Away’s First Sale Deviates From Typical DTC Strategy

Away's sale is one piece of a larger travel retail puzzle.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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Today, Away is holding its first brand-wide sale...ever. What are empty flights if not more space for its carry-ons?

Mixed signals: Brendan Lewis, VP of communications and corporate affairs atAway, told Retail Brew via email the sale is meant to “inspire” shoppers who may be ready to travel again this fall. And there’s interest:Away’s online traffic has increased, Lewis said, and recent launches (pet carriers and mini travel kits) have sold out.

But the sale is also a chance to offload suitcases after the pandemic flatlined the travel industry.

  • In April, Away’s co-founders said sales had plummeted 90+% when travelers put worldwide vacation plans on ice. The brand also laid off 10% of its staff to cut costs.
  • Lewis said Away has “picked up momentum in recent months,” but didn’t share how much sales have recovered overall.

Discounts can instantly jumpstart sales, but Away and its DTC cohorts often avoid them like the—never mind. DTC brands say they’re already offering the most competitive price; discounts could undermine those claims. After the pandemic torpedoed revenue, DTC brands risked their reputations to recover business via markdowns.

Early results: Away's website crashed shortly after the sale began this morning, a sign that traffic's high.

As for Away’s image? “I don't think that running a single sale is going to have an impact on the brand in five years' time,” Nik Sharma, founder of Sharma Brands, told Retail Brew. “If it becomes a recurring strategy for the brand, then that becomes a different story.”

Fewer trips, more baggage

Away’s sale is one side effect of travel retail’s struggles. Brands from beauty to liquor had previously eyed travel retail as their next growth opportunity, for good reason: It generated $78 billion for airports in 2018, per Generation data.

Now, the sub-industry’s grounded for extreme turbulence.

  • Heathrow Airport’s retail revenue declined 60% during the six-month period ended June 30.
  • Duty-free concession sales at San Francisco International Airport disappeared entirely in May.

As the duty free shops’ largest tenants, beauty brands have the most to lose when air travel slows. Meanwhile, DTC travel brands like Away could have a slight advantage as road trips and local bookings pick up. Since they’re not primarily sold at travel hubs, they have better odds of reaching shoppers who are ordering online for car or RV trips.

Bottom line: Travel retail’s resilience depends on the channel as much as the product and price. But discounts aren’t a lasting strategy, no matter the outlet.

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