Is the Airline Industry a Model for the Future of Retail?

Ten years from now, how different will the retail experience be? Fast Company takes a look at “the recent history of how we purchase and consume air travel” as a potential model for the future. While customers used to be able to buy all-in-one sort of deals, the airline industry is now “pressured by skyrocketing fuel prices and roiling global competition,” leading to added fees and decreased services.

In addition to those challenges, the airline industry has also been through a world of change regarding the digital age and how we purchase travel. “Over nearly three decades, airlines became exceptionally capable of monitoring, managing, and matching the prices of their competitors — and it happens lightning fast, hundreds of millions of times per day,” writes Fast Company.

“There is no marketplace more fast-paced or technically advanced than that for air travel: mobile boarding passes, loyalty points for using the ‘right’ credit card, added costs for in-flight food or checked luggage, and ticket prices that change by the second or faster.”

Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are slower to make such adjustments. They need to speed things up, according to the article. “Merchants need to quickly learn the lessons that airlines have over the last 30 years: Deal with a shopper’s lust for price-parity, and compete on a new level based on providing the features that customers value and are unique to brick-and-mortar retailers.”

Retailers are already aware that customers often come in to try on products in person, only to leave and purchase it cheaper online. And many don’t come in at all, anymore. “This is the problem that must be solved,” notes the article.

If airlines are the model, then retailers need to consider how they’ve “taken a commodity (a seat on a plane) and caused us to change our view about what we’re buying and how we’re buying it.” It’s not about buying a package of services at the most affordable price, rather than just about buying one single product.