Retailers can learn from the budget airlines

Something rather surprising happened to me recently. I had a pleasant experience when buying some flight tickets from one of the major budget airlines.


Whereas in the past navigating the websites of budget airlines sites was a long winded experience, the processes have been streamlined and ancillary products are integrated into the booking flow – helped by the personalisation solutions provided by computer software companies.


It seems that they have taken onboard some of the skills typically displayed by the experts at delivering a great experience – retailers. This got me thinking about whether it might now be time for these retailers to now adopt some of the skills deployed by the budget airlines and up their game with the selling of ancillary goods and services.

Some retailers have been in the game such as the catalogue companies that have traditionally been pretty good at selling credit, which has been a vital component of their earnings. In fact so much so that Next has recently introduced credit facilities for its Directory customers. But beyond this, and the selling of warranties on electrical goods, there have been few decent examples of retailers successfully selling ancillary products.

But maybe we are starting to see some evidence of it happening. When I recently purchased a television from there was a skilled effort by the company to also sell me a variety of other things such as the relevant leads, home installation by professional fitters, and an insurance policy. The likes of Pets at Home have also recognised the value of offering vet-related services when selling animals.

It’s fair to say that retailers seem to have been a little paranoid when it comes to selling such additional items as if it might somehow distract the customer from the core products being sold. They have probably believed that the airlines selling the likes of hotel rooms and car hire has a natural symmetry whereas retailers have not had quite the same opportunity with add-on goods.

This is probably wrong and with some thought there are probably myriad ancillary goods and services that they could be putting in front of the relevant customers if they commit some thought to the exercise.

As well as learning from the airlines they could also take a look at some of the car companies and the more progressive dealerships. They have long been great sellers of ancillary elements – especially on new vehicles – and recently they have also been upping their game in the customer experience stakes.

Audi is a great example with its digital showrooms. And it’s a similar story with dealership Rockar Hyundai, which I recently saw selling cars in Westfield Shopping centre in Stratford. They were delivering a very slick experience that was a world away from that familiar car selling stereotype.

They were not employing men who intimidate women in showrooms on trading estates. Instead it was women selling cars from a smart shopping centre – with a very limited range supported by touch-screen technology.

The examples are clearly out there from these other categories and so it is now up to retailers to take a serious look at their ancillary sales strategies.

Guy (online only)Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, Webloyalty Northern Europe (@Webloyalty_Guy)