Zürich Airport

Luxury for a new generation

On 15 November, Zürich Airport and digital media and cultural consultancy Highsnobiety launched GATEZERO, a first of its kind luxury retail and multi-channel hub which the partners said is designed to “bring back the excitement of travel retail”. We bring you this on location report in words and images. By Dermot Davitt.

If travel retail is to maintain and grow its relevance for a new consumer audience, the physical and digital connections it makes with travellers must involve great content and story-telling, knowledge-sharing, differentiation, inspiration and entertainment. We visited a concept this week that blends these elements as digital publisher and cultural influencer Highsnobiety opened its debut airport store in Zürich under the GATEZERO name. It takes 120sq m of prime promotional space at the heart of the Airside Center, and features a curated, highly differentiated assortment of over 15 international brands ranging from ready-to-wear and shoes to watches and jewellery to eyewear and beauty. The labels include Acne Studios, Advisory Board Crystals, Ambush, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Burgunder, Byredo, Comme des Garçons, Gucci, Hatton Labs, IWC, Jil Sander, Loewe, MediCom Toy, On Running, Salomon, Sigg, Saint Laurent, and more – some of which are new to travel retail. In addition, limited edition releases and Highsnobiety’s Private Label Collection are available.

Luxury from left field: Some of the brands are new to travel retail and aim to benefit from the vast Highsnobiety audience and reach (Photos above and below: Louise Melchior, Brinkworth)

So what really makes this concept stand out? There’s the blend of categories from sneakers to souvenirs, with cult brands that are not (yet) mainstays of the duty free landscape but that have a strong young consumer following. It’s experimental: expect to see brands swapped in and out over the six months that the store is open from now through to 15 May. There are prominent, highly visible opportunities for display of products, designed by UK-based agency Brinkworth. We like the eye-catching digital wall and staging post in the centre, promoting hot Swiss brand On Running initially but with Loewe and IWC pencilled in for two-month campaigns later to ensure rotation and freshness. GATEZERO places the digital interface with users at its heart, using Highsnobiety’s vast community of 56 million followers across all platforms and 500 million impressions monthly to influence a new generation of travellers.

As Highsnobiety Chief Commercial Officer Max Berger says: “The common denominator in all that we do is our audience. It is the driver. 60% of our audience recommends brands to others so they have a lot of power, influencing the influencers if you like. And we work with brands who come to us seeking to be more innovative, to help them shape the future. “Why the airport? Well, we know that travel retail wasn’t really exciting for our set, but then we looked at some surprising statistics. When speaking to our audience, 95% expect to be at an airport in the next six months, although only 3% expect to buy anything. We knew we needed to offer them something to get excited about. The problem is not that this younger audience is not travelling, they are just not excited about what they see at the airport. That was our challenge.” Taking on that challenge, Highsnobiety notes that the journey through the airport doesn’t begin at security, it begins on the mobile phone, well in advance. Pre-travel awareness will play a big role here in encourage a new generation to discover, learn and hopefully pay a visit.

"We are setting new standards for a new generation of travellers and we underline our claim to be a leader in bringing unique concepts to travel retail."

We also like the curated, bespoke nature of the collaboration that Highsnobiety and brands have brought. On Running, for example, already noted above, has created a sneaker just for this location. Highsnobiety itself – born in Geneva – is selling its own branded merchandise that interprets Switzerland in new, 21st century ways – without a red and white cross in sight. It also shows that there is a place at the airport not only for established luxury but also for luxury from left field. That focus on newness and edginess is facilitated by the business model – a six-month installation with brands not having to commit vast capex to a permanent store opening, but benefiting from Highsnobiety’s existing audience and a chance to project to curious new audiences too. As Berger says, “It makes sense for these brands to show up at the airport but they don’t want to do it alone, or under a multi-brand boutique concept. That is not for them. The umbrella concept works though.” And then there’s the echo of a recent dynamic in retail: brands and retailers born in the digital world – Highsnobiety started out as (and still is) a digital publisher – now moving into physical spaces. That is not only about grabbing more market share or leveraging digital reach to sell more in other channels. To do it right, it needs to remain relevant by telling stories in appropriate ways. In this respect, Zürich Airport would argue that lifestyle and business complex The Circle is not simply a retail platform but a story-telling platform. GATEZERO does something similar.

