Airport shoppers have to consider time constraints and baggage allowances, but innovative operational practices and service excellence can make pre-flight shopping an enjoyable experience.
"To ensure maximum customer satisfaction, we make substantial investment in the best technologies, facilities and people," says Clarice Au, operations director of Hong Kong International Airport's largest retail operator, Nuance-Watson (HK) Limited.
Nuance-Watson, which currently has 47 stores spanning 6,400 square metres in Terminals 1 and 2, has been in operation since 1998 and has a diversified and strategic portfolio of retail licenses. Last year, Frontier magazine named the company "Airport retailer of the year", the highest accolade in the travel retail industry.
All Nuance-Watson's Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) stores are equipped with a point-of-sale (POS) retail system that allows transactions to be completed in less than five seconds and accepts over 30 currencies. The system also allows "mixing and matching" different promotions for single products. This results in speedy service and attractive choices and offers for customers.
The company's free "arrival collection service" for Hong Kong residents and outbound travellers who will be returning to Hong Kong is a customer-friendly service enabling customers to collect items they bought before flying out upon their return. This spares returning outbound travellers from having to take their purchases with them.
Expanding the scope of service is also a strategic move. "Following the introduction of our first La Prairie travel retail flagship beauty counter in Asia, passengers can now restock at the airport before their flights. Apart from the brand's beauty products for sale, complimentary five-star treatments are also offered in the exclusive treatment cabin behind the main brand-image counter," notes Ms Au.
Nuance-Watson has further consolidated its presence at the airport with five new stores in Terminal 2's newly launched SkyPlaza retail and business complex, which has check-in facilities and a coach station for cross-border traffic. The strategic position of the new stores will help to extend Nuance-Watson's business through the increasingly closer ties between the airport and the Pearl River Delta.
According to plan, Nuance-Watson is extending outside HKIA and is currently establishing a multi-category store at The Venetian Macao, a leading resort and gaming destination scheduled to open in Macau later this month. The store will be the property's largest department store, sprawling over 20,000 square feet and offering a wide range of top-quality products from more than 100 global brands.
Careers on the go
"With a diverse retail portfolio, we offer dynamic development opportunities and good prospects for growth within the company for our 700 employees," says Ms Au, pointing out that a retail career with Nuance-Watson also offers the chance to help drive the company's operational excellence while getting international exposure.
A passion for retail is a must for Nuance-Watson frontline staff. Prospective store managers must have a university degree or higher diploma, a minimum of three years' relevant experience (preferably in retailing), initiative and effective people-management, leadership and communication skills. A positive and result-oriented character is also essential since store managers are responsible for the day-to-day supervision of sales teams and for leading the drive to maximise sales and profits. This involves ensuring the highest standard of customer service and store presentation, stock replenishment and people management.
Meanwhile, sales assistants are responsible for accurately and efficiently carrying out sales transactions and for serving customers in a professional and attentive way. Part of their role is to help perform stock replenishment and to ensure that the desired store standard is consistently maintained. Sales assistants should have at least a Form Five education, as well as good communication skills with fluency in both English and Mandarin. Additional positive qualities include an outgoing and energetic character and service-orientated mindset, says Ms Au.
"We are constantly investing in training for our sales and management staff," stresses Ms Au, saying that apart from fundamental retailing expertise, special attention is also given to developing the skills that staff need to operate effectively in a multinational work environment. "English, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean language courses are designed to increase staff's competence in serving customers from different countries," she notes.
A "Six-step training programme" to enhance customer service and selling skills covers different techniques for approaching customers, identifying their needs, recommending products, obtaining customer commitments, cross-selling and closing transactions.
Nuance-Watson's vendors and suppliers also provide brand and product training in order to supply sales staff with up-to-date and detailed information on brand philosophies, image direction, product features and benefits. Additional training activities are conducted regularly to prepare staff for new seasonal launches and promotions. There are also opportunities for overseas training, providing international experience.
Staff members are also taught to spot counterfeit banknotes and credit cards, handle security and emergency situations and conduct health and safety drills.
"In retail, the true magic happens at the point of sale," emphasises Ms Au, pointing out that product and shopping environment aside, it is really the commitment of sales staff that constitutes the best professional service. "The key to succeed in retail is the drive to achieve excellence. Travel retail is even more challenging, because international retail is more dynamic and multi-faceted. This is the right environment for employees who enjoy communicating with people from different cultures and who like experiencing new challenges," she concludes.