How these clever beauty brands are shaking up the high street

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Becci Vallis
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Your next beauty buy could come with flowers, macarons or a photo shoot. Becci Vallis looks at why the way you shop is changing… 

When you can lounge in bed, shop for the latest dew effect highlighter on your phone and have it delivered to you the same day, why would you choose to spend your time in bricks and mortar beauty stores on the high street? 

That’s the question currently facing the beauty industry and it is rising to the challenge in style. Numerous high street businesses, including House of Fraser and New Look, either went into administration or closed significant numbers of stores in 2018. 

In 2019, it’s no longer enough for shops to simply stock products and expect customers to turn up. Our spare time is more precious than ever and we want experiences, selfie-appropriate backdrops, impartial advisers and artisanal coffee to sip while we peruse the latest skincare drops. 

Which, by the way, we probably know as much about as the sales assistant thanks to our in-depth online research. Simple, soulless transactions are out; meaningful relationships that take us on a journey are in. And boy are stores responding.

Naturally the playgrounds of retail, beauty stores are a safe place to experiment, discover, learn and lose ourselves, be it for a few minutes or a few hours. “Beauty is an industry you want to touch, smell and experience,” says Joanna Rogers, commercial director at Boots.

“Our latest research revealed that people treat beauty shopping as ‘fun time’, which means if you create an engaging environment, the customers will come.” 

Surprisingly, despite social media acting as a launch platform for many new brands (Milk, Glossier, Drunk Elephant), 75% of beauty purchasing still happens offline. But the way we’re making those purchases is evolving.

More is More

One brand leading by example is Lush, which remains ahead of the game in giving customers what they want. Spread over three floors, the new Liverpool location is the largest Lush store in the world where you can indulge in an immersive Synaesthesia Spa Treatment, choose a scent from the perfume library, play with products at the make-up station before treating yourself to an oat milk cappuccino and a bunch of locally sourced flowers from the in-house florist.

And you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re saving the world from plastic waste, animal cruelty and the environmental repercussions of importing cut flowers in the process.

Charlotte Tilbury is another brand tapping into the experiential desires of its followers. Its Westfield London boutique is labelled as a Beauty Wonderland where customers can ‘try before they buy’ without even taking the lid off a product.

The Charlotte Tilbury store in Westfield, London

Even Boots, the juggernaut of high street beauty, is adapting to keep its 4.5 million weekly customers happy. YouTube studios are being set up in 25 stores so people can film videos of their makeovers to post on social media, cumbersome counters will be swapped for open-plan spaces with sofas and new ‘trending zones’ with displays of the hottest products, from Korean beauty to vitamin C, will be established.

There will also be a beauty pick ’n’ mix with giant tubes filled with mini products to enable customers to try new brands without having to commit to pricier, full-size versions. With a current in-store dwell time of 10 minutes, Boots is hoping these immersive extras will keep us browsing.

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Even the lighting has been changed from a bright, blue-tinged hue to warmer, more inviting spotlights. “Brands need to tap into a customer’s emotional experience – it’s not about trying to make someone feel happy through a product any more, it’s about the energy they feel in store,” explains Dr Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths University.

“Let’s not forget these stores are also competing with other activities on a Saturday afternoon, like entertainment or working out, so customers need to be offered something they can immerse themselves in.”

Lush’s new Liverpool store has an on-site florist

Beauty Goes Extra

UK department stores have been dabbling in experiences, too. Thanks to them, you don’t need to visit a salon to have a blow-dry, a dermatologist for an LED facial, or even a doctor to get botox. But what’s exciting us are the next level in-store activities. 

Take Fenwick and its current partnership with Chanel. Customers are enticed in for a 30-minute makeover using Chanel’s latest products, after which they can have a headshot taken by a professional photographer for use on their LinkedIn profile. 

You leave with a goody bag, digital copy of the picture and possibly a promotion. At Selfridges, bespoke beauty rules with Lancôme’s custom-made foundation and the By Terry Palette Factory where you can mix and match pigments to create a personalised palette from scratch. 

Ask for the beauty ‘fast-track’ service and, in 20 minutes, a beauty insider will give you a complimentary rundown of new launches – perfect if you don’t have time to browse. John Lewis do a similar 20-minute Beauty Fix.

Wondering what to do on a quiet Sunday? Try Harvey Nichols. The store that launched Mac and Fenty Beauty in the UK is offering educational Sunday School events with brands such as Philosophy and Rodial, incorporating yoga sessions, advice on launching a beauty business and talks on how you can cleanse both your skin and soul.

But what about the inevitable itch to shop on your phone? That’s where the final piece of the puzzle slots in. Hello omni-channeling. Marrying digital with real-life – whether it’s booking services online, ordering to a pick-up point in store or brands using your online purchase history to pull together product suggestions relevant to your hair type, skin concerns and complexion – digital is being used to enhance the shopping experience.

Trends prediction agency JWT Intelligence reports that in-store eye scanners that flag shoppers’ previous buys and wish lists will one day become the norm. Picking up a bunch of flowers with your bath bomb is just the start. 

Main image: Pixeleyes


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Becci Vallis

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