Who Really Shops at High-End Airport Stores? A Lot of People, and They Spend Thousands.

Burberry’s pop-up store in London Heathrow airport is a popular destination for travelers waiting for their flights. The installation runs until August 7. (Photo: Courtesy of Burberry)

The modern mall has seen better days, but you wouldn’t know that looking at airport shopping centers.

Airports are a bright spot in what is otherwise frequently called the retail apocalypse, with luxury retailers cashing in on shoppers stuck in one location with hours to kill and cash to burn. Airport shopping isn’t just about duty-free cosmetics and booze anymore. For wealthy travelers, it’s about casually adding a Chanel Gabrielle bag to your carry-on luggage, and London’s Heathrow Airport is a growing destination for this kind of cash throw down.

In addition to dozens of luxury stores at Heathrow, the transportation hub launched its Personal Shopper service in October, where more than one million VIP travelers have put one of 24 stylists to work pulling apparel and accessories for them while they wait in one of Heathrow’s VIP lounges. Celebrities and fashionistas like model Lily Aldridge have documented their travels through the VIP lounges on Instagram — and the popularity and prestige of these airport areas seems to be on the up and up.



A spokesperson for Heathrow’s VIP service said that on average, shoppers using the service spend more than $3,400, and the most expensive purchase made at once in the personal shopping lounge amounted to $59,839 for three Rolexes and three Tudor watches, purchased by a Chinese businessman.

At Heathrow, Arab and Chinese shoppers account for a lot of big purchases, most of which are from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Cartier. But in the last year, Heathrow shoppers have flooded one store in particular: Gucci.

Blake Henke, a 30-year-old software manager from Florida, didn’t spend quite as much as that Chinese businessman, but he did make a recent purchase of his own while waiting at Heathrow during a layover. Perusing the airport’s stores, Henke spent $200 at Heathrow’s Thomas Pink shop, and says if he’d had more time, he could have easily shopped more. 

Flying through Heathrow more than six times in the last four years, Henke says its stores are “definitely better” than those in U.S. airports, adding that Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino airport also has great shopping. (Like Heathrow, Rome’s airport has a personal shopper service for travelers interested in buying from designer stores like Fendi and Max Mara.)

In the U.S., it seems to be primarily touristy knick knack stores or else you’ve got the 58 magazine/book stores,” Henke says. “Heathrow was different though, it felt like an actual mall so I ended up just wandering through a few stores and picking up a few items that caught my eye.”

Luxury retailers like Burberry are taking note, the English brand known for its check print and iconic trench coats launching its own Heathrow pop-up, replete with a full-size hot air balloon, until August 7. While you’re shopping at the pop-up, you can also create a personalized Burberry post card.

More travelers through Heathrow means a bigger incentives for brand names to literally set up shop. Analysts expect more than 76 million passengers to pass through Heathrow airport this year, a million more than previously estimated, and airport spending across the world totaled $38 billion in 2016, a number expected to grow 27 percent in the next few years.

Henke puts it best. “Targeting airport shoppers is a brilliant idea. There’s a lot of disposable income walking past those store fronts.”

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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.