Tourism is a boon for retailers. The global travel retail market size was valued at $51 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to over $96.11 billion by 2029.
Retailers located in tourist centers serve a different type of consumer than everyday buyers. This poses an opportunity to capitalize on shopping tourism, where a traveler’s choice of destination is moderately or heavily influenced by shopping.
In this article, we’re deep-diving into shopping tourism—what it is, and how you can leverage tourists to grow your store.
What is shopping tourism?
Shopping tourism is a new phenomenon in tourism in which travelers visit a destination for the sole purpose of purchasing goods.
Shopping at a destination is generally considered a leisure activity. But for travelers whose sole purpose is to buy things, it’s a complete travel experience; they prioritize which shops they will buy from and the time they will devote to shopping.
However, this doesn’t mean that shopping is the only reason for them to visit new places. Often travelers have an amalgamation of different motivations, like cultural interests, checking out famous monuments, and shopping.
Benefits of shopping tourism
There are shops worldwide that rely on tourism to keep their lights on. Regardless of travelers’ reasons for visiting, shopping tourism contributes directly to the growth of the local economy.
Supports the local economy
With shopping tourism gaining traction, more and more travelers are choosing to visit spots based on what they can buy. More tourists mean more revenue for shops which, in turn, means additional tax revenue for the local government.
Share local culture
Besides buying cool stuff at a destination, shopping tourism implicitly involves promoting the local culture. Whether they’re shopping at The Grove in LA or Portal de l’Angel in Barcelona, tourists can expect to discover different cultural traits.
10 shopping tourism strategies to attract more customers
- Offer in-store events
- Help travelers acclimatize to the destination
- Spruce up the outside
- Get coverage in local media
- Provide services travelers need
- Leverage Google Maps
- Join local tourism groups
- Offer ship-to-customer
- Endless aisles
- Experiential retail
Tourists are different from your average shoppers. Their shopping style is more spontaneous and, most of the time, they discover new stores by chance. If they like the ambiance of the store and the quality of the products, you can expect them to buy.
Don’t position yourself as just a local shopkeeper. Bring the power of your brand and experiences to attract traffic to your store.
With that in mind, here are a few strategies that will help a retail store to stand out from the crowd and deliver a stellar experience for travelers.
1. Offer in-store events
In a sea of product options, your retail business needs unique differentiators that will help you distinguish your store from the competitors. In-store events are great retail experiences that attract crowds. And there’s data to prove that—nearly 60% of consumers say they expect retailers to dedicate more than half of the floor space to experiences.
For instance, Alo Yoga holds regular yoga classes at their retail locations; Outdoor Voices hosts a series of events called #DoingThings which includes Joggers Club, Endorphin Hour (yoga and dance), Basketball Club, and a whole array of other activities.
2. Help travelers acclimatize to the destination
Running a retail store at a tourist destination means travelers will often ask your advice on local attractions. This is your chance to create a great experience for them—hand out local maps, tell them about the locally sourced materials for your product, or give them a complimentary (or chargeable) local tour.
The Clark Store in Clark, Colorado is located near parks and lakes that are popular for travelers, especially in the summer and winter. They sell trail maps of the place but the best recommendations come from Clark employees happy to share their wealth of local knowledge.
3. Spruce up the outside
With hundreds of stores competing for attention, you can stand out by adding something unique to your store’s outside design.
Alice + Olivia in New York set up a window display that showcased mannequins in front of a giant backdrop of sugary cereals and salty snacks. This wasn’t so much to attract a new audience as to invoke the nostalgia of young buyers who grew up eating Frosted Flakes and Corn Pops.
Another example is Exquisito Chocolates in Miami, where they painted the outside of the building with a bright color and added the simple phrase “We Make Chocolate 🍫”.
4. Get coverage in local media
Getting coverage in local magazines or being reviewed by a famous blogger can help your retail store get much-needed public credibility and third-party opinion. The data backs it up—93% of consumers say online reviews influence their buying decisions.
Suppose you have opened a store in LA. You can start finding a list of local bloggers, like the LA Girl, and pitch them your story. You can also sign up for HARO (a service that connects journalists with expert sources) and keep an eye out for any relevant “calls to pitch” where your store can be highlighted.
