Traveler in Alaskan port

Fall 2019
A Traveler’s Perspective By Debbie Eisele

A look into a consumer’s retail experience in Alaska

Travelers are an important part of retail sales in Alaska and other tourist destinations, and a shopper’s perspective may provide valuable information to retailers. Susan McHuron, an avid traveler and shopper who recently traveled to Alaska, shared insight from her experience and information on products, customer service and even merchandise labeling to assist shop managers and owners.


Travelers seek a variety of products and McHuron discussed what appealed to her the most. She mentioned local yarns, Christmas ornaments, t-shirts, and small books on the local region attracted her attention. But, the post cards of animals or locations caught her eye as well because the images were able to capture animals or places she was unable to photograph herself.

The variety of offerings at the local shops and on the ship appealed to her and created a positive experience. She mentioned the stores she enjoyed the most were ones not overcrowded with merchandise and ones that carried items made in Alaska, such as Once in a Blue Moose. “I don’t think there was anything you couldn’t find, but was certainly not expecting fake snow,” said McHuron. “I was seeking items made in Alaska, not China,” she noted and admitted her surprise on the number of products available in some stores that were not made in the U.S. or locally. 

The unusual, unique merchandise is what really piqued McHuron’s interest: “There was a jewelry shop in Skagway that carried jewelry made by local artists at fairly reasonable prices, and there were shops that offered some REALLY impressive woodworking pieces.” Albeit the wood pieces were pricey, she thought they were well worth it.

Popular port in Alaska for cruise ships

Retail Displays

Product displays with color and Alaskan scenes caught McHuron’s eye the most, but she was also attracted to creative merchandising techniques that included animals and other items. “The glow-in-the-dark t-shirt display was very impressive,” she shared. 

One piece of advice she offered is to check size labels on clothing very carefully. She said that U.S. and European sizes are different — European size being smaller. “A few items in Alaska had both sizes listed, but the print on the label was small and difficult to read,” said McHuron and suggested shops could help by making labels or signs easy to read for the customers.

>>ALSO SEE: Once in a Blue Moose.

Service Do’s & Don’ts

Retailers in heavily visited areas may consider offering shipping service to assist with sales; allow customers to purchase items that cannot be carried on a plane, train or cruise. “Nearly all shops offered shipping at reasonable prices. My roommate bought quite a few ULU knives (an all-purpose knife traditionally used by Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut women) and had them shipped home for $20-$25,” McHuron shared. 

The noted one experience that may provide insight to managers on pushing sales too hard in stores. While in Alaska, McHuron experienced many jewelry stores which heavily pushed merchandise. “They all offer free charms or necklaces, some of which are very good quality,” she said. “But there was a catch; you must try on a piece of their gemstone jewelry first. If you can still say ‘no’ 15 minutes later (after trying on the gemstone), have at it. If not, don’t go in, they WILL sell you something.”

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is senior editor of Gift Shop Magazine, as well as the magazine's sister publications: Gift Shop Pets, Stationery Trends, Museums & More, and Party & Halloween Retailer.

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