Drinks companies should be more creative in travel retail by hooking into trends such as virtual stores, an airport branding company boss has said. 

Airport shops lag the retail industry in digital technology and miss out on impulse buying, according to Sally Alington, MD of Blackjack, a travel retail marketing firm that operates in the UK's main airports. “Drinks brands need to be more creative than others in the travel retail sector with new technology and social media,” Alington told just-drinks in Cannes today (25 October).

“The travel retail sector is quite far behind and doesn't fully capitalise on things such as Facebook. The sector is such as obvious fit for this kind of technology as there is so much you can do in marketing digitally.”

Alington said her company is pushing drinks firms to consider virtual stores that would allow people to shop and collect without the need to use a retail space. Pictures of brands could even be placed at departure gates, with codes for consumers to input and pick up their purchases later.

The idea was trialled by Blackjack in the summer when it set up a virtual supermarket at Heathrow for UK-based supermarket chain Tesco.

Drinks firms would have to negotiate concerns over underage buying and responsible drinking, Alington said, however she added: “There will be a way.”

The virtual stores would not replace staff, she said, and brand ambassadors important to companies looking to educate consumers.

“We need both people and technology,” Alington added