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Hacking duty free queues at the airport

<em>Duty free at Dubai Airport. (Photo: Getty)</em>
Duty free at Dubai Airport. (Photo: Getty)

Arriving in Sydney International Airport after flying in a tin can overnight is an exercise in fatigue.

Then trying to negotiate through the crowds to buy duty free is a sure way to turn frustration into anger.

But now there is a hack, using an app, to bypass the duty free checkout queues and get clean away before the immigration exits get too clogged with the walking bleary and weary. Simply buy online before you fly at any point in your journey, and collect on your way through when you travel.

SkyBuys was created at the Stone & Chalk fintech hub by AlecKemmery, who could fly before he could drive, and has a Masters (Science & Technology) with an aviation major from the University of NSW.


And Sydney International Airport is the first airport where passengers can use the service.

“You’re the first SkyBuys customer in Sydney, in fact in the world,” said the man at the pickup counter of global duty free retailer Heinemann, just to the right as you exit immigration at departures, handing over a bottle of Australian sparkling wine (Chandon) to ease into a weekend in Auckland.

The way is then clear to head straight to the business lounge using a Qantas Club card. No need to hunt the shelves for the right bottle.

The ordering, done over coffee at home in the morning, worked just as well in reverse. The app ordered two bottles of whiskey (Glenmorangie, Laphroaig), to be picked up after the Auckland flight arrive in Sydney at the collection desk just before going through duty free on the way to immigration, bag pickup and customs.

At the moment, SkyBuys orders goods which are then paid for at the pickup counter.

Soon, the whole transaction will be through the app with only a quick pick up required after showing passport and boarding pass.

It will also be available in other airports so you can use the app regardless of destination or airline.

The global duty free market is worth about $US75 billion a year and in double digit growth but it’s an industry that hasn’t changed for decades when it comes to some aspects of shopping.

“You can order a coffee on an app from your phone and pick it up within two minutes,” says AlecKemmery. “You can’t do that in Duty Free.”

Until now.

“It needs to change to stay relevant, and we want to help grow the market and add to the passenger experience” he says.

Outside of aeronautical revenues, retail (including duty free) is the biggest earner for the airport.

And many airlines have stopped selling duty free onboard because the extra weight carried – between 100-300+kgs just doesn’t generate enough income. Each kilogram costs in aviation fuel, and there are costs associated with stocking items onboard as well as servicing passengers

“Our first partner is Heinemann and this is the live launch of SkyBuys,” says Kemmery.

“From here, when Heinemann is comfortable, we will look to scale up and take this to other airports.

“The app and ordering are simple compared to the logistical challenges of fulfillment. As an example, Heinemann has seven duty free outlets across the airport, and they need to be able to service a customer in any one of these at any given time. And this is just one airport.”

For SkyBuys the revenue model includes advertising in-app, license fees and commissions and also earning fees by providing deeper data on duty free sales.

SkyBuys last year was selected for the global aerospace accelerator program Airbus BizLab in Germany, and more recently was a finalist in an aviation technology challenge sponsored by SAP and Lufthansa also in Germany.

– Chris Pash

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