It is not uncommon to see avid traveller Cara Lee lugging numerous shopping bags up the aeroplane - not on her way back from her travels, but at Changi Airport on her way out.
The 26-year-old account manager at a media intelligence company spends about $180 on skincare and cosmetics at Changi Airport every time she flies out - two to three times a year. "I like that there is a wide array of retail options and the spacious aisles of the transit area. It makes shopping at Changi Airport enjoyable," says Ms Lee, who last shopped at the airport three weeks ago, while waiting for her flight to the Maldives. Then, she shelled out $132 on cosmetics and skincare products from brands such as Benefit and Clinique.
Singapore shoppers like her contributed about 20 per cent to the $2.2 billion Changi Airport made in total retail sales last year - placing it third in the world for highest traveller spend, according to a study by Swedish duty-free and travel retail consultancy Generation Research.
The $2.2-billion figure is up 8 per cent from last year, with wines and spirits the most popular items, followed by cosmetics and perfume. South Korea's Incheon International Airport ranked first and Dubai's International Airport was second.
The results come as no surprise to the Changi Airport Group, which has been expanding its retail space and launching new concepts to entice travellers.
The Shilla Beauty Loft at Terminal 3's transit area, which opened last October, for instance, was the result of close collaboration between the airport group and the store's operators The Shilla Duty Free Singapore.
After about two years in the works, the idea to open the South Korean brand's first luxury spa concept in the world came to fruition. Customised for weary travellers, the two- storey outlet sells products from brands such as Dior, Chanel, SK-II and La Prairie on its lower level, and offers spa services on its upper floor.
Services - such as 15-minute facials and neck massages - are tailored for travellers on a tight schedule.
Spanish brand Zara's first duplex store in an airport opened in Changi Airport in August last year. Exclusive items such as Hugo Boss' alarm-safe leather belts are available at the airport. There are also exclusive global product launches, such as one for SK-II's Radical New Age Power cream and essence in July last year, which saw home-grown actress Rebecca Lim speak about her travel must-haves.
The secret is also to offer a mix of high-end and mass-market brands such as Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, says Ms Teo Chew Hoon, senior vice-president of airside concessions at the airport group. She calls this "a holistic strategy".
Retail space at Terminal 1, she says, expanded by 15 per cent to 20,000 sq m after an upgrade that was completed in 2012.
But she points out that quantity is just one part of the equation. "Passengers who are well-travelled are generally more sophisticated in their expectations. Beyond attractive product offerings, we augment our retail proposition with innovative concepts and unique experiences."
Encouraging more spending, the airport's e-commerce site iShop Changi.com was introduced in 2013, allowing travellers to shop from home two weeks before their flight. The items bought online are picked up before boarding their departure flight here or on arrival at the airport.
The transit areas are also more like shopping boulevards than waiting rooms, giving shoppers a wide view of the myriad stores.
Terminals 2 and 3 boast lush greenery and unique roof structures to let natural light in.
It looks like spending at Changi Airport is set to head north. Terminal 4, which will open next year with a total retail space of about 17,000 sq m, will have more than 80 retail and dining outlets occupied by tenants such as American fashion label Michael Kors and home-grown shoe and accessories brand Charles & Keith. It will also have a walk-through duty-free store, two-storey-high ceilings and heritage-themed shopping zones, such as shops with facades of Peranakan shophouses.
Meanwhile, the upcoming Jewel Changi Airport, opening in 2019, will dedicate 70 per cent of its 300 shops to retail, with the remainder for food and beverage outlets.
Ms Wendy Low, executive director and head of retail at Knight Frank Singapore, attributes the high traveller spend at the airport to the "constantly updated retail layout as well as trade and merchandise offerings", and the "thoughtful creation of amenities and relaxation spaces across the various terminals". She adds: "This speaks of a customer- centric approach that is increasingly important in appeal for travellers."
Retaining that excitement through exclusive launches and products is especially important to keep up with the fast-evolving beauty industry, says Ms Sulian Tan-Wijaya, executive director of retail and lifestyle at Savills Singapore, as "the Internet- savvy consumers of today can be as fickle as they are discerning".
Other experts such as Ms Sarah Lim, a senior retail lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic, says the layout of shops and signage play a "very important role".
"At Changi Airport, they put the food outlets and seating areas in the centre for travellers to have a coffee and take a break from shopping, and signage are placed there to encourage shoppers to check out the shops on either sides of the terminals," she says. "This encourages shoppers to keep spending."
Tenants have also helped to make shoppers feel at home.
At the Montblanc outlet in Terminal 3's transit area, staff wear flag pins to denote the languages they speak - Mandarin, English or Bahasa Indonesia.
And considering that 30 per cent of Changi Airport's shoppers are from China, brands such as Lacoste ensure that their staff can speak Mandarin.
At Lacoste's airport outlet, where customers from China account for 25 to 30 per cent of sales, non- Mandarin-speaking staff are sent for basic Mandarin classes.
While the brand declines to share sales figures, its brand manager says the Terminal 2 store is its best- performing one out of the nine outlets in Singapore. Sales there, he adds, are 12 per cent more than its second best-performing store at Wisma Atria in Orchard.
