Travel Tech

Walker Sands has recently released its “Reinventing Retail: What Businesses Need to Know for 2015”; a detailed study of the retail industry. Although this report doesn't have a specific travel remit, and looks at the retail industry as a whole, there are many interesting morsels of information for digital marketers within the tourist industry to takeaway from it.

US Consumer Survey

This report surveys more than 1,400 consumers in the United States, assessing their online shopping habits in 2014. The intention behind the survey was to help retail technology companies understand and anticipate consumer behaviour in the next 12 months and beyond. The findings are intended to address some of the biggest challenges faced by online retailers in the contemporary marketplace.

As a broad overview of the topics and conclusions explored by the survey, the following assertions, of particular relevance to digital marketers, can be made:

  • Consumers are shopping online more frequently, and the categories of products being purchased are becoming broader;
  • Consumers are still utilising cash, but are typically using it less frequently and only for certain select purchases;
  • The introduction of Apple Pay is accelerating the shift to mobile payments in the United States;
  • However, consumers still have security and privacy concerns with regard to utilising smartphones at a cash register;
  • As technology continues to develop, new imaging technology such as virtual reality will be embraced by tech-savvy consumers.

Broader Online Shopping

Online shopping is, of course, now part of every day life, with consumers making web purchases on a very frequent basis. The report also concludes that consumers are spending more across a wider range of product categories. The Walker Sands survey found that 68 percent of US consumers shop online at least once a month; this figure having increased from 62 percent in the report last year. Meanwhile, 28 percent make online purchases every single week.

While online shopping began as a convenient service, it is increasingly becoming a central part of consumer behaviour, even for more expensive items. Over three-quarters of those surveyed stated that they would be willing to spend more than $100 on a product without seeing it first; an increase from 70 percent of those surveyed a year ago.

This has obvious implications for the travel industry considering that virtually all holiday purchases exceed this $100 figure. The Digital Tourism Think Tank has previously reported on the fact that the traditional travel agent is being marginalised by online holiday bookings, and this statistic would suggest that this trend will continue in the future.

However, although the digital aspect of consumerism is obviously becoming increasingly prominent and important, one should not necessarily dismiss traditional routes just yet. Only forty percent of people indicated that they would be willing to buy absolutely any product online. This obviously means that 60 percent of people still want to purchase at least some items in person, and not nearly some of the time, but the majority or all of the time.

This indicates that digital marketers and travel-related businesses would be advised to not merely utilise digital methods as points of sale, but also to steer consumers towards retail outlets. Many customers still want the face-to-face consumer experience to which they are accustomed, and digital means may be replacing this to some extent, but they may never supplant it completely. Of course, it would be interesting to see this figure broken down into demographics, as it seems likely that younger, millennial consumers would be more comfortable with online purchasing.

Mobile Payments Accelerate

Additionally, after years of speculation about the coming prominence of mobile payments, it is clear that the uptake of this technology has accelerated over the last 12 months. It was always likely that Apple entering this marketplace would be a catalysing factor, and Apple Pay certainly seems to have raised awareness and increased consumer willingness to utilise smartphones at the point of sale.

With this in mind, 40 percent of consumers have utilised a mobile payment method in the past year according to the Walker Sands survey. It is here that we see the massive importance of Apple Pay, as this figure has increased from just 8 percent in 2013. Although only a small percentage of consumers had actually utilised Apple Pay during the past year, 18 percent of those survey stated that its introduction made it more likely for them to make a purchase with a smartphone in the foreseeable future.

Privacy Concerns

Clearly this paints a picture of a general public which is ready to embrace mobile payments. But digital marketers and travel-related businesses should also be aware that consumers still have concerns about this method of payment. According to the survey, a massive 80 percent of consumers expressed some hesitancy about utilising mobile payment services, and the biggest considerations by some distance were related to security and privacy.

Thus, participants in the survey rank cash as the most secure form of payment, yet evidence collated by Walker Sands indicated that the number of people utilising cash on a regular basis is declining. When surveyed, only 11 percent had paid for something in cash within the last 24 hours, declining from 27 percent in 2013. The majority of consumers also carry less than $20 in their wallets.

This suggests that although the public will take some convincing about the validity of mobile payments, already there is evidence that consumer behaviour is moving towards them.

Virtual Reality Future

Another interesting aspect of the survey with regard to the future was its Focus on emerging technologies such as virtual reality. This phenomenon has been covered by the Digital Tourism Think Tank recently, and with technologies such as Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus now reaching release date, VR could become a significant part of the retail environment - as well as other fields - in the near future.

According to the report, over one-third of consumers stated that they would be willing to shop more online if they were able to use virtual reality services to test the product out first. And an impressive 63 percent of people stated that they expected virtual reality technology to positively impact upon their shopping experiences in the future.

In addition, half of the participants surveyed stated that they would be interested in trying virtual reality products as soon as they are released, and around one-third expressed a specific interest in purchasing such a virtual reality product. Two-thirds of respondent stated that they would be interested in virtual shopping, while 35 percent indicated that it would make them more receptive to the idea of purchasing online.

And to continue the theme of the changing nature of modern commerce and the Challenge that it poses for the high street, 22 percent of consumers surveyed stated that they would be less likely to visit a physical store once virtual reality technology was introduced and widespread.

Implications of VR for Retailers

The implications of this are obvious for travel retailers, even if there may be a minimal physical effect in the short-term. One would not really expect to see the High Street experience a decrease in footfall from virtual reality in the immediate future. However, there could be a longer-term influence on traditional shopping, and additionally virtual reality offers a wide range of opportunities to digital marketers, travel-related companies and destinations.

The Digital Tourism Think Tank has reported previously on the digital marketing opportunities provided by virtual reality technology, and also on the potential for virtual reality travel offered by technology such as Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. And there are many other examples of virtual reality technology already being trialled and tested in the tourism industry.

For example, tour operators such as TUI and Thomas Cook are utilising virtual reality within their physical stores in order to bring holidays to life. Thomas Cook stated during 2015 that it was testing virtual reality holidays at its Kent-based concept store using Oculus Rift headsets. TUI is also dipping its toes in this technology with cruise ship tours, as well as launching its own in-store initiative.

Digital Marketing and Tourism Takeaways


  1. Online shopping is now such a central part of the culture that it is essential for retailers to make the process as convenient and hassle-free as possible.
  2. Mobile payments are about to become a major part of the commercials sphere, and consumers are clearly intrigued by technologies such as Apple Pay. Smartphone payments in particular will become mainstream in the foreseeable feature.
  3. But it is important for those wishing to take advantage of mobile payments to understand that consumers still have misgivings about such technology. Security and privacy concerns are central to consumers’ trepidation about mobile payments, and retailers have some work to do in order to convince the average consumer of the security of mobile payment systems.
  4. However, although cash is seen as secure, it is also clearly in decline. Retailers who are able to embrace mobile payments and convince consumers of its safety might be able to offer the best of both worlds to customers.
  5. Although virtual reality remains imminent and not really part of mainstream society yet, consumers already expect such technology to shape future commerce experiences and behaviour.
  6. Retailers and marketers should certainly begin to think about how they can embrace virtual reality technology, both as a commercial and marketing presence.

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