Retail

Now Boarding: On-Demand Food Delivery With Airport Sherpa

The airport gate can be a point of frustration for travelers waiting to board a delayed flight — or, worse yet, the destination of a frantic last-minute run before the jetway closes. For those kinds of reasons, the gate can also be an ideal market for delivery. To serve hungry travelers waiting to board their flights, Airport Sherpa takes on the challenge of finding food options in a hurry at the airport.

“I knew there were great options available at the airport,” Airport Sherpa CEO Patrick DellaValle, who co-founded the app after seeing the need as a business traveler, told PYMNTS. “[But] I simply knew that I was never going to have time to figure out where those stores might be and … have time to wait in line.”

To connect with customers, restaurants — or other airport retailers — can hook into Airport Sherpa’s system in two different ways. In one case, the app can be integrated with a retailer’s own point-of-sale (POS) system. For retailers that don’t want that connection, however, DellaValle allows retailers to connect with the app through a tablet-based system. Either way, airport retailers can generate incremental revenue by reaching customers throughout the airport. As it stands, travelers usually head straight to the gate after they leave security and tend not to leave that area.

The Customer Experience

After downloading Airport Sherpa, consumers can add their flight information to the app by either entering their flight number or finding their flight by providing their airline as well as destination. Alternatively, users can also choose not to add their flight information. Through the app, customers can browse different offerings and place orders for delivery along with any specialized instructions that they might have. For payments, consumers can add and save multiple credit cards to the app for convenience, but DellaValle is seeking to bring digital wallets to the app in the future.

In order to keep customers in the loop about their orders, Airport Sherpa sends notifications at different times, such as when a delivery person picks up an order and arrives at the gate. And, while customers are usually able to identify their delivery person without much of a problem, as they wear a purple vest with a unique number, DellaValle said he’s planning to add pictures of the delivery workers in the app in the future.

When it comes to customer preference between pickup and delivery, DellaValle has noticed an overwhelming trend: Three-quarters of customers want to have their order delivered. In addition, he was surprised to discover a new market when he rolled out the app. Originally, he focused on business and leisure travelers. But he later found that airport employees liked the app, too. Why? DellaValle said these workers have only a short time for a break and much ground in the airport to cover. At the same time, however, they enjoy the pickup option: “They want to go out and stretch their legs a little bit,” he said.

While Airport Sherpa currently runs out of Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI), a service dubbed AtYourGate operates at San Diego International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. Like Airport Sherpa, the app allows travelers to order items such as food and snacks from retail stores within the airport and have them delivered straight to the gate. In terms of appeal, AtYourGate counts business travelers, busy moms and millennials as customers, showing that on-demand delivery services can appeal to a wide variety of segments at the airport.

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