In popular culture, copycats have a bad reputation. In business, this is another story.
Earlier this year, Wizz Air was named by many publications as Ryanair’s copycat when they announced the big change in baggage allowance procedure right after Ryanair had announced theirs. Many customers where upset because they have been dodging the smart marketing and design teams of the two airlines for some time, avoiding to pay the extra priority ticket that “seemed” to be necessary if you wanted to take with you another 10kg small cabin back. What was not underlined was that you needed Priority only if you wanted to take that bag with you in the cabin. Because by default that bag would have gone in the aircraft belly without a cost. Congratulations to this really cool and smart design approach that was adding to the aircraft cabin at least half of passenger items of baggage. About how smart and awesome I think the design and marketing teams from this two airlines are, in another post.
“the Design & Marketing teams of the two airline are measureably increasing roi”
So, Ryanair changed the baggage allowance and Wizz Air followed immediately. Great moves business wise from both companies, Ryanair being the road opener in Europe for this.
I don’t fly Ryanair too much. Wizz on the other side is more familiar. I even got to the point where my life’s basic choices are influenced by the fact that I fly Wizz. What do I mean?
Well one very important aspect for me is that I do not eat before I fly with Wizz. I don’t have to. I don’t have to cook, I don’t have to grab anything before I reach the aircraft and also I don’t have to stay at an expensive coffee shop in the airport because I eat onboard. It’s convenient and cheap.
Obviously, when I went for the first time on a Ryanair flight, I assumed, knowing that it is also a low-cost carrier, I could keep the same old habit and eat onboard.
I was traveling with my Mom from Strasbourg to Frankfurt with Flixbus and from Frankfurt to Lisbon with Ryanair. We had dinner and a late night snack before we headed towards Frankfurt. We didn’t eat anything in the morning. We only had a cup of coffee. So we were excited to go onboard and get some food into our system.
“Expectations are based on past experience and if the experience has proven to be consistantly good, we don’t take into consideration that it can take other forms too”
We were not assigned seats together of course, because I didn’t pay the extra cost for that. It was not like we would fly to Bangkok and so I thought ok, the money that we save from the seats and priority can go to eat something onboard and this way have a complete flying experience.
We boarded and I started of course with an empty stomach, to look for the menu. There was none. On the seat in front of me, there was an ad for the food onboard and that more information could be found in the magazine. I looked around, No magazine in sight.
Later during the flight, the crew passed with a food trolley but without a choice menu to look to and without knowing the prices, I was not going to stop them and ask, with a full aircraft, how much a sandwich costs. It was just something I didn’t want then. I didn’t want attention on myself. I was tired, I was hungry but I was also thinking about the 12-day trip I had embarked with my Mom in Lisbon and we had a very small budget for everything that was 150€. I wasn’t going to pay 10€ for a sandwich. I imagined it to be too expensive for them to leave the menu for everyone to see. What other reason would they have?
“When the food trolley passed my seat, I didn’t say anything.”
On the return flight, I was prepared. Bought food from the grocery shop. Enjoyed it onboard.
Now, with a full stomach and an eager curiosity, I was determined to see what is, in fact, going on here. Luckily this time, I got seats in the front of the cabin where at a moment I didn’t see before, the air hostess passed through the cabin with some magazines in her hand. That made everything fall in place and I understood immediately what was going on.
So, this is the Ryanair procedure for the food:
When you reach the aircraft you immediately feel you are in a low-cost carrier because even the seat pockets in front of you are removed. So literally there is no place to have a magazine. There is just the tray attached on the seat in front of you. Going to Lisbon I thought that the magazine may be under the seat somewhere. But they were not.
As a consequence of that I guess money saving action, the cabin crew are passing through the cabin with the in-flight magazine that contains all the duty-free items plus the food choices.
The passengers who are interested in the items or food raise their hands and ask for one magazine that they need to later return to the crew.
The crew passed with the magazine and I just then realized what was happening. I looked back and saw maximum 5 passengers ask for it.
When the crew passed back I asked for one too.
Honestly, it felt a little embarrassing. Because nobody in my area asked for one. Again, attracting attention. Plus it was not my intention to buy anything but just to understand more of the approach of the company for this matter.
I opened the magazine again, expecting again a different experience. A magazine, of course, with articles about destinations and other interesting things to do in this world. But this one was not that kind of magazine. If was just the shopping catalog. Very well done ( did I mention how much I admire the design teams ), slick, stylish, elegant. Graphics where amazingly beautiful, the colors, the background carefully selected. What can I say, great job for a duty-free shop catalog that contains some big brand names and so many perfumes.
After the duty-free items came the food menu pages. It felt that I didn’t leave the luxury section but that images only changed from perfume bottles to soda cans and sandwiches. The menu looked delicious. The pictures where shot professionally and even though I had now a full stomach, they seemed to appear to me. The drinks too.
“So why weren’t the passengers from Ryanair buying food onboard?”
The answer is found very easily in comparison with how Wizz Air approaches this matter.
