Positivity and Impulse Drive Purchasing Behaviours in Airports (29/05/19)

Positivity and Impulse Drive Purchasing Behaviours in Airports

Primesight is now part of Global

On holiday we tend to behave a little differently to how we would in our everyday lives. We eat like we’re trying to move up a waist size, spend half the day wearing practically nothing and speak to strangers instead of trying to avoid eye contact at all costs. And the same can be said for airports (that we behave differently, not that we walk around wearing almost nothing!). Having worked in the airport sector for seven years I can confidently say it’s a unique environment. In any other walk of life, posting a photo on Instagram of you drinking champagne at 6am would be met with an intervention. However, post the same image when in an airport and you’ll be met with nothing but jealousy and a wave of smiley face emojis. Our spending habits also change significantly, with a whopping one in four Brits spending over £100 in just five minutes while in the departure lounge. So, let’s examine why our normal behaviours go out of the window before we fly, including the way we shop.

The main reason our behaviour changes in the airport, is because for many people that’s where the holiday begins. TravelSupermarket research showed that 25% of Brits think that the anticipation of a holiday is as important as — and in some cases more important than — the getaway itself. Research has shown that anticipating something can be a powerful, positive emotion that can help us live happier lives. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that surge of excitement the moment we book a weekend getaway, the holiday of a lifetime or even an international business trip. We then return to day-to-day life and the excitement subsides. Then the process of building an itinerary and shopping for the trip (as well as panic-packing your bags the night before) gradually sees the excitement levels build again. These levels peak on the day of travel meaning that the consumer is primed as they arrive at the airport. As soon as we’ve negotiated the check-in queues (and regained some dignity following a particularly thorough frisk at the security gates), we can relax. From there Brits spend an average of 76 minutes in the departure lounge, forgetting about the daily humdrum of work, bills and the general stresses of life. 

For many of us, this newly rediscovered feeling of relaxation brings the desire to purchase something and believe it or not there is a science behind this. With 73% of all airport passengers enjoying shopping at the airport and generally excited about their upcoming holiday, it’s an environment filled with positivity. This wave of positivity causes our brains to release dopamine and results in impulse decisions.

That’s because in the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter directly linked to reward-motivated behaviour (still with me?). Basically, dopamine is like crack for the brain. Once our brain releases it, we crave further reward. This causes us to seek more new stimulation, information and knowledge. This moment in consumers’ lives — captive in the airport, relaxed, excited, happy and seeking new information — is the perfect time for brands to engage consumers. They can educate them on their proposition, increase consideration, and build long-lasting brand preference by making themselves synonymous with the adventure consumers are about to go on. It’s why the global duty-free industry is expected to grow to about $67bn by 2020, from an estimated $45.7bn in 2016.

Another reason purchasing power is so strong in airports is the aspirational feeling we get while on holiday. As a 2010 Kuoni study told us, over 50% of all life-changing decisions are made while on holiday. That’s because it’s a time when we are often the best version of ourselves and come to believe that we can actually buy that house or invest in making that vegan socks start-up a success. This is replicated on a smaller scale when shopping in the airport. We feel positive and want to treat ourselves to luxury items we otherwise wouldn’t. How many of us have found ourselves impulse purchasing expensive items from Hugo Boss or Harrods before we fly, yet the week before we were complaining that the Tesco meal deal was too pricey?

With a combination of giddy excitement and optimism we act differently in the airport, going against our default behaviours — which offers brands the perfect opportunity to entice passengers into shopping in a more impulse-led and often aspirational fashion. 


Article written by Joe Cassidy, airports business director, as part of Primesight's in-depth research into the value of airport audiences and the appeal they hold for advertisers.

You can see all seven audience types identified in this research on our Airport Audience page.