Heathrow T2 opened this month, and its upmarket retail offer won’t disappoint those who buy before they fly.
Getting through security at an airport can be a stressful experience, and you are likely to emerge airside somewhat frazzled and with at least an hour to kill before you finally board your plane. The smoothness, or otherwise, of the whole process will probably determine what happens next, according to Max Vialou-Clark, director of retail commercial at Heathrow. Welcome to “the golden hour”.
At Heathrow’s Terminal 2 (T2), which opened for business at the beginning of June, the relationship between security and propensity to spend will be such that for the majority of passengers, the golden hour will involve shopping and eating.
“[The golden hour] is critical for retail,” Vialou-Clark says. When it comes to the layout of the airside interior, it is a case of the retail offer being “on the way [to the departure gate], but not in the way”, he adds. This means the shops at T2 are, for the most part, arranged around the perimeter, giving good sightlines across the interior.
It also means no retailer is disadvantaged when it comes to shopper visibility and all have an equal chance to thrive.
There are two floors in the airside departure area: the upper floor is encountered first as passengers clear security, while the lower floor is where the departure gates are located.
Each level has been zoned. There are areas for ‘essentials’ (which include WHSmith, Boots and suchlike), areas for ‘affordable luxury’ (featuring Ted Baker and Thomas Pink, among others) and then there is the hardcore luxury cluster, with names such as Gucci, Bulgari, Harrods and Burberry all making an appearance.
With the luxury brands, Vialou-Clark says it was a matter of getting one to sign up before all the others followed.
However, he says since Terminal 5 has proved such a positive experience for retailers - the average spend per passenger at Terminal 5 is £39 - there were five offers for every available unit at T2, despite it being only two thirds the size at 41,010 sq ft.
Clearly, this means the landlord holds all the cards when it comes to determining the brand mix on offer. But it is also testament to the way financial caution can be thrown to the wind when shoppers are heading overseas and are on the verge of boarding an aircraft. This is backed up by cold, hard fact: according to Vialou-Clark, those unlucky enough to remain landside spend, on average, 10 times less than jet setters. Perhaps for all these reasons, the retailers that have taken space at T2 have pulled out all the stops. Whether it’s Case, a luggage emporium masquerading as a fashion store complete with high-end digital signage, or Thomas Pink with its continuously colour-changing mid-shop display plinths, each has tried to create something beyond the norm. This is hardly surprising, given the cost of signing on the dotted line for a unit at Heathrow is not for the faint-hearted - although Heathrow declined to reveal the average cost.
John Lewis has taken a 3,600 sq ft space, its first in an airport. Buying and brand director Paula Nickolds explains the intention is to garner the same return per square foot as is realised on the ground floor of the Oxford Street flagship.
For this to be a reality, any T2 shop cannot just be an exercise in good looks - and there is hardly a unit that doesn’t fit this description - it also needs to have a very careful product edit. There is no room for fillers and every item must pay its way.
Vialou-Clark says there is a fine line to be drawn between impulse and investment purchases - meaning there are those who really will spend thousands of pounds in Prada, while others will settle for a T-shirt or perhaps a ditsy, floral-printed shopping bag from Cath Kidston. Even allowing for the fact that nothing could be regarded as cheap in T2, there is a strong sense of it being an offer that will appeal to most budgets.
Does this mean it is a good place to shop? Probably. So much thought has been given to the nature both of the offer and the retailer mix that it would be quite hard to arrive at T2 and not be tempted to indulge in at least a little retail therapy.
And when shopping has lost its lustre there are a plethora of eateries, ranging from the quasi fast-food of Leon - no McDonald’s here - to The Perfectionists’ Café, a Heston Blumenthal enterprise that seems likely to have them queuing at the door despite the aspirational pricing.
In fact, T2 is almost worth a visit even when you’re not going anywhere - although getting airside without a boarding pass might prove tricky.