Harding Retail hails “innovative approach to retail at sea” as Marella Explorer is launched

UK. Cruise concessionaire Harding Retail has completed arguably its most ambitious duty free and travel retail fit-out on Marella Cruises’ newest and biggest ship, the 1,927-passenger capacity Marella Explorer.

The vessel had a spectacular naming and launching ceremony on Thursday night in Palma, Mallorca, headlined by surprise guest, the multi-platinum selling recording artist Craig David. He dazzled employees, suppliers and media with a set from his world-renowned DJ show TS5. The Moodie Davitt Report was the sole travel retail media present.

The glitz and scale of the event, themed ‘energy and light’, underscored Marella Cruises’ determination to showcase itself as a more modern cruise line following a rebranding in 2017 from Thomson Cruises. The six-ship Marella fleet – part of TUI UK and Ireland, a division of the world’s biggest travel group TUI – is the third largest cruise line in the UK.

Ready for launch: Crowds packed Marella Explorer’s upper deck in anticipation of a surprise guest…
…Craig David performing on stage to a rapturous audience

Chris Hackney: “Marella Explorer… marks the next step in the modernisation and growth of our fleet”

Marella Cruises Managing Director Chris Hackney said: “Marella Explorer is the first ship to officially launch under the Marella Cruises name and marks the next step in the continued modernisation and growth of our fleet as we continue to put our customers at the heart of what we do.”

Marella Explorer – which will sail both Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries – has more facilities than any of its five sister ships. These include a ten-strong range of restaurants, ten bars, as well as an indoor cinema, the slick Indigo bar, club, and a sport and family deck.

A mall laden with ‘firsts at sea’

Louis Joy: “This retail space is above and beyond anything we have on our other ships”

Part of that new focus is a central travel retail shopping mall on the ship called Broad Street Shops, which represents a step change in the retail offer. Marella Cruises Senior Commercial Manager – Cruise Ancillaries Louis Joy told The Moodie Davitt Report: “This retail space is above and beyond anything we have on our other ships.”

A complete store refit has taken place across 12 personalised retail spaces covering 420sq m showcasing over 30 new and exclusive key brands/concepts on Deck 7 with onboard prices guaranteed to have savings of at least -15% versus the UK High Street. In addition, some 20sq m has been dedicated to a special shopping concierge and dedicated events area.

Commenting on the project, Harding Retail Managing Director James Prescott said: “Working with the Marella team in a spirit of true partnership, a close meeting of minds, and the tailoring of our brand portfolio, we are delivering a product offer based on research and a deep understanding of their guest profile. We are confident our new direction will deliver an innovative approach to retail at sea, bringing many ‘firsts’ for both companies.”

Claimed to be a world exclusive is an OPI nail varnish ‘visualising machine’ where guests can select a nail colour and then see an image of their hand featuring their nail varnish of choice.

A series of ‘first at sea’ shop-in-shop concepts includes Diego Dalla Palma (make-up and make-over); Champneys (complementing the onboard Champneys Spa); Lacoste (fashion); Cath Kidston; an Aperol (spirits) branded concept bay; Wilberry (plush toys); and a liquor shop with what is claimed to be “the world’s most advanced digital shelf-edge solution” through an exclusive at-sea partnership with UK-based SFD Systems.

An inviting entry into the onboard shopping space
Window dressing: Store fronts with strong branding at one of the entrances to the Broad Street Shops

As well as those additions, the beauty store now features a bespoke Chanel shop-in-shop, a personalised Benefit space, and a personalised Clarins skincare and experiential area. New brands to Marella include Barbour (including products for dogs), Ted Baker, and Pilgrim in fashion and jewellery; TAG Heuer, Gucci and Longines in high-end watches; and tech brands such as Sony, Philips and Apple.

Meanwhile, Radley has created a new shop-fit for its bags exclusively for Marella Explorer; Clogau has a new shop-in-shop concept; and Kipling has an in-store machine for stitching personal messages onto its bags.

