A new generation Thomson concept store due to be unveiled this summer could become the template for all 700 of its outlets, according to deputy chief executive Johan Lundgren.
The location of the first hi-tech shop will be announced in June and the retailer hopes to have 10 refitted by the end of the year and 100 within a couple of years.
Although plans for a new generation store have been spoken about publically for longer than rival Thomas Cook the second member of travel’s big two beat Thomson to the punch by opening a new concept store in Leeds earlier this year.
Other operators and agents including Kuoni, Abercrombie and Kent and Virgin Holidays have also opened new-style stores all in their own way exploiting modern technology.
Lundgren said that while modernising the store’s hardware was important so too was getting the software right, including training agents to maximise the opportunity to enable customers to live and breathe the product during the sales process.
“There is a reason why people come to the shops. It’s because they are looking for advice. They want to see people who know the product intimately.
“It’s not like we will just refit the stores with some different colours and technology, it’s a concept which the staff will work through as well and we have training for that on how this experience will pan out.”
Lundgren said brochures and traditional selling tools would still be available in the new generation Thomson outlets but this will be augmented with moving images that bring the product to life.
“We are seeing the importance of the brochure is becoming less and less. We have a fantastic product that is so well suited to bringing it alive through technology.”
Lundgren said the key to future travel retailing on the high street was not just to ape the like of Apple because the product is very different.
He said the UK concept store could be something Tui looks to roll out in other markets in Europe, distribution in which is now overseen by Nick Longman.
Last week’s Tui first quarter trading announcement revealed online sales were up by just one percentage point in the UK to 42%. This compares to the Nordics where online represents 65% of business.
Lundgren denied that online expansion was slowing and said he expected the channel to continue growing but for stores and third party agents to remain an important part of the distribution mix.
“Online continues to grow; the trend is exactly the same in all source markets. As we are developing the content and becoming better at brining this content alive through online it becomes a more and more attractive channel in its own right and this is where consumers are choosing to go more and more.
“Having said that third party and our own retail stores will remain an important part of our distribution in most markets. Even in the Nordics third party in important and it has been growing.”
In the UK Tui hit 91% controlled distribution in its first quarter to the end of March, not leaving much for third parties to sell.
“In the Nordics until a couple of years ago it was direct sell but we saw there was an increase in demand from travel agencies because they provided value for the consumer and it was attractive for us.
“[The percentage of third party distribution] might go up or down but we have no intention of becoming a direct business. We are selling holidays through channels where customers want to book them.”
Key features of the next generation Thomson shops include:
- The shop front will have a giant immersive video wall (2m x 3m) to showcase new video content and imagery of the holidays combined with evocative sounds and aromas
- At the entrance an interactive map and interactive table will entertain customers and help them research holidays and find out more about the broad range of product available – The Advice Bar will give customers the chance to browse the Thomson and First Choice websites on self-service laptops with staff on hand to answer any questions
- Free customer WiFi will also enable customers to use their own devices to research in store and check out review content
- High definition screens and booth projections around the store will feature changing images and videos to inspire customers and give them a feel of what to expect from their holidays before they book
- The store will be zoned to meet the needs of all customers and staff will join them to help with their holiday decisions. Customers can choose from sitting around a laptop in the pool area, self-serving at the Advice Bar or have a more personalised experience in the booths where images of their chosen holiday will be projected on the wall
- All customers will be served with barista style coffee to further enhance the booking experience
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