5. Provide services travelers need
If you can anticipate tourist needs and offer products and services catering to them, you can potentially increase your store’s foot traffic.
For instance, if your store is located near Lake Morey (a frozen lake in Vermont famous for ice skating), you’d benefit from selling or renting out skates and apparel that the tourists might need.
Another example is the Bozeman Fly Supply in Montana. They primarily sell flies for fishing, but they also sell and rent out relevant gear for customers, as well as offer free/paid classes and special events.
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6. Leverage Google Maps
It’s no secret that people research on Google about a shop before visiting it— 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information. “Near me” or “close by” searches on Google grew by 900% in just two years; you can exploit this trend to get more travelers to your store.
Optimize your Google Business Profile to show up more when tourists search for “[insert product here] near me”:
- Fill out and update as much information as possible.
- Keep posting photos and videos of your store. Got an event or a weekend discount? Post about it.
- Add your products; let people see what you sell and what’s available.
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7. Join local tourism groups
Another way to get your business in front of travelers is to join local tourism groups. This could be your local chamber of commerce, a state-sponsored association like the Guides Association of New York City, or something managed by private individuals.
According to Shray Joshi, founder of Good Peeps, you can also leverage local Facebook groups:
“I think Facebook groups are a great option. We have worked with a couple of local groups (think couch surfing communities) where we load up their fridges and pantries with some products based on where they are located. (Think if they are in Arizona and it's super hot outside we will make sure to get them some beverages, as opposed to maybe Colorado, where we will get them some snacks if they are more outside.)”
8. Offer ship-to-customer
“A tourist likes a product but you don’t have it in-store? Just ship it to their hotel,” says Rebekah Kondrat, founder of Rekon Retail.
Kondrat is spot on—with ship-to-customer, you no longer need to have all the products in stock. Travelers can browse your entire catalog before ordering products to ship from a local warehouse or another store offering that product.
💡 PRO TIP: Ship-to-customer order fulfillment is the easiest way to turn your store into a showroom. Rather than being limited to selling products you have in stock, you can sell products in-store and ship them to customers from your warehouse or another store location that has inventory.
9. Endless aisles
Similar to ship-to-customer, endless aisles offer retailers the flexibility of holding limited items in-store while allowing customers to browse through their entire catalog.
With endless aisles, however, you can send a virtual cart of all the items a tourist wants to purchase to their email address. This is useful when the tourist is in a hurry and you won’t be able to ship it to their hotel in time.
💡 PRO TIP: Use Shopify POS email carts to recover abandoned store sales and ensure showroomers buy from you rather than competitors. Add items to customers’ virtual cart, send their wish list by email, and credit your store for making the sale—even if it happens online.
10. Experiential retail
One of the best ways to attract more travelers to your store is to add unique experiences that complement the products you sell.
For instance, if your stores sell beauty products, you can add free makeup sessions every Friday; customers who come in for the makeup session might just purchase some of your products.
The brand specializes in winter wear, but customers weren’t able to test the product in the comfortably heated store. So, Canada Goose created a cold room (-27 degrees Fahrenheit) in five of their stores, where customers could stand while wearing their coats to truly understand the benefits of the product.
Types of tourist stores
- Family-oriented businesses
- Personalized products
- Local markets
- Shipping stores
- Stores + services
- Souvenir shop
There are many ways to attract tourists to your store, such as selling quality products, adding creative experiences, and doing local marketing. You can also create a unique identity for your store that targets a particular niche of shoppers, which, in turn, will increase your sales.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Family-oriented businesses are stores where adults and their children can have a great experience together. These stores generally have a section of the store tailormade for kids, where the kids can play while the adults can do their shopping.
A good example of this is CAMP, a family experience store in the US. It’s a toy store with an innovative concept—the excitement of shopping for a toy outweighs buying it.
Camp stores have theme-based interactive experiences like Travel Camp, Cooking Camp, and Toy Lab Camp, where children can play accompanied by adults. While it’s free to play in Camp’s stores, the walls, tables, and even the floors are packed with toys available for purchase.
Today’s retail landscape demands a complete experience, not just a shopping storefront. This is especially important for tourists, as a store’s experience can also count as part of their larger travel experience.
Apple stores are well-known for this. A program called “Today at Apple” hosts in-person classes and workshops for people wanting to learn creative activities like photography, videography, music, art, and design.
Similarly, Michaels hosts in-store creative events like making a “balloon arch” or canvas art.
Who doesn’t like to stick their favorite quote onto a coffee mug? People love personalized items, and some stores specialize in them. This is pretty common in beach communities and in theme parks, where visitors can buy custom-made t-shirts.
Personalization works. Levi’s is one brand that leverages it, with their Tailor Shops—”a creative space for customizations, repairs, and design.”
You can walk into one of these tailor shops and ask them to customize your jeans with pins and patches. You can also ask them to repair your jeans or upcycle them into something new. The options, says Levi’s, are endless.
Tourists love to engage with local culture. Retailers can tap into this by supporting makers in their area.
The Working Artist in Belmar, New Jersey, is an art studio where local creatives rent out space to make art—and shoppers can visit the store to watch them in action. Customers can also purchase a work of art to take home with them.
If you can’t build your entire store’s business model around local artists, perhaps you can host an occasional pop-up shop at your store featuring products from local makers.
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Whether they’re on a quick weekend getaway or a long overseas trip, there’s one thing that’s common among tourists: they need to mail something. This is a great opportunity for shipping stores to sell postcards, packaging, and gifts alongside mailing materials.
The Mail Room and Copy Center in Durango, Colorado, has an entire section of the store where visitors can find postcards that feature the local landscape to send back home.
Stores + services
With travelers hopping on the shopping tourism trend and ready to buy new things, adding relevant services to your existing retail offering can help attract more customers.
A great example is The Well, a wellness center with headquarters in New York.
They help customers with health coaching sessions, different kinds of therapy, mindful movement, and meditation classes, while selling products that complement these wellness treatments.
Tourists love to take back souvenirs for their friends and family. That’s why souvenirs create a great way for retailers to bring more travelers through the door.
Western Prince Whale Watching in Seattle does this well, using its storefront not only for tour bookings but also to sell whale-oriented souvenirs.
If your store is located in a tourist spot, consider selling popular souvenirs that will attract tourists, thus allowing them to browse your other products.
Shopping tourism trends
- International travel
- Multi-lingual and multi-currency
The shopping tourism phenomenon is growing by the day as pandemic bans are being lifted across the world and more tourists can travel to their favorite destinations.
Here are a few trends that are fueling this growth.
1. International travel
Shopping tourism is alive, well, and growing. Global international tourist arrivals in the US more than doubled (+130%) in January 2022 compared to 2021. Although the growth in international tourist arrival is slow, 58% of tourism experts predict a rebound in the third quarter of 2022.
This growth has a direct correlation to shopping spending in the US. International travelers spent a whopping $9.5 billion in February this year on tourism and related activities, an increase of 98 percent compared to February 2021.
2. Multi-lingual and multi-currency
Offering multi-lingual services helps you to easily communicate with international customers and thus serve a larger market.
“Multi-lingual services can help retail stores cater to a wide array of international customers, thus expanding your target audience,” says Jason Goldberg, Chief Commerce Strategy Officer at Publicis Groupe and founder of Retail Geek.
For instance, the salespeople at David Yurman, a jewelry retailer, speak multiple languages like Mandarin, Arabic, and Farsi to help international tourists feel at home. And top retail stores like Walgreens, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nieman Marcus have already started accepting AliPay as a method of payment.
As shopping tourism grows, retailers are trying to find new ways to reach travelers and get them to visit the store. Livestreaming is proving to be a way for retailers, like Walmart, to meet the customers where they are.
To be top-of-mind for future tourists, retailers can host live streams regularly; these can be product launches, store launches, offers, events, or collaborations.
Optimize your retail store for shopping tourism
Shopping tourism helps create more jobs, aids in the local economy’s development, and ensures that retailers dependent on tourism can thrive. If you’re running a retail store located in a tourist spot, you should have strategies in place that ensure your store attracts travelers.