Progressive partnership: (Above) Highsnobiety Chief Commercial Officer Max Berger (left) with Zürich Airport Chief Commercial Officer Stefan Gross at the launch event on Monday. Below, Zürich Airport Head Commercial Centers Heidi Köpple (left) and Head Retail Airside Anja Joos

For Zürich Airport, this is one of a number of ways in which it aims to remain relevant and be seen as a progressive player in the market, one that new brands will gravitate towards. Head Commercial Centers Heidi Köpple says: “Zürich Airport is and has always been one of the most innovative airports. We are proud of our huge variety of Swiss brands, our tailor-made restaurants and our promotional activities. “We came to the point where we asked ourselves, ‘how can we stay relevant for the next generation of luxury consumers and how can we bring back the excitement of travel retail to this new generation? Having followed closely the excitement that Highsnobiety creates around their followers, we reached out to them in December 2018 to discuss the opportunity of partnering. Today you can see the result.

The sleek exterior of the promotional space ocupied by GATEZERO; below, some of the Highsnobiety branded articles that are dotted around the store (Photo above: Louise Melchior, Brinkworth)

“We are setting new standards for a new generation of travellers and we underline our claim to be a leader in bringing unique concepts to travel retail. Berger says: “If someone had said to me four years ago when I began at Highsnobiety that we would have ended up at an airport, I would not have believed it. We are a story teller, a digital-first publisher at heart, and it feels like quite a stretch to open and manage a travel retail space. “But if you take a closer look at our mission, it makes a lot of sense. We market, make and curate great content and products for the cultural pioneer. And we want to do this not only digitally, but across all touchpoints. So why not bring our 16 years of curation experience to an airport, where we find a lot of culture pioneers, taste makers and a new luxury audience?”

Telling a new type of story (Photo: Louise Melchior, Brinkworth)

That audience wants to be inspired by quality product, well curated, alongside digital story-telling, ticking many of the boxes we note above. He adds a lovely line about the experience too. “When I look around the space I feel like I am on the Highsnobiety Instagram feed but with the opportunity to smell, feel and touch the products we admire, we learn and we write about.” That in essence, sums up what travel retail can offer that digital-only platforms cannot. GATEZERO offers a glimpse of a niche, experiential world of travel retail luxury, one that cuts across categories in new ways, with an omnichannel focus. Time will tell whether the platform works for airport and for brands, but it is undoubtedly a bold step, taking a vision of the young luxury consumer and adapting it for our channel and our times. And that – especially in this turbulent period for our sector – is to be warmly applauded.

Showing leadership at Zürich Airport

A tour of Zürich Airport evokes a welcome sense of normality returning to travel and trading at the Swiss hub. Walking the airside environment with the commercial team this week, almost all spaces that were occupied pre-pandemic remain occupied by the same tenants, and while footfall is a little light (my visit was after the morning rush), at not far off 50% of usual levels it is a solid base from which to maintain the recent recovery. Spending has gradually risen too: airside spend per departing passenger climbed by +10.5% year-on-year in the January-October period to CHF24.90 (US$27.13). “The clear message is that we are back,” said Head Commercial Centers Heidi Köpple. “We have a belief that travel will come back, though it may take time. And we didn’t spend the time sleeping; we at the airport invested in retail and F&B with our partners.” In Airside Level 1, the southern part of the terminal has been significantly upgraded with a more modern, cleaner look, featuring an enhanced Marché food concept, an expanded BurgerKing, one of two new Yooji’s sushi venues, a new Starbucks (one of five), a Prezelkönig kiosk and a fresh design for P&B, the news & books retailer. Elsewhere in Airside Level 1, soon to come will be the first Aesop store in European travel retail, with the Australian cult beauty brand extending into the region with an outlet right in the heart of the luxury zone.

Capi Electronics made its debut at the Swiss hub this week, opening on the day of our visit

This area houses the prime high-end luxury boutiques, neatly blended with appropriate F&B, such as the stylish Caviar House & Prunier or the lovely Villa Antinori da Bindella restaurant, with its premium Tuscan menu and classy wine selection. Close by, Omega opened a stunning new boutique just before the pandemic began, which brand and airport believe will now begin to deliver on its rich promise, while Rolex and Bucherer stores elevate watches & jewellery to a new level on the way to the Schengen A gates. Also new further along Level 1 is Capi electronics, making its debut at the airport this week. Three further retail units are under negotiation that the airport company expects to open in 2022. The Center Bar, a true highlight of the airside area, has been substantially redesigned (through architect Roger Copeland and Detail Design), with the aim to create more of a feel of downtown Zürich. It’s also trialling a digital ordering menu, where customers can download a menu via QR code and pay using a variety of methods. If successful, this outlet will go fully digital in the new year.

Caviar House & Prunier: A touch of class (among many) at Zürich Airport. Below, the updated Marché concept and the sparkling Omega boutique

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The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 303 | 17 November 2021

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 15 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 www.moodiedavittreport.com and to subscribe, please e-mail sinead@moodiedavittreport.com

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