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Shopping at Sea – the New Retail Reality

Article-Shopping at Sea – the New Retail Reality

With cruising growing exponentially on an international level, the cruise retail channel is seeing exciting retail offers from other top travel retailers as well.

I was pleasantly surprised recently when a 30-something young woman told me that she and her sister go on a cruise by themselves every year and they can’t wait to try and buy the perfumes and beauty products they find onboard and on the islands. 

This comment was telling first for the fact that a cruise was their “go to” get-away for these millennials, and second for the idea that they believe onboard shopping to be a valuable and integral part of their cruise experience.

The truth is that retail on board cruise ships today is all part of “making memories” and goes far beyond selling a bottle of perfume or the latest lipstick (even as the beauty category remains a mainstay of the channel).

For one thing, retail is no longer hidden away in corners of the ship, but has become a key component when a ship is first designed. Just look at the stunning two-level shopping promenade at the center of the Carnival Horizon, or the sunshine-drenched shops onboard the MSC Seaview bringing passengers closer to the sea, or Royal Caribbean’s iconic Central Park arcades.

Enhancing the visibility of the retail venue has opened the way for such developments as the first Victoria’s Secret shop at sea on Carnival, High Tea with Tiffany at Sea onboard the Genting World Dream, or the Apprentice of Time workshops featured on the Celebrity ships.

Each of these was created by Starboard Cruise Services, the original cruise ship retail concessionaire formed more than 60-years ago. A division of luxury giant LVMH, Starboard is the world’s largest cruise ship retailer, and is leading the industry transformation from a transactional business to one based on creating the most memorable experiences for cruise guests.

The growing differentiation among cruise ships, along with the advent of the global passenger, has stimulated tailored retail programs, many of them immersive and sensory. Starboard’s programs for Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class chips, for example, are all about adventure and discovery, as seen with the Scotch and Watch event held in the ships’ rising bar. A first of its kind Bvlgari Fashion show extravaganza onboard the Costa Venezia targeted an exclusive Asia passenger profile, in the first ship custom built for Chinese passengers. The shopping experience aboard Celebrity Edge includes such unique offers as a custom Malala Fund merchandise collection and a limited-edition fashion jewelry collection made from the first cut of steel used to build the ship.

With cruising growing exponentially on an international level, the cruise retail channel is seeing exciting retail offers from other top travel retailers as well, such as Dufry and Heinemann, who bring with them superb airport shopping expertise, as well as long-time player Harding Brothers.

MSC Cruises, which handles its retail business in-house, says that its model allows the line to take a very long view when planning retail offerings, even so far as to move shopping out from traditional shops. Brand partnerships with LEGO, Swarovski (seen in MSC’s iconic staircases), and Martha Stewart, among others, have become integrated into their ship’s infrastructure and enhance guest engagement even further.

The truth is that there are few venues that permit a brand to create a relationship with the consumer as well as a cruise ship. As more and more brands realize how strategic the cruise retail channel can be, we should be seeing even more relevant and memorable retail developments on ships targeting every segment of the market.


To learn more about the latest trends and partnerships in shipboard concessions, join the industry’s top executives at Seatrade Cruise Global 2020 for dedicated programming, including expert-led panels and networking receptions. For more information or to register visit

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