckatTheAirport.com.

Heathrow ready to say goodbye to athletes and fans

Who is faster? Usain Bolt or a speeding airplane?

Athletes, their families, their coaches and many Olympics fans will be heading home after the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Heathrow Airport says it’s ready to handle all those departures.

August 13, 14, 15 are expected to be the busiest in Heathrow history, and on Monday (the 13th) alone, 5,000 Olympic participants are expected to be processed at the special, temporary terminal the airport has built just for athletes. When the games are over that terminal will be demolished and the land returned to its previous use as a parking lot.

Although the athletes and all their baggage will be processed in that special terminal, everyone still has to go through the “regular” terminals to catch their flights. So travelers may end up mingling with gold medal winners at the gates.

On Monday, Heathrow is expecting to see about 15,000 members of the “Olympic family” and a total of 116,000 passengers. The record for departing passengers is 123,000 set on 29th July 2011.

Airports in London & Miami get Olympics fever

Miami International Airport is saluting the Olympics with some fun events and promotions from Friday, July 27th through Monday, July 30th.

While a DJ spins tunes from around the world, passengers will be able to:

  • Get a picture taken on a winner’s podium and take home a souvenir postcard;
  • Win a gold, silver or bronze medal at a ring toss;
  • Create Olympic-themed crafts;
  • Hold the MIA Olympic torch;
  • Play Wii games against the Olympics mascots.

London’s Heathrow Airport is also having fun with the summer Olympics.
There are ping-pong tables set up in all the terminals, Olympics-themed art, giant globes and a full-schedule of character appearances and live music. Throughout the games, updates on medal winners will be announced on the public address system as well.

A waxwork statue of sprint champion Usain Bolt is now at Heathrow Airport

Souvenir Sunday: rechargeable William & Kate batteries

On Sundays, StuckatTheAirport takes a look at offbeat, inexpensive and locally-branded items you can buy at airports.

Souvenirs at Narita Airport

This week I found an item I’m betting will show up in electronics stores in Heathrow, Gatwick and all other airports in Great Britain any moment now – if it hasn’t  already.

Moixa christmad pack rechargable batteries

For a few years now, my travel gadget wish list has included some of these rechargeable batteries from USBCell. They eliminate the need to tote around yet another charger because there’s a USB port under the cap that lets you recharge the battery on a USB plug on your computer or with a USB adapter.

I’ve been waiting for the price to come down on these batteries; they’re a bit pricey (about $18 a pair). But I may have to go ahead and buy a few packets now because  the company has jumped on the Royal Wedding bandwagon and issued William-and-Kate-branded rechargeable batteries.

Corny but cute, yet very eco-friendly.

Santa, are you taking notes?

William and Kate branded eco-batteries

[Note: This Souvenir Sunday post isn’t a benefit-to-me promotion in any way, but when I asked MOIXA Energy for a photo of the royal batteries, they offered to set up a 20% discount code (“Royal120”) for StuckatTheAirport.com readers. If you buy some, let me know how they work and what sort of conversations they ignite at the airport.]


If you find a great inexpensive (about $10), offbeat, “of” a city or region souvenir when you’re stuck at the airport, please take a photo and send it along. If your item is featured on Souvenir Sunday here at StuckatTheAirport.com, I’ll send you a set of ANA (All Nippon Airways) Relax and Refresh aroma cards or some other fun travel souvenir.