After an inevitably dismal 2020, the travel industry is gearing up for a comeback as the Vaccine Economy kicks in. That’s led to the emergence of new term that is gaining a lot of currency in the sector - 'revenge travel'.
This is the theory that after over a year of being locked down and under effective house arrest in large parts of the world, there’s a pent-up demand to get away, leading in turn to consumers being ready to pay for longer, more extravagant and more expensive vacations - revenge on COVID-19 for robbing us all of our travel plans last year.
It’s a sound enough theory - and you need only check out the mainstream media obsession with which countries are or are not open to holiday makers from abroad to see evidence of that unmet demand from last year! - and one that will play out over the coming months. If it plays out, then it’s good news for all parts of the travel business, including retailers like Samsonite, owner of globally-recognized luggage brands, such as TUMI, American Tourister, Lipault and Samsonite itself.
Like other retailers in the sector, Samsonite has had to adapt its go-to-market strategy over the past year as COVID wreaked havoc on the travel industry. If you’re not about to fly off to Florida for a week in the sun, you realistically aren’t in the market for buying a pricey new suitcase. This has been the challenge facing Edouard Wattel, VP Digital and E-Commerce Europe, and his team at Samsonite.
The company had updated and unified its commerce systems around Salesforce Commerce Cloud, but inevitably the pandemic last year had a major impact on operations. Wattel recalls:
What we saw happen on the website was that luggage items were clearly less in demand. So we quickly adjusted our website merchandising toward more backpacks kids items and accessories, which were a lot more resilient.
Then, when we saw our organic traffic dropping, it was essential to adjust and optimize our email marketing campaigns, capitalizing on our loyal customer base. It was key to keep engaging them with some relevant messaging, like, [you] work from home, the kids are at home, keep dreaming about traveling or getting ready for your future trips.
Uncertainties about travel plans and last-minute bookings also led us to shift some campaigns following each country's specific [situation]. We had no other choice than to be more agile as the news kept changing every single weeks. That was pretty complex for the team.
The other impact of the virus has been changes in what would normally be regarded as peak times for business for the firm. Pre-COVID, there were key calendar moments in various geographies - Spring Break in the US, school holidays in Europe, summer vacation time, the US ‘Holiday’ season, Christmas etc - where an uptick in demand for Samsonite products could be predicted.
COVID changed all that as openings and closings of geographies took place at varying speeds and times around the world. The need to respond quickly to changes of circumstance and opportunity has made anticipating and planning all the more important, says Wattel:
For me, a peak is always an opportunity to build and secure a stronger future for business. If you do well, you'll have a better chance to see this customer coming back, which is what we all want. Clearly the calendar has shifted and it's still remaining uncertain. We have to be ready for micro-peaks happening suddenly. Generally, we expect the second semester and Q4 to be even bigger than it was already, because it will follow the vaccination progress and the so-called 'revenge travel' trends.
Forward planning and running potential scenarios is essential, he adds:
What we find is that it's key to start well in advance to make the best out of it. To learn from any single micro-peaks ahead, the wider your time window is, the better you can optimize the [purchasing] journey, recommendations, abandon cart tactics, re-targeting, cross-selling or up-selling.
What has emerged from such planning work is a recognition that the post-COVID customer has some altered needs and expectations and these in turn have been shaping Wattel’s priorities. For example, the rise in adoption of mobile commerce made the development of a new website essential, a project that took place while the pandemic was raging:
One of the best decisions we took was to keep these projects running despite the big impact COVID had on our industry. We managed to launch the new site just before summer 2020, which matched perfectly with higher mobile expectation. As a result, we have significantly improved the product detail pages, the checkout and also the website speed on mobile…That's really a new Samsonite website focused on mobile, which we keep fine-tuning. It will never be 100% completed. It's a permanent work-in-progress.
There’s also been a rise in customer expectations around retail firms omni-channel services and capabilities, he says. These include offering virtual appointments and remote selling, both still with human involvement which is seen as key by customers who want assistance and guidance with their selection and purchasing.
Making things personal to the consumer is also key, says Wattel:
One of the priorities is to make it unique through the experience, but also through the product. So the product can be embossed or engraved on the website, perfect for gifts. You can make it unique, by playing videos to visualize clearly before ordering it, manipulating it through 3D and AR (Augmented Reality) features on the website. And all of this is made to optimize customer satisfaction and minimize the return rate.
To that end, Samsonite customers are now able, for example, to tap into bleeding edge tech via the website to ‘try on’ their purchases by taking a picture of themselves on their mobile device and seeing their intended purchases next to them to get a size comparison.
While non-essential retail has been physically re-opening around the world, click-and-collect and home delivery services remain a major priority, says Wattel, partly because circumstances can still change overnight - “Stores are open, stores are closed..” - but also for basic practical reasons:
It's not always practical to have a big suitcase and carrying it around in the city, so you might prefer to have it delivered home from the store.
Customers are also looking for more choice around payment methods, Wattel explains, with people wanting to spread the cost over a period of time. It’s tempting to suggest that this might be another effect of ‘revenge travel’, with consumers are more willing to spend on more expensive accessories for their more extravagent vacations. Wattel does suggest that price has become less of a factor in purchasing decisions, although the reason may lie elsewhere, in a customer focus on sustainability:
To some extent, post-COVID, consumers are a lot more conscious about investing in service and innovation or in sustainability and durability, rather than just looking for the cheapest [product]. So, we will have to really play this balance between [offering] some deals for Black Friday, but not at any cost, because we believe that the category will rebound a lot faster, which is an opportunity for us.
As for any one learning that’s come out of the past year, Wattel advises:
I would say that it's about fixing your value chain backward. Before getting the new customer at any cost, start with customer service, logistics, payment, checkout, before trying to get new people, because otherwise you your peak period might just turn into a nightmare. It's key to keep visiting your website in this approach, doing A/B testing to capture the maximum potential, because a peak is always an opportunity to pursue long term growth. At the end of the day, this is your moment of truth.