Startups Are Turning Hotels and Rentals Into Shops for Retail Goods

Startups Are Turning Hotels and Rentals Into Shops for Retail Goods

Skift Take

Weirdly, airlines are the upselling masters. But spacious hotels and short-term rentals have much more to cross-sell to travelers than any flying tin cans have. Calling all consumer brands and local artisans: Here’s the new “product placement.”

A handful of startup companies — Glimpse, The Host Co., LiBi, and Minoan — are aiming to make it easier for the operators of hotels and short-term rentals to grow their sidelines in selling retail goods such as furnishings and handcrafts.

Many travelers covet decor they find at their hotel or rental. Some want items either as a souvenir or for a practical purpose. So a few hotel companies have long offered ways to buy some of their products, such as Marriott International’s The Westin Store for mattresses and other Westin hotel items.

Now some startups say they’re making it easier for brands, such as mattress maker Casper, and creators, such as local craftspeople, to sell items during a guest’s stay.

One method is a “scan-to-buy” approach. The pandemic has trained Western consumers in how to scan QR codes to learn more information about items such as to read menus at restaurants.

A handful of vendors are letting hotel and short-term rental operators generate QR-code labels for placing on retail items. The startups manage e-commerce type webpages on behalf of the hospitality operators. The pages describe and make bookable the items. The vendors typically handle payments, fulfillment, and customer service, too.

A Real World Meaning of “Product Placement”

What’s the most lucrative angle to this emerging business model? It might be tapping into interest from consumer brands in offering product trials to travelers.

For decades, brands have done “product placement” in TV shows and movies, hoping that fans see their favorite stars try their innovations. The new wave of companies is putting a real-world spin on this concept.

Luxury hotel William Vale in Brooklyn has worked with Minoan to sell online everything from copies of the in-room espresso maker to art books on display in the lobby. Minoan works with more than 150 brands and tries to get volume discounts on products to help lodging owners furnish their properties cost-effectively.

In March, several investors, including GSR Ventures, Origin Ventures, Y Combinator, closed a seed investment round in Glimpse, which has raised $6.2 million to date. The company’s “try-before-you-buy” offering lets more than a dozen brands, such as mattress maker Purple, hairdryer manufacturer T3, and massage device seller Lyric, select from 8,000 U.S. short-term rentals to sell their wares.

Glimpse claims it can plug into a consumer brand’s systems, coordinating product delivery. By taking photos, it verifies how hotels display products in a unit. It also offers marketing tools, such as following up with selected guests with sales and branding messages after the guest has left.

Looking beyond product to food-and-beverage and experiences, The Host Co. lets travel lodging offer more than just products. Hosts can also provide custom services, such as stocking a refrigerator with food items ahead of a guest’s arrival for a fee, via its e-commerce service.

Airlines have long excelled at upselling customers on additional products and services. But hotels and short-term rentals have much more potential for upselling than is possible in any flying tin can.

Expect to hear a lot more about the effort to make travel lodging more “shoppable” this year.

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