In a year that’s seen the lowest occupancy rates since the Great Depression, Marriott has found a way into travelers’ bathrooms, beds and closets thanks to branded products such as a plush Ritz-Carlton robe, pillows from the St. Regis, and a Westin white tea diffuser.
In 2020, Marriott, the world’s largest hospitality brand, has seen sales on its ecommerce platform Bonvoy Boutiques rise 26% year-over-year, a result of a renewed focus on “nontraditional” revenue streams as the travel industry continues its slow crawl toward recovery.
“This is sort of the ultimate expression of loyalty: ‘I’d like to take a piece of the hotel experience home, or give it to someone else,’” said Peggy Fang Roe, Marriott’s global officer of customer experience, loyalty and new ventures. “It’s not just a revenue opportunity, it’s an opportunity to use our brand reputation in more occasions than travel.”
The company first started to explore greater potential for Bonvoy Boutiques early in the summer, when Marriott began incorporating retail content into its Bonvoy Traveler newsletter. Open rates climbed, an indication that audiences were, at the very least, curious. By the end of the summer, Fang’s loyalty team was meeting weekly with the retail team to get sense of which products sold best and to know what was coming. Site traffic has since grown 15%, and robes and fragrances leading the pack with sales up 30%.
It’s a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark year for Marriott and the entire hospitality industry. While it did turn a profit last quarter, Marriott saw losses of over $650 million in the previous two quarters, a figure bathrobe sales can’t make up for. And rooms have never been cheaper, with rates down 33%, averaging $86 a night in the first week of December according to STR, which tracks the hospitality industry.
Hotel brands selling merchandise bedding isn’t exactly a new trend: Marriott’s had an online retail presence since 1999, when it became too cumbersome for individual hotels to ship mattresses. The same year, Westin (acquired by Marriott in 2016) began selling its Heavenly Mattress brand, sparking what Roe playfully called the “bed wars.”
But recently, modernization has taken hold across the hospitality industry. Last year, Marriott launched Bonvoy Boutiques to bring each of its brands’ online presence under one retail umbrella. The Four Seasons also launched its online platform the same year. Hilton joined in March of this year, launching Hilton at Home.
“We wanted to create a shopping experience that lives up to the personalized service our guests enjoy in our hotels and resorts,” said Dennis Chan, Four Seasons’ director of retail product, noting that the chain’s retail business had doubled since launching last year.
Like Marriott, an increase in marketing helped the segment grow. To bring awareness to Four Seasons’ retail platform, which counts its pillow collection and robes as the top-selling products, the company advertised on YouTube, in digital ads and its own social platforms.
Online retail is big business, particularly in 2020. A recent study by GroupM suggests that ecommerce could hit nearly $10 trillion in sales by 2027. Marriott has the benefit of a baked-in loyalty audience of nearly 143 million members, and it’s especially found success overseas: Singles Day in China was a high point, where Marriott was within the top 3% of all bedding retailers on Tmall and the top 1% of all fragrance retailers.