Javelin Group is Europe’s leading specialist retail advisory business, helping leading retailers, brands, shopping centres and travel hubs adapt to the new consumer landscape through transformational strategy, operations, technology and analytics. Robin Bevan, director of the company’s Locations and Analytics practice, discusses the latest analytic tools being deployed in the airport sector to turn data into actionable insight.

Throughout the past decade, consumer behaviour has become much more complex. The multiplicity of touchpoints across physical and digital channels, which link consumers to the retailers and the brands that serve them, is driving towards a new business model. A single-customer view, and responding to consumer needs and expectations in near real time, is fast becoming a prerequisite for success and survival in retail – a sector from which airports have a lot to learn.

Airports, where non-aeronautical revenue contributes an increasing share of income, have not adapted as fast as other commercial sectors to the changing environment. Ever growing passenger numbers and an affluent customer base have so far delivered enviable like-for-like sales and revenue growth, and strong demand for commercial space.

Retail, on the other hand, has had to move very quickly to embrace change in order to survive. So, while the travel sector failed even to register in EMC’s Big Data League Table, retail came top across all dimensions (infrastructure, skills, leadership and culture).
An omnichannel approach – combining a consistent proposition and operational delivery across in store, online, mobile and media channels – is central to this transformation.

In seeking to engage passengers in a compelling, consistent and personal way, from the moment a flight is booked to planning their journey, parking their car and engaging with the retail offering in-terminal, through to cross-selling with third parties (for example, hotels, car hire), airports must learn these omnichannel retail skills. If they do not then they will fail to optimise their huge commercial potential, the airport proposition will become increasingly detached from modern consumer expectations and shareholder value will diminish.

The omnichannel airport experience

At first glance, an omnichannel mindset may not seem relevant to airports, which provide an unashamedly ‘bricks and mortar’ environment, but the opportunities to enhance the passenger experience through digital interaction and the smart use of data are myriad.

For example, giving passengers the chance to research and pre-order goods to be collected at the airport is a key opportunity. Another comes from developing mobile platforms that combine personalised, geo-targeted messaging (right passenger, in the right place, at the right time in their passenger journey) with redemption and mobile payment functionality. These tools provide a powerful passenger engagement eco-system delivering a range of benefits, including loyalty and reward, mobile payment in-store or on-the-move, in-store queue-busting, car park booking and payment, digital wayfinding and flight information.

Javelin Group has worked with St Pancras International in the rail sector to deliver the UK’s first rail station app of this type, while its partner companies work with airlines such as Lufthansa enhancing the travel experience of their Miles & More loyalty customers using similar technologies.

The big data challenge

To make an omnichannel approach efficient, seamless and suitably targeted, data capture is required across many touch points (flight bookings, website visits, car-parking bookings and purchases, for example) to understand typical behaviour and provide compelling geo-targeted content.

Many organisations struggle with the amount of customer data that is already being generated, and it is often well beyond the scope of standard desktop applications such as Microsoft Access and Excel to easily merge and cleanse disparate datasets, let alone undertake the deep analysis necessary to drive out ‘next-best-action’ recommendations.

Commentators predict an astonishing 4,300% increase in data generated annually up to 2020, based on 2009 levels. The increased velocity, variety and volume of data will continue to place increasing strains on the traditional technology stack, data collation and analysis tools that have proved the bedrock of successful businesses since the early 1990s.

An omnichannel mindset requires access to great data blended with insight analytics and predictive modelling skills to turn information into action. There is, however, a chronic lack of skilled data scientists (with knowledge of coding and deep mathematics) that can manipulate these ever growing volumes of data using traditional tools.

New-generation business insight and analytics

The concept of data as the new oil is not new. Ralf Ollins, CIO of the world’s biggest retailer, WalMart, confirmed its vital importance when he confessed: "Every day I wake up and ask myself, ‘how can I flow data better, manage data better, analyse data better?’."
WalMart evolved fast towards a culture of market-leading analytics – deploying new-generation business insight and analytics software to meet these challenges. These same tools will provide a key piece of the omnichannel jigsaw for airports.

There has been a revolution over the past few years in the new breed of business insight tools available to help organisations access, blend, cleanse, manipulate and interpret their data sources to deliver meaningful business results. Organisations using these tools no longer need wait on their IT departments to provide analytical output, or recruit analysts with niche data skill sets. These new tools put the analytical power directly into the hands of the everyday business user.

Javelin Group advises its retail and travel clients to consider ten important factors in selecting software. It should require no coding (ideally drag and drop), making the tool easy to use and intuitive; be easy to implement, not needing a change in existing IT infrastructure; fully connect to structured/unstructured data sources, including third-party and cloud; have fast-processing capabilities with no restrictions on data volumes; be one tool for multiple tasks (data blending, advanced analytics, geo-spatial and reporting); feature visual interactive outputs with results that can be scheduled with automated delivery; be scalable for either one desktop user or across the enterprise; mobile compatible to allow self-service analytics when needed on the go; have cost sensitive pricing without the need to buy ‘hidden’ additional add-ons; and offer a multinational client base with multiple tried and tested examples.

One platform that stands out from the rest in meeting all these criteria is Alteryx, which provides a powerful yet easy-to-use analytic workflow design environment that allows analysts to access multiple data sources and quickly build and publish management reports using a deep range of analytic applications.

The retail sector has adopted Alteryx fast. Businesses such as Dixons Carphone, Eat, JD Sports, McDonalds, Mothercare, Nike, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Wagamama deploy Alteryx as the key omnichannel analytics platform.

Alteryx is transformative in delivering a single view of the truth across organisations by blending disparate data sources. Its functional applications are widespread, responding to regular and ad-hoc analytic requirements.

Even in travel, which has lagged behind retail in its use of smart analytics, Alteryx is now being used by different operators such as airports (London Heathrow), train operating companies (Denmark’s DSB) and airlines (Delta and EasyJet).

As the omnichannel mindset moves into focus for leading airports, the blending of vision, data, analytics, insight and action will become vital.