Beauty

These beauty stores are making shopping on the high street exciting again

Posted by
Amber Ascroft
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Can’t stop filling your virtual basket? A new wave of in-store beauty initiatives are so smart you’ll want to hotfoot it straight back to the high street. 

There’s nothing quite like shopping on the high-street, but recent climates appear to mean that barely a month goes by without another brand closing its doors.

But it’s not all bad news. In fact, it’s a different story in the beauty sphere, reckons Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of BeautyMART. “The doom and gloom appears to be bypassing beauty with year-on-year growth and retailers exploring new formats. Online sales are forecast to make up 11.6% of the market by 2022, but bricks-and-mortar stores still hold the lion’s share by a long shot,” she explains. 

CEO of British Beauty Council, Millie Kendall, agrees, adding that there’s definitely still a market for shopping in-store, “but traditional retailers must transition and adapt.”

And that’s exactly what the new wave of high-street store overhauls are doing. ‘Bespoke’ is the buzzword and we’re not just talking a bit of engraving. 

Beauty is more bespoke than ever

Head to the By Terry Palette Factory in Selfridges (in London and Manchester stores) to press your own blushers, powders, eyeshadows and highlighters and conjure up your own palette. There are 5000 combinations available and you can pick and mix everything from colours and finishes to the design imprinted on both the powders and the case, from £40. 

Dubbed ‘a salad bar for your skin,’ Elemis Skin Exchange employs a similar build-your-own approach with its 15-minute custom facials. Available in selected Debenhams and John Lewis stores nationwide, you start with a base step (which includes cleansing, masking and moisturising). Next, choose from six ‘ELE-vators’, such as a brightening peel, and follow it with a ‘supercharger’, like LED light therapy or a plumping oxygen infusion. It’s £10 per step and you can mix-and-match to your heart’s content, but opting for just one treatment will give skin a quick, satisfying boost.

Looking for something prettier? Head to L’Occitane’s ‘gifting workshop’ in the flagship store that offers wax seals, custom flower adornment and even ribbon complete with your own message. Located on London’s Regent Street, it’s the brand’s largest shop in the world with two floors designed to ‘tantalise all five senses.’ There are also complementary hand massages and, from 1 November, a TerraCycle scheme that gets you 10% off a product when you bring an empty from any brand.  

Drink and shop

Beige has long been the theme for in-store cafes when it comes to décor and, dare we say it, culinary offering. Now we’re saying hello to a world of Instagram-friendly pink coffees and gin bars. Debenhams’ ‘Beauty Halls of the Future’ – launched in Sheffield and Watford – boast the latter. Back in the L’Occitane treasure trove, there’s a dessert bar featuring macarons by iconic pastry chef Pierre Herme.

If a flat white’s more your thing, check out Spectrum’s debut in London’s Carnaby Street. Famed for its Pinterest-ready make-up brushes, the brand’s second-floor space offers rose-hued vegan coffees and remote working areas with velvet sofas. Bring your own reusable coffee cup or buy theirs for £1.99.

Beauty playgrounds

Apps that let you ‘try on’ different lipsticks? We’re still not sold, and let’s face it, the virtual shopping world’s got nothing on its traditional counterpart when it comes to make-up play time.

“We still want to see, feel and smell what we’re buying,” says Kendall. You can forget awkward in-store touch-ups, though. Bobbi Brown’s revamped space, in John Lewis on London’s Oxford Street, is home to a private make-up room where you can get lessons from their trained make-up artists. The ‘My First Make-up Bag’ and ‘Timeless Beauty’ tutorials are both totally free. Or, book a masterclass for up to five people in their ‘play’ area. It’s £100 but redeemable against purchase and perfect for a birthday or hen party.

In the three new Too Faced stores, opening across the country this month, you’ll find a menu of 15-minute services. At just £10 each – also redeemable against purchase – they’ll teach you everything from how to perfect your base to mastering highlighter. 

No more hard-sell

Next up, we could soon be scoring expert beauty tips while doing a weekly supermarket shop if Sainsbury’s ambitious new plans are anything to go by. The supermarket’s plotting dedicated beauty aisles complete with trained advisors. And, unlike traditional beauty counter staff, they won’t be affiliated with just one brand so you’ll get a broader spectrum of advice. Debenhams’ aforementioned Beauty Halls of the Future are taking a multi-brand approach, too.

“If retail staff make it all about the sale, not the conversation, we lose interest. I want to be spoken to like a human being. Retailers need to start a woman-to-woman conversation on the shop floor not a brand-dominant one,” Kendall tells us.

Expertise is increasingly important, too, says Alan O’Neill - a retail change agent who has contributed to Selfridges’ recent turnaround (the retailer’s seen record profits this year). ‘There’s no denying there’s a wealth of beauty knowledge online. Studies have shown customers are even searching for extra information about a product while they’re physically instore. But there’s only so much information you can fit onto a phone screen and the most successful beauty retailers are learning to equip their staff better than ever before,’ O’Neill says.

Another-level know-how is something The Perfume Shop’s long been championing. It now has more staff expertly trained by The Fragrance Foundation – the industry’s gold standard – than any other retailer in Europe. Its newest initiative even lets you book free, one-on-one consultations with no obligation to buy. 

Beyond the shop floor

Over at the Byredo store in London’s Soho, the three floors are home to, not just products, but white spaces for galleries, talks and exhibitions. And Urban Decay’s brand new White City store has a hireable space for aspiring make-up artists and session stylists to use for private work.

But you’ll find L’Oreal’s ‘le drugstore Parisian’ concept at the top of our ‘one on every high street’ wish list. Debuting in the French capital, the stores are a collaboration between the beauty powerhouse and supermarket chain Casino, housing over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, dry-cleaning services, phone charging points and even a place to pick up your post.

Now, that’s what we call a one-stop shop. If only they’d package up our ASOS returns for us, too…

Main image: courtesy of Spectrum Collections

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Amber Ascroft

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