Roger Williams explores how retail has become cruising’s third dimension and a key way to increase ancillary revenues on the high seas
As cruise ships grow in size, so too do the retailing opportunities. With atriums designed like palaces and demand for retail therapy forever on the rise, shopping at sea is big business.
P&O’s Britannia, for example, holds around 3500 guests and worldwide many of the latest ships host even more. Iona, P&O’s soon to be launched gas-powered flagship, has a capacity of 5200.
With typically over 50% of cruise time spent at sea, many passengers look to treat themselves as they while away the hours cruising between ports. Footfall potential is high but it is sales penetration and average spend per head that are the critical measures, as every £100 spend per cabin adds around £175k to Britannia’s ship’s coffers. Of course, the bigger the ship the higher the potential.
The concept of ‘duty-free’ is still very much alive on ships for alcohol and cigarettes, although these products are only for sale whilst the ship is at sea. As the ship retains any purchases until you disembark your final port, for tax reasons, the significant drinks revenue earned by the bars and restaurants is unaffected.
Product strategies may vary but in Britannia’s arcade it focuses on a combination of well-known brands. Some are higher end, such as Tag-Heuer, Tissot, Barbour and Michael Kors, though more main-stream ones like Pandora and Radley seem most popular. New brands this season include Jo Malone perfumes, Oris watches, Atelier Swarovski jewellery and the Diego dalla Palma cosmetics range.
To drive up incidental revenue, tables are set up in the atrium’s landings and walkways in the evenings, displaying goods at very reduced prices to pre- and post-dinner browsers. These stalls offer cheaper watches, leisure shoes, bags, purses and wallets, attracting those who like a bargain. Meanwhile, in-shop marketing highlights the benefits of buying on-board with special offers rotating, discounting between 20%-50% off recommended retail prices.
Unlike the bars and coffee shops around the ship, the retail shops are outsourced to Hardings who supply staff and products. Staff do a six month tour, extending to nine months if they wish and are set high sales targets to achieve. A personalised cabin charge card is now typical onboard so there’s no cash needed, and EPOS makes spending effortless for all.
And for those into cocktails on deck and wine at dinner pre-ordered drinks packages, which can also cover hot drinks in branded onboard Costa Cafés, are compelling.
Pictures & photos
With plenty of space for displays, targeted specialist sales are possible. For example, the Whitewall Gallery on Britannia targets arty types with displays of paintings carrying eye-watering price-tags of up to £58,000, roughly the price of six around the world 99-night cruises!! Easier money is earned by the ship’s photographers always available to capture ‘unforgettable moments’ although smart phone camera quality and growing repeat visitor numbers are likely undermining this market.
In addition to traditional retail outlets, ships can also profit from activity based revenue. Port excursions (ranging from £20 up to £120 per person) are popular, even though the same trips can be taken locally for half the price.
Likewise, many travellers yearn for wifi access and, although it’s often free in port, there’s a demand onboard too, especially during sea-days. High daily charges make it another excellent revenue stream for the ship, readily paid.
Whilst the general dining onboard is usually included and of a good quality, speciality dining is offered for different experiences or some added culinary kudos. On the Britannia, the Atol Kucher’s Sindhu offers Indian cuisine and the fine-dining Epicurian really inspires, both for an additional cost.
And if passengers want to see how it’s all done, there are cookery lessons designed by Marco Pierre White, or a Champagne Galley Tour to meet Britannia’s chefs, led by executive chef Paul Rowe, again both for an additional charge.
Last but not least
Ship design regularly puts wellbeing top of the agenda with spa facilities to rival high end hotels and retreats, offering everything from facial rejuvenation right through to a full massage and acupuncture treatment. Perhaps after passengers receive their final retail bill a restorative spa visit is just what they need.