Embrace the lessons of Selfridge, says Anna Kofoed, Amadeus vice president, travel content sourcing

The goal of any retailer is to capture the attention of its customers. Buyers can’t simply be sold to –shopping must be an experience, not a chore.

Consider the story of Harry Selfridge, the founder of the department store which opened in 1909.

Selfridge was an innovator who transformed the nature of shopping. Placing customer engagement at the core, he initiated shopping as a visionary and a tactile experience and arranged products on low counter tops, allowing shoppers to touch and feel items for the first time.

The open shop floor functioned as a social hub and allowed customers to shop in multiple departments with ease.

Under Harry’s vision, Selfridges introduced window displays, open aisles, in-store entertainment and even the ‘ladies’ lavatory’.

Selfridges became known for its architectural innovations and colourful window displays and continues to be a social and cultural landmark.

In short, Selfridge pioneered the in-store experience we still enjoy.

It is important the travel industry retains these lessons while ensuring it continues to adapt and take advantage of technological advancements.

We should ask ourselves what is the equivalent of the open aisle and low counter in the digital age?

You can’t (yet) touch and feel an airline’s flatbed before you buy, but technology has come a long way in providing a more immersive experience for travellers who increasingly require a thorough understanding of what they are buying.

The traditional booking experience is often fragmented, and it can be difficult for travellers to link all aspects of their trip – for example, when flying to an airport and then taking a train.

It is important that the future of travel is collaborative and that players can bring content together seamlessly.

The experience is also not particularly tactile. An airline usually identifies the seat you would like based on origin, destination, date availability and price factors.

And although travellers might have a sense of the experience they will receive with a particular airline, or perhaps have certain brand expectations, this is far removed from the Selfridges experience.

The traditional experience does not allow the opportunity to touch, feel and intimately understand the product.

Rich content changes this situation. Just as with digital advertising, the ability to incorporate richer forms of information such as pictures and videos into the merchandising flow promises to bring a little more Selfridge into the experience.

Lessons from the mobile-advertising world show that incorporating a picture, video or audio boost the click-through rate by a factor of four compared with standard banner ads, according to an Opera Mediaworks study.

When you’re booking a long-haul flight, the details really matter.

Perhaps you have a business meeting upon arrival, so the quality of the flatbed is critical. Maybe you’re tall and need to understand the dimensions of the seat.

You may want to know whether Wi-Fi will be available or if there is an electrical plug under your seat.

There is a plethora of reasons why people need rich information about an airline’s offer – and if you give it to people, it will boost conversion and secure differentiation.

Today, technology can allow the traveller to experience an immersive video. The customer might not be able to touch products, but they can certainly visualise them.

In the future, we need to channel a little more Selfridge.

Virtual Reality holds exciting new possibilities for the industry. While the underlying technology is still maturing and some way from mass adoption, it’s the obvious next step.

Imagine the traveller spins a globe, visits a destination, searches for flights, walks through the plane to choose a seat, investigates different rental cars and completes payment – all within the VR world.

We have more work to do, as does the wider VR industry, before this type of experience goes mainstream but it’s a glimpse into a not-too-distant future.

I wonder what Harry Selfridge would have made of it?