Airport retailers see boost in sales as rules ease

/ Source: The Associated Press

Airport retailers whose profits were squeezed by airline carry-on restrictions imposed last month are scrambling to stock up on travel-size toiletries permitted under new guidelines.

They are selling more beverages and liquid souvenirs and even handing out the zip-top plastic bags that those items must be carried in, under the government’s decision to relax its ban of liquids and gels carried on flights.

The guidelines will bring a “boost” to the industry, said Michael Payne, executive director of the International Association of Airport Duty Free Stores.

The new rules allow passengers to bring small amounts of liquid and gel toiletries through security checkpoints as long as the items are declared and presented to screeners in the clear bags. A handful of other items, including saline solution, eye drops and medications, are permitted in any amount.

Liquor, cosmetics and perfume purchased at airport duty-free shops beyond those checkpoints also can now be carried onto flights. During the ban, passengers could still buy those duty-free goods but they had to be hand-delivered to planes in sealed packages.

Roughly half of the $27 billion in worldwide sales of duty-free shops were alcohol, cosmetics and perfume, according to industry-tracker Group Generation. While many took a hit after the liquid ban was ordered in August, some retailers indicated what they lost in sales of those items was recouped in the sales of other non-liquid souvenirs.

“At first, people were afraid to purchase anything,” said Victoria Trapp, assistant manager of The Body Shop store at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Foot traffic at her store was buzzing again Wednesday as customers browsed the cosmetics and lotions lining the shelves. Plastic bags were given free to customers, while others could buy them for a $1 apiece. By midmorning, the store had already sold 34 of the bags, with all proceeds going to a local woman’s shelter.

Other businesses had the same idea. Employees at The Paradies Shops, which has more than 500 stores in 60 airports, handed out the clear plastic bags to customers at no charge and sold travel packs with a collection of toiletries to passengers on their way out of the airport.

Manufacturers, too, see an opportunity to reap rewards if they can churn out more toiletries in the 3-ounce bottles. But that’s something only 10 percent of the industry’s businesses can accomplish, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst with The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm.

“The real key here is to understand that three-ounce containers is not something all the brands make,” Cohen said.

However, a business that sells empty travel-sized packages is primed for success, he added. “It’s a business that doesn’t exist, but somebody’s going to get into it real fast.”

Lines grew long at some airports Tuesday as passengers confused about the changes filled trash containers with containers of liquids and gels that were too large.