Tune into the revolution

Welcome to the latest in a series of columns brought to you in association with experiential marketing, brand activation and consumer engagement specialist CircleSquare. This monthly column aims to inform, surprise and provoke. In this edition CircleSquare Executive Creative Director Philip Handley says that travel retail is ripe for reinvention, and that it will be the rule breakers, the progressives and those who dare to be different who will deliver it.

What is it with humankind and the fact we find it impossible to adapt to new media? Given the ineptitude on display across all industries, you’d have thought the introduction of a new form of media had never happened before. History, however, tells us a very different story and it’s actually quite funny to learn of all the clumsy attempts made by well-intentioned people to demonstrate the wonderful potential of an exciting new form of media to the baying public.

For example, amid the clamour and cheers surrounding the unveiling of the astonishing new format ‘radio’, and the boundless scope this revolutionary media could bring to the world, the brains behind the first broadcast did nothing other than read aloud from a newspaper. The subsequent broadcast featured someone reading a passage from the bible. Good God indeed!

Of course, there are other brilliant stories. Keen to demonstrate the limitless scope of the new-fangled television over the outdated wireless radio, the boffins behind one of the earliest ever TV broadcasts, simply played some music and then featured a radio play, read aloud by the exactly the same performers they used on the radio.

“Digital offers agile story-telling, enhanced discovery and regularly updated product information in the palm of your hand”

CircleSquare Executive Creative Director Philip Handley

Finally, we have just witnessed the launch of the first ‘virtual’ retail store, aimed at triumphantly consigning physical retail to history. Sadly the wizards behind this radical idea merely managed to create a poorly executed, childish-looking, computer generated version of a physical store with none of the charm, practicality or experience of the original.

Spoiler alert; despite the calamitous beginnings to all these stories, there always seems to be a happy ending. You would have thought these hilarious mishaps would continue ad infinitum but instead humankind wises up much faster than you’d think and before too long the potential is realised to spectacular effect.

It’s fair to surmise that any new media format is nearly always the brainchild of the ‘old guard’ who have been challenged to think beyond their boundaries because they have reached the limits of their existing formats. It’s just ironic that these ‘visionary’ people never seem to have the vision to exploit what they have created. Think of Tim Berners-Lee who famously gave us the game-changing World Wide Web but has he actually done anything game-changing with it? Instead it’s the entrepreneurs, the hustlers, the people who see things differently; in order to start a revolution, you need revolutionaries.

Travel retail was created in the image of domestic retail with its shelves piled high with products, merchants eagerly demonstrating their latest product lines and queues of shoppers snaking towards the cashier desks, waiting patiently to complete their transactions. It is obvious to anyone with their eyes open that travel retail is yet to undergo its revolution.

Digital, with all its vast potential, is crudely bolted onto the existing retail platform like an unsightly appendage, enhancing nothing and ultimately getting in the way of the genuine, human experiences which separate us, moreover, elevate us from online sales.

A new benchmark: Exploration, inspiration and entertainment at the Burberry store in Shenzhen

Shoppers are encouraged to play vastly inferior copies of nauseating games like Candy Crush Saga which happen to be smothered in ill-conceived brand messaging, masquerading as an excuse for a consumer activation. It is no wonder passengers aren’t flocking to the stores.

Does digital do anything better than physical? Instantaneous, cashless transactions which are authorised with a thumb print, immediately updating sales data, personal preferences, and the opening of a dialogue for repeat purchase for a start. Compare that against an awkward wait in line behind someone who cannot find their boarding pass and doesn’t understand the allowances for their destination. Is it any wonder we see so many abandoned shopping missions?

Digital also offers agile story-telling, enhanced discovery and regularly updated product information in the palm of your hand. That is instead of the endless rows of stock gathering dust on an expensive, bespoke shelving system that could probably do with some maintenance since it was hit by a trolley bag, causing the LED strips to stop working (but it’s too expensive to have fixed because an airside pass will take two weeks and several hundred dollars). Anyway, it will be landfill as soon as the global brand team launch another look and feel next month. Greta Thunberg, look away now.

Just think of the space we could free up if we allowed digital to take care of products and transactions. It would provide a vast, open stage, crying out for ingenious activations and boundless experiences, drawing in people eager to make real life memories like moths to a flickering flame.

Launched during the peak of the pandemic, Burberry’s new store in Shenzhen, billed as “luxury’s first social retail store,” blends the physical and social realms in a digitally immersive retail experience.

Described by Marco Gobbetti, Burberry’s CEO, as “a place of discovery that connects and rewards customers as they explore online and instore”, it provides travel retail with a new benchmark, not only in the level of ambition required for success, but also in terms of what consumers now expect in return for entering a store.

It is a space of exploration, inspiration and entertainment where people can interact with the Burberry brand and its products in new and exciting ways, simultaneously in person and on social. It begins with an interactive store window, reflecting the viewers’ shapes and responding to their body motions, creating personalised movements which can be captured and shared with friends over social. Once inside, the store is made up of a series of spaces to explore, each having its own concept and personality and offering a unique interactive experience.

Fusing the online and offline experiences in a first of its kind store for Burberry

QR codes feature on every product displayed, further enhancing the in-store experience allowing screens woven into the very fabric of the store to come alive with personalised content, the discovery of exclusive pieces and with the unlocking of additional content and storytelling.

Perhaps the greatest achievement is the way the shopper experience lives seamlessly offline, through the experience of the store, and online, through the avatar which grows which each interaction you have with any online or offline touchpoint.

Judgement day draws ever nearer for travel retail, accelerated by a pandemic of epic proportions like a wicked and unforgiving agent of change. And history tells us it will not be the heroes of the past who are at the heart of this vital revolution but the rule breakers, the progressives and those who dare to be different.

Revolution is in the air, you can smell it. Vive la révolution!

*About Circle Square

CircleSquare are experts in experiential marketing, brand activations and consumer engagement, with a special focus on global travel retail where they’ve been delivering award-winning work for over 15 years. CircleSquare’s in-depth understanding of this unique channel has earned them an impressive client list, including Diageo, Mondelez, Luxottica, Lacoste and L’Oréal Luxe, alongside retailers like DFS, Dufry and Heinemann.

CircleSquare has offices in London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, covering every phase of the experiential journey process from strategy and creative to design and delivery. You’ll find their work in retail stores, pop-up spaces and airports all over the world.

Contact: Executive Creative Director Philip Handley at

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The Moodie Davitt eZine

Issue 285 | x November 2020

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 12 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit and to subscribe, please e-mail

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