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“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). – Alice in Wonderland
And indeed, I found some of the signage at Autogrill Lanka’s duty free stores at Colombo Bandaranaike Airport curious and then… curiouser.
‘Guaranteed 100% genuine products’ screams the signage outside the retailer’s Arrivals store.
‘Genuine products with amazing offers’, shout another.
And there’s more. Autogrill Lanka is also giving out pamphlets (pictured below), headlined ‘Are you buying a genuine product? – Yes that’s our guarantee’.
It continues: “When you purchase at Autogrill Lanka Limited – Duty Free – your products will be genuine, meeting the highest international standards required for all imported products. Autogrill Lanka (formerly Orient Lanka) is a member of the World Duty Free Group, which is the largest travel retail duty free operator in the world’ [actually it is number four –Ed].
The leaflet goes on to describe how consumers can check for authenticity and quality – hologram stickers on spirits bottles, ‘taste the difference of genuine product’ on confectionery, ‘our perfume range is sourced from leading French perfume houses and airfreighted to ensure freshness’. And so on…
What’s going on here? Why the need to emphasise such virtues which are surely a given in any international duty free store? Or is this a none-too-subtle dig at the company’s new competitor Flemingo Duty Free, an attempt to undermine the latter’s offer? Certainly the approach has not gone down well with Flemingo, whether it is the intended target or not.
Rivalry is rivalry and though in my view the Arrivals set-up (two stores, immediately adjacent to one another, both on one side of the main passenger flow) is crazy, the two-operator scenario may turn out better than many in the industry feared. Certainly there has been no damaging, nonsensical price-cutting. Surely healthy rivalry is the best way forward, with both companies helping to drive up the other’s standards?
One can’t blame Autogrill Lanka for being miffed at having to split its concession. But I would say that the company would be far better off championing its own very real virtues – a good product range, keenly priced and neatly merchandised – than raising the spectre of counterfeit or out of condition product.
Ultimately that approach simply raises consumer doubts about the channel. It’s certainly not helpful to the reputation of the duty free industry.
As Alice said, “Curiouser and curiouser!” Or, to take similar liberties with the English language, a questionable question of authenticity.
[Spot the difference: Flemingo (left) and Autogrill Lanka are competing head-t0-head in Arrivals duty free and the rivalry appears to be developing a harder edge]