With Wizz Air, when you go on board and take your seat, you can find in the seat pocket in front of you the regular in-flight magazine that has kept its regular format. Travel articles, company articles, duty-free items sold onboard, food menu and other information regarding aircraft, airports etc.
As a passenger who is waiting to take off and who maybe switched his phone to airplane mode, the most natural gesture to do is to grab the magazine and go through it. It’s a gesture of passing the time doing nothing until the aircraft is ready for takeoff.
Clearly, during this activity, you get to the food section ( because you don’t stop to read an article – those are there only to warm you up ). And so you decide to have something to eat onboard. I am saying this confidently because I’ve seen Wizz Air flights that finish their food cart. I am one of the persons who help with that. I always have one sandwich, one drink, and a Snickers. And like me, many more passengers.
Why is this happening?
Before we compare the two situations let’s first analyze the big elephant in the room. And that is the passenger. Who is the passenger?
We can separate the passengers into two main categories.
“Passengers focused on flying with the cheapest airfare possible
Passengers who are forced to take a low-cost flight because of time convenience.”
From this two categories, I believe the majority is represented by the first one, the passengers who are focused on cost reduction.
I enter this category. I was going to Lisbon because I wanted to attend the WebSummit. I didn’t have the budget for the full price ticket that was around 1000€ so I asked to become a volunteer. I was accepted and that is how I went directly to Airbnb. I soon found out that a single room with a double bed was the same price if I was alone or with someone so I thought why not bring Mom with me. I entered the dates for the Summit and saw the Ryanair prices, then looked some days before and after and found a very good deal with half the price. So I was left with 150€ to spend on food, transport and other stuff we would need during our 12 days in Lisbon. That is a crazy little amount for such a long visit for two grown-ups. About how we managed to make it on such a budget in another post.
Ok, returning to our comparison. The type of passenger that are served by the low-cost companies have a characteristic that I think is the most marketable and that is the cost. We need to first see the price. A deal that attracted interest.
Wizzair has understood really well.
The first image for Wizzair is not about the diversity or some dish that you have never tried in your life.
Their approach is very simple. They draw you a smooth road from an empty stomach to a full one. Recepy for that? You grab a sandwich with a drink or a warm soup and the dessert is on the house. And the price for such a journey? Between 6€ and 8.5€.
They open up with the journey approach. The focus of the design is very simple. The eye first passes from the big image with the sandwiches to the pink triangle that is mentioning the extra offer that if you buy for 10€ you get an 8€ voucher. Then the eyes go on to the offers. Instead of describing each item, they are just named. The sweets section is visibly bigger especially because they know sugar cravings onboard are a norm and they are also from the house, FREE (the wonder word). Where did you find that kind of offer? A Snickers for FREE? And with such a low offer?
“I was wondering if they have any profit with this kind of approach or if they do it just to attract customers.”
But it seems that Wizzair has kept this offer for more than 1 year now. They must have their numbers right.
How does the Ryanair offer look like?
Crowded? Kind of. Hard to choose? Yes, especially now that we have to go back to see what every little picture actually is (speaking about the Main here).
“I can not help to look with the designer eye and understand what is it about this image that is not exactly right.”
Of course, from the 9 crowded images, two are repeated. Can you spot them ;)?
Ok, returning to our comparison. The Meal Deal page was hidden somewhere after the 10th page full of all kind of things I tasted before and some I have no clue about. When you reach this page, that is, if you reach it and do not just stop and give back the magazine, your visual has been already bombarded with everything that you could have seen onboard an aircraft. I really thought they gave up the trolleys that were before full with passenger hot meals with supermarket trolleys. The food catalog really looked like that. Like the more expensive supermarket catalogs, you receive in the mailbox. I always throw those away. I never have the time to just see what the offers are and then run fast to buy that specific item.
After researching the magazine and satisfying my curiosity I gave it back without purchasing anything. I kept thinking still.
Why? Why would an awesome marketing and design team approach this matter like this? Is this a revolutionary strategy that brings more revenue to the company or is there actually no strategy at all?
As always, I leave from the presumption that it is done on purpose.
So how could this strategy work for the company? Why do they have such a big menu of choices yet they do not show them to the passengers?
It’s obvious that the primary focus was to cut costs, then how to make extra cash. They’ve cut costs by removing the magazine seat pocket and by printing fewer magazines. But to what cost? It’s like they have a treasure of goodies they keep for themselves. Why?
The only advantage i see in the whole story is that the Flight Attendants work much less than the ones in Wizz. That’s a fact. They have a much better life. You should see the ones on Wizz. They have to handle the cart plus the cash, credit cards, and in different currencies. It’s crazy.
So Ryanair, if you have this strategy so that your crew is well and rested i pledge eternal gratitude and respect to you.
As a business and marketing consultant, if Ryanair were my customer I would seriously consider copying some of the Wizz approaches. I believe that even if you have 100€ profit from food on a single flight (with a good offer – sandwiches are provided on every flight bases anyway, so no extra costs there), on a reported more then 600.000/12 months, that would be … another 60.000.000 added? Really? Would that be good or bad for business?
And you wouldn’t even have to add the seat pockets.