Data & Analysis

ForwardKeys on the role of data and the critical Chinese shopper

Marina Giuliano has recently been appointed Director of Retail & Travel Retail at ForwardKeys at a time when its insights have never been more important, and just as the business has set up a new travel retail database and launched its Chinese Shopper Tracker. Mark Lane reports.

Marina Giuliano joined travel analytics expert ForwardKeys as the sector goes through its greatest ever crisis, but remains firmly of the view that its challenges can be met – with insights playing a key role.

“The entire travel retail industry is facing an unprecedented emergency due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Its traditional pillars have suddenly crumbled,” she notes. “As travel gradually resumes, the duty free and travel retail industry need to prove their resilience, agility and ability to think outside the box. For a global business like travel retail, with domestic, regional and overseas travel recovering at different speeds according to each market, it’s key to quickly understand and adapt to the shift of the travel audiences in each region, country and airport.”

Giuliano has spent more than ten years in the travel industry, which, she says, has always been “a passion of mine”.

Marina Giuliano: Key role of traveller insights

She adds: “I was motivated to work for ForwardKeys as I saw it as an opportunity to empower brands and retailers with better data and business intelligence, to build their strategic plans with innovation, thanks to the power of future-looking travel data and insights.

“I’m inspired by the great organisations which have partnered with us over the years and who’ve also greatly benefited from our collaboration. The idea that I can contribute to reinventing the way global brands make their decisions – even if only partially – is extremely rewarding professionally for me.”

ForwardKeys has recently introduced its Chinese Shopper Tracker, underlining the importance of those consumers to the travel retail sector. Giuliano points out that, while the loss of Chinese outbound tourism has been a blow for many brands and retailers this year, China is the first major economy in the world to report economic growth following this crisis, with its GDP growing by +3.2% in the second quarter.

Furthermore, the Chinese government has introduced a series of measures to boost the economy and economists are expecting further GDP gains in the next two quarters.

“The desire for outbound travel remains strong and shopping is an integral part of the travel experience,” says Giuliano. “If the global pandemic is contained and borders are reopened, the ability to attract Chinese visitors will make a huge difference.

“In the short term, intra-regional destinations are expected to recover faster than overseas ones. Macau is a good example of a destination where the reopening and the strong promotional efforts have immediately resulted in a pick up of the duty free spend in August, according to our data.”

“The way consumers shop has been changing rapidly even before COVID-19 due to smart tech. The ability to connect with consumers in a new and more targeted way is proven to contribute to the success of sales in physical stores too.”

She also points to the fact that China has recovered faster than the rest of the world, with 96% of 2019 levels reached in the last week of August in domestic air arrivals at Chinese airports. An effective COVID-19 control, airlines’ aggressive promotions and increased seat capacity have all combined to accelerate the travel recovery.

Giuliano explains: “With more travellers within the country, stores have enjoyed the return of domestic shoppers. The pandemic has only accelerated an existing trend towards domestic spending. Our data show stellar growth in duty free sales, in particular in Hainan where the trend is set to continue. Of course, the months to come will highly depend on the ability to keep the virus under control.”

So, what have been the early findings? “For travel during the Golden Week, Sanya is the favourite destination – combining duty free shopping with tropical vibes – with +25.5% growth year-over-year. Chengdu and Haikou are in the top three, according to bookings issued as of 7 September.”

She explains that with the Chinese Shopper Tracker, ForwardKeys will tap into the growing need for brands and retailers to understand in detail how the Chinese are spending their money.

“As companies in our market increasingly need to make the right decisions for ROI, targeting the right products for the right audience becomes a critical mission.

The dashboard is unique, as, for the first time, real transactional data amongst all categories is being captured daily and made available in almost real-time. The data works on a global scale and is based on an exclusive partnership with the largest payment provider in China.”

She argues that, while COVID-19 has presented a unique set of challenges, it has only accelerated changes that were already underway.

“The pandemic has forced the fast-tracking of ecommerce solutions,’’ she says. “Thanks to its combination with physical stores, ecommerce can help offer a new shopping experience. The way consumers shop has been changing rapidly even before COVID-19 due to smart tech. The ability to connect with consumers in a new and more targeted way is proven to contribute to the success of sales in physical stores too.”

ForwardKeys is a Silver Partner for the Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo. Its Co-Founder & CEO Olivier Jager will deliver a presentation at the event on Friday 16 October.

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The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 284 | 30 September 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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