Harding’s tech store is now also more experiential with advice and seminars on how to use products such as Fossil Q and TAG Heuer smart watches, Apple iPhones, and Fitbits.

Benefit and Clarins have prominent displays while other marques feature well-branded back walls

Two-way partnership

Marella Explorer adds to the existing four ships in the Marella fleet on which Harding already has concessions. Joy – who has a retail back ground with Abercrombie & Fitch and FatFace – commented: “We’ve worked with Harding Retail for a long time and we’ve gone from a cruise owner and supplier relationship to partners. Everything we wanted they delivered, and everything they wanted we delivered… it’s such a positive relationship. Shop revenue is really important to us.”

Darren Evans, Account Director Europe at Harding Retail, beside the Champneys store presentation

Where this dual partnership has become a Trinity is in the handling of the Champneys product portfolio. In the retail mall there is a Champneys Express Spa offering both own-branded lines and Clarins. But in the main beauty store there is also a wall dedicated to Champneys bath and body products.

Darren Evans, Account Director Europe at Harding Retail, told The Moodie Davitt Report that this had come about by working in a “true Trinity” between the cruise company (Marella), the retailer (Harding) and supplier (Champneys) to create a complementary offer where retail can benefit from the large Champneys spa operation, and vice versa. We also understand that – due to Marella Explorer having Champneys’ first ever spa at sea – Harding is handling the supply logistics for the Champneys’ products on board.

Pre-order shopping – a game changer

As part of Marella Cruises’s modernisation programme it is building a single digital platform fronted by the consumer-facing Navigate app. The onboard app enables guests to view their account and information about facilities or entertainment schedules, and book extras such as spa treatments, excursions and restaurant tables.

Head of Transformation and Change Christian Lacey said: “We are continuing to develop the app, and in September we are looking at putting all the product from the shops onto the app so that when the stores aren’t open, customers can browse items, make a purchase and have it ready for them in the shops when they’re open. We’ll do the same for Champneys Spa products as well.”

A separate project also goes live in August that could allow for pre- and post-travel ordering of store products and photo souvenirs (see Comment below.)

High-end jewellery and watches (above and below) have a large dedicated space

Accessibly-priced fashion and jewellery displays are also prominent in the retail zone
The fashion space, housing brands such as Lacoste, is quirky and fun
The test and try tech hub offer room for interaction

New tenders in the wings

While the retail offer on Marella Explorer is regarded as among Harding’s best so far, the cruise retailer will already be preparing to present something at least on a par with it when the adults-only Marella Explorer 2 launches in 2019.

We also understand that retail on Marella’s two Discovery ships will also be up for tender within two years. In the intervening period Harding will aim to show its retail prowess on existing Marella vessels to help it win these extra two ships from the current incumbent, Dutch retailer and distributor B&S.

Comment: Enabling TUI cruise passengers to pre-order retail products before their trips could be a duty free and travel retail game changer as this will create direct competition with UK (and other) airport shops selling the same brands or items – particularly luxury goods.

Why? Because the vertically-integrated nature of TUI UK means that many of its cruise customers – more than 90% of whom are British – tend to book their holiday from a TUI travel agent in the High Street, board a TUI plane to the cruise departure point, and then spend several days as a guest on a TUI/Marella ship.

Given the choice, a consumer looking to buy an expensive watch or jewellery item at travel retail prices might do so on a cruise where they have several days to make the decision, rather than in an airport where they might only have hours or even minutes of contemplation.

TUI’s model means the cruise line can compete with other channels by flagging its store offer early in the customer journey – for example at the point a cruise holiday is booked, before the passenger takes a flight to start their cruise. Marella Cruises therefore sees ample opportunity at the luxury end of the business to steal a march on airports with a similar product offer.

Marella Explorer promises a new era in shopping at sea for UK travellers
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