At The Shilla Duty Free Singapore store, duty rosters are scheduled to ensure that there is a mix of Mandarin-, English- and Korean-speaking staff on the shop floor at all times.
But what really makes travellers part with their money is that they do not have to pay tax. Some items, such as cosmetics, can be up to 40 per cent cheaper than identical ones sold in town.
Ms Nurul Ain Azman, who shops at the airport at least once a month, likes shopping there because she can save money. She sometimes waits till she travels before buying items such as cosmetics from high-end labels.
The 28-year-old, who works in a bank and last shopped at the airport last month and bought skincare items from The Body Shop, says: "I save at least 7 per cent and even more in transit - make-up products there are cheaper by at least $5 a product. I once bought a lipstick for $30 and found it was selling for about $40 outside."
Shoppers who shop in the public areas can save on the 7 per cent goods and services tax at participating stores if they have the Changi Rewards Card, which they can register for free of charge.
Ms Nurul also cites the airport's ample carpark space and proximity to the MRT station as plus points. "It is so convenient. Every time I need to restock on products, Changi Airport is the first place that comes to mind."
What to buy at Changi Airport
The Shilla Duty Free Singapore
What it carries: This Korean beauty department store stocks more than 140 international beauty and make-up brands such as Jurlique, Urban Decay, Shu Uemura and Philosophy. Prices are up to 40 per cent lower compared with the exact same items in town.
Brands exclusive to Shilla in Singapore are Korean beauty brand su:m37o- known for its face-cleansing stick Miracle Rose - and Aupres, a cosmetics and skincare line by Shiseido for the Chinese market.
The store also has a beauty loft on the second floor, housing Dior Beauty House, Luxury Skincare Bar by La Prairie, SK-II Pitera Lounge and a Chanel beauty salon. Here, travellers can treat themselves to facials, massages, free flash makeovers and one-on-one skin consultations. At Dior, they can get a perfume expert to help them find their signature scent.
The Chanel beauty salon and La Prairie services are by invitation only. For Luxury Skincare Bar by La Prairie services, invitations are extended to customers who buy the brand's products at Shilla stores. Travellers are advised to book in advance for the SK-II lounge (call 6241-0756 or 9352-3687).
Best buys: Travel-exclusive Tokyo Doll make-up palette with eight eyeshadows, two blushers and two brushes (above, left), $93, from Shu Uemura; and SPF50+ essence UV sunscreen aqua booster (90ml bottle, above, far right), $43.20, from Anessa. Prices are without tax and are accurate at the time of printing, but are subject to change.
Where: Terminal 3 Department Transit Central store, open: 6 to 1am daily, tel: 9155-7695
What it carries: The brand's traveller leather belts, which can be bought only here, are reversible with a different colour on each side, such as black and brown or dark orange and dark brown.
The belt's metal buckle is designed so that it will not set off the alarm during security checks. The belts are priced between $382.24 and $419.63.
The brand's Boss, Boss sportswear and Boss Green lines, including shoes and accessories for men, are available here as well. Prices range from $90 for a T-shirt to about $1,400 for a leather jacket.
Best buys: Yellow Signature S zip clutch (above, left), $765.42; and black leather Nokam jacket (above, right), $1,400.93
Where: 026-058 Terminal 2, open: 6 to 1am daily, tel: 6214-0495
What it carries: This store, the first duplex the Spanish brand has opened in an airport, offers apparel and accessories for men and women.
The brand's latest Autumn/Winter 2016 collection is available - the women's range is on the first floor while the men's range is upstairs.
Prices range from $9.90 for a 10ml bottle of perfume to $339 for a men's full leather jacket.
Best buys: Brown chelsea boots for men (above, left), $148; and metallic pink jacket for women (above, right), $148
Where: B2-02-10A Terminal 3, open: 6 to 1am daily, tel: 6241-7120
The Fashion Gallery
What it carries: This multi-label store offers items from more than 30 luxury brands including Moschino, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta, as well as a selection from mid-range shoe brand Melissa. Shoppers are encouraged to accessorise, with display areas laden with handbags, sunglasses, shoes and jewellery.
Prices range from $45.79 for a gold-plated necklace by Estella Bartlett to $64,200 for a diamond and white-gold necklace from Bulgari.
Best buys: Canvas slip-on with eye pattern (above, left), $240.87, from Kenzo; and small leather biker jacket handbag (above, right), $2,336, from Moschino
Where: Terminals 1 and 2, open: 6 to 1am daily, tel: 6593-4618
What it carries: The brand's full travel range, available only at the airport store, with items such as passport holders, pouches and cardholders. Prices for the travel range start at $260 for a canvas cardholder and go up to $2,450 for a canvas duffle bag.
The store also carries the French brand's best-selling accessories and handbags, most of which are in neutral colours such as black or beige. Prices range from $281 for a leather cardholder to about $3,972 for the classic Sac De Jour handbag in embossed-croc calf leather.
Best buys: Small Sac De Jour handbag in black calf leather (above, left), $3,729; and Downtown Cabas handbag in dark grey (above, right), $2,916
Where: 026-074 Terminal 2, open: 6 to 1am daily, tel: 6214-9647