Exploring the dynamic landscape of consumer behavior

The hidden shopping behavior of Gen Alphas, neurodivergent travelers and secondhand shoppers

March 2024

In the dynamic landscape of consumer behavior, certain shopper demographics often fly under the radar of mainstream attention. In recent years, especially post-Covid, there has been a notable transformation in consumer preferences and shopping habits, driven by various factors such as technological advancements, changing societal norms, age groups and economic fluctuations.

This article is an attempt to identify such shoppers whose needs, preferences and experiences remain largely unexplored by airports while curating immersive shopping experiences for their passengers. By analyzing their requirements and expectations, this article will explore how airports can monetize on catering to such groups.  

Shopping Plaza at Munich Airport © Flughafen München GmbH
Gen Alpha: Fully digital natives © Jessica Lewis on Pexels

#1: Gen Alpha ~ Small Travelers, Big Influence

  • Born in or after 2010, shaped in an era of individualization and customization, Gen Alpha is estimated to be 2 billion by 2025 [1].

  • By 2029, their economic footprint will reach more than US$5.46 trillion [2].

  • As per report, 58% of Gen Alphas receive their first smartphone by the age of 10, and 47% already own their own laptop when they are eight years old [3]. They are the first fully "digital native" generation, who would require a different form of communication to identify their shopping preferences and habits. Seamless digital shopping experience would be an expectation thereby challenging entities to innovate technologically, including airports.

  • Convenience, customization, and authentic brand experiences will be the core requirements for Gen Alphas, who also prioritize ethics and purpose, thereby leaning towards a brand focusing on Corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

  • In a study by Expedia Group, 43% of respondents indicated that young children influence or inspire their decision-making process when booking a family trip. Though Millennial parents of Gen Alpha’s are shaping their preferences, the Gen Alphas are also influencing their parents, who are learning about new ideas and products.

Case studies of how brands are contributing to this realm

  • Legoland is growing its virtual world and adding a digital layer to its Lego theme parks to better connect with Gen Alphas.
  • American Girl tapped a matching kids and doll collection meeting the styling level which Gen Alphas are exposed to through their Millennial parents.
  • Coca-Cola launched its limited-edition Y3000 soda created by artificial intelligence (AI), to explore the concept of what a Coke from the future might taste like.

Key takeaways for airports

  • Start planning about the future consumer in Gen Alpha.
  • Brick-and-mortar stores should have the same capabilities as online portals to offer a seamless omni-channel experience.
  • Implementing technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, generative AI in the commercial strategy including retail and F&B outlets, shopping apps, digital signage etc. will enhance the personalized shopping experience which Gen Alphas desire.
  • Social media engagement will be a must to connect with Gen Alpha travelers, wherein products are showcased, feedback is gathered to further tailor the preferences which would be critical in near future.
neurodivergent travelers - an underestimated group  © Tara Winstead on pexels.com

#2: Neurodivergent inclusive ~ Shopping experiences 

  • Based on different studies, 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse [4].

  • Approximately one in five families include a neurodivergent child or adult.

  • Types of neurodivergence include autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities, and other differences in brain function.

  • For many neurodivergent adults and families, planning for a holiday requires different approaches depending on individuals’ needs and strengths, especially considering crowded spaces and large queues.

  • Further for such travelers, scent, smell, loud music, screens, lights etc. make an uncomfortable environment for them to shop. Hence in most likely scenarios, these travelers focus on low stimuli areas and avoid shopping completely. 

Case studies of how brands are contributing to this realm

  • Rare Birds launched its first clothing line focused on the needs of the neurodivergent community, considering the skin/touch sensitivity aspects.
  • Credo Beauty uses lots of natural wood in its store interior design and maximizes as much daylight as possible via expansive windows in all locations.
  • Sephora is making the in-store shopping experience to welcome neurodivergent customers by providing color coded baskets that communicate the level of interaction customers would like to have with sales associates.
  • Lush Cosmetics stores are also known for creating multi-sensory experiences.

Key takeaways for airports

Airports need to be more neuroinclusive to cater to the shopping preferences of neurodivergent travelers by:

  • Designing sensory-friendly shopping zones, where lighting, noise levels and other sensory stimuli can be controlled to create a calm and comfortable shopping environment.
  • Improving accessibility for travelers with cognitive differences with adaptive signages.
  • Encouraging biophilic store designs to provide a sense of comfort and ease for such travelers.
  • Ensuring the diverse range of outlets also cater to different sensory needs and preferences of such travelers such as sensory-friendly products, calming items etc.
  • Providing online shopping platforms or apps, where the travelers can browse and purchase products and have the items delivered in either the sensory rooms at airports (if available) or at the boarding gate.
  • Besides having empathetic trained staff, there may also be challenges with social interaction for neurodiverse travelers. With the support of generative AI and tools such as ChatGPT, airports can provide customized shopping assistance. These programs can further be adapted to different communication styles and preferences, which can be beneficial for individuals with cognitive diversity.
second hand shopping - an emerging trend © Carolina Grabowska on pexels.com

#3: Emergence of Secondhand Shoppers

  • Approx 85% of clothing ends up in landfills or gets incinerated, as per US environmental protection agency [5].

  • Post Covid, consumers became more aware of the advantages of purchasing pre-owned luxury items, as they could frequently obtain the same high-quality products at a fraction of the cost.

  • A first of its kind fashionable second-hand concept store was opened at a Finnish Airport which combines the aspects of recycling culture with a café. Similarly, Preloved store at an airport in Portugal offers a range of pre-owned luxury goods from popular brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

  • However, driven by a mix of environmental consciousness, economic considerations, and the desire for individuality, secondhand/thrift shopping has come to the forefront as a sustainable and budget-friendly approach to personal style, beyond luxury items.

  • As per thredUp, the global secondhand market is set to nearly double by 2027 and estimated to reach $350 Billion [5] 

Case studies of how brands are contributing to this realm:

  • As a part of Zara’s sustainable strategy, it has created pre-owned platform for clothing.
  • Patagonia’s Worn Wear allows you to trade in and buy used clothes.
  • At Levi’s SecondHand one can shop second hand and vintage Levis Jeans and Trucker Jackets.

Key takeaways for airports:

Airports can leverage secondhand shopping in several ways to generate additional revenue such as:

  • Offer digital shopping options with the support of augmented reality, generative AI, etc. to cater to tech-savvy travelers and promote eco-friendly shopping practices, esp. to analyze factors such as item condition, optimal price etc. for each item.
  • Designate specific areas within core commercial zones to cater to travelers seeking affordable and gently used items.
  • Pop-up thrift/ secondhand shops with discounted prices featuring pre-loved clothing, accessories, books, and other items.
  • Hosting community events such as thrift fashion shows to create buzz and attract travelers looking for unique shopping experiences.

We at Munich Airport International believe as travelers continue to become increasingly diverse and unique in their shopping preferences and needs, the evolution of shopping personas will be inevitable even in the future. By adopting a commercial strategy which incorporates AI-driven insights, airports can tailor the retail and F&B offerings to be more inclusive and curate shopping experiences which cater to the needs and demand of personas, such as the ones listed above, ultimately leading to every passenger feeling valued and enhancing the overall passenger experience in the ever-changing landscape of travel retail.