Thomas Cook joins Thomson in tech-driven bricks and mortar fight back

by Lee Hayhurst
by Lee Hayhurst
December 7, 2012 02:41 PM GMT

Thomas Cook has become the latest bricks and mortar traditional high street travel agent promising to emulate digital giant Apple with a new concept store.

The travel giant says its new store in Leeds, that will open this month ahead of the turn of year peak booking period, with exploit the latest technology to engage with customers.

The reveal about its plans came just a month after rival Thomson spoke of its intention to open a “groundbreaking” concept store of its own within 12 months.

The “shop of the future” would seek to emulate Nike, Apple and Audi, ditching brochure racks in favour of digital screens and the latest modern point of sale technology.

Other traditional operators including Kuoni and Virgin Holidays are also brand flagship stores in high street locations, the latter having incorporated Aurasma augmented reality among other technologies in its High Street Kensington location.

Cook said research has shown that 46% of customers still seek face-to-face interaction with their travel agent but providing an omni-channel retail environment is key for the future of travel.

Retail director, Joanna Wild, said: “Our new store will be more Apple than travel and uses technology and techniques championed by iconic, high-tech brands to place our customers at the heart of the experience; allowing them to choose how they access information and dictate the level of assistance they receive from us.

“We know that shopping habits are changing, with more and more customers researching their holidays online and transactions becoming quicker, but we also know that a holiday is a massive purchase for customers who want to be inspired and enjoy that purchase process, and of course they still value that human touch and having expert advice on-hand if they need it.

“This is where our concept store will stand out and we will use it as a test bed to see what elements we might want to introduce to other stores in future.”

The 1,400sq ft concept store, in Leeds’ White Rose shopping centre, will allow customers to research and book holidays however they choose, whether searching and booking on a tablet, consulting one of 25 staff, watching a video or checking in on Facebook to qualify for a special offer.

Cook said “the holiday vibe in-store will be created with ambient music and video, while social media technologies will enable customers to share personalised, holiday-related content” and it will be the first step “in truly networking Thomas Cook travel consultants across the country”.

Recently appointed head of retail for large shops Lucy Green, who is in charge of the project, said: “The aim is to build a store that allows customers to engage and interact with us in any way they want.

“Our research found customers want options, and they felt the only option at the moment was to come in and sit with a consultant for a significant amount of time. The research focused on what they would like the store to be, and how they wanted to engage with us.”

Green, who formerly worked for The White Company, added: “Up and down the high street you can see where retailers are fighting back by investing in their bricks and mortar to create showcases for their brands.

“Ultimately it’s about future-proofing them by creating a more profitable, omni-channel retail environment but it’s also in direct response to reaction from customers who are coming back to the high street for that personal service – especially for high value or significant purchases – with John Lewis being a perfect example.”

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