In the middle of the Sydney CBD, a bloody bricks-and-mortar beauty battle is playing out. Retailers are fighting tooth and nail to claw their way into customers’ hearts through shiny new store designs, exclusive brand partnerships and a lengthy menu of services, from blowdries to masterclasses. Just take a look at Pitt Street Mall. There’s the huge Innisfree flagship store, several doors down from the minimalist Aesop store, the brand’s largest in the world. Around the corner are Mye
Myer and David Jones, which both recently overhauled their beauty departments (the latter even opened a glamorous blowdry bar late last year). Just a hop, skip and a jump away is Mecca’s three-storey mega store – the largest physical beauty store in the Southern Hemisphere – and last week, global beauty giant Sephora opened its brand new flagship in the historic Soul Pattinson building. If we look overseas, it’s a similar story. Last year, Harrod’s launched its H beauty concept in Essex, specifically designed to lure in Gen Z customers. In October, UK retailer Next took its online beauty experience into bricks-and-mortar and opened four Beauty and Home stores. Over in the US, Ulta recently announced it will be opening shop-in-shops in Target this year. It’s clear that despite skyrocketing e-commerce sales last year, beauty retailers still believe in the value of an excellent in-store experience and are continuing to invest in their store networks. Interestingly, most of the aforementioned store experiences were unveiled in the past 12 months, despite coronavirus. Mