Duty free delivery

Essential Retail’s digital features editor, Caroline Baldwin, tests out Thomas Cook’s pre-flight duty free delivery service.

Booking a holiday is a bit of a dark art these days. Gone are the days when we all trot down to our local travel agent on the high street and sit back as they go through all the pain of organising your precious yearly holiday abroad.

Today, with the internet at our fingertips, we do it ourselves and sometimes, I think I’d like to go back to a simpler time happily paying travel agents a fee to scour the web for the best hotel deals, appropriate flight times and generous baggage allowance.

I recently went through that experience booking a fortnight in Tenerife, choosing Thomas Cook as my airline due to one reason – cost. They were the cheapest and once I’d booked our flights, decided on sharing one suitcase instead of two in order to save £50 towards those all-important cocktails, the barrage of emails started pouring in asking whether I wanted to spend more money choosing my seat or if I needed car hire once I landed.

Among the dozen or so emails I received from Thomas Cook as I counted down to the holiday, was one asking if I wanted to do my duty-free shopping online in advance of my flight. ‘Shop duty-free with Airshoppen: extra special offers available online’, said the email.

Intrigued, and having already planned to buy two bottles of duty-free gin from the trolley while 30-odd thousand feet up in the air, I clicked on the Airshoppen website to see its special offers.

This process rang a bell and some of you may also recall that earlier this year, Thomas Cook Airlines announced the launch of its click & collect service for pre-flight duty free shopping conducted at least five days before departure. Using the Manhattan Scale platform and conducted in association with the technology company’s Nordic partner, Idnet, Thomas Cook effectively provides customers with a click & collect option that sees products delivered directly to passengers’ seats.

I spotted Gordon’s London Dry Gin on the Airshoppen website priced at £12 for a litre, and while I didn’t think that was particularly cheap for duty free, decided to try out the service and bought two bottles and a Toblerone.

When I clambered onto our plane a few weeks later, I expected to see our bag of duty-free goodies waiting on my seat as advertised in the promotional emails, but our seats were empty apart from the crumbs from the previous passengers.

In fact we didn’t receive our orders until after the duty-free trolley service had gone through the cabin – no bother, it’s not like we were allowed to crack open the gin on-board anyway, but I did have to ask twice about the order, concerned it might not be on board. It would have been useful in this scenario to be reassured somehow, maybe by a note on our seats if regulations meant the products couldn’t be left waiting for us.

While the trolley was making its way through the aisle, I decided to flick through the in-flight magazine and to my disgust, the same litre of Gordon’s was on special offer two for £20 on board, definitely not the “unbeatable prices” advertised in the email. I mentioned this to the cabin crew and they told me to email Airshoppen to complain, which I did and received the £4 difference I asked for without a quibble, but by this point I was a little disillusioned by the whole service. It’s a nice idea click & collect to your seat, but what’s the point? Shoppers who select click & collect on the high street choose the option because it’s more convenient than waiting in for home delivery. Airshoppen instead charged me more for reserving items on the duty-free trolley which I received after everybody else.

And to top it off, when I was handed my sealed shopping bag of duty free goods, the cabin crew couldn’t scan the scrunched-up barcode on the piece of paper inside the bag, so asked me how much I paid and manually wrote it down instead. So much for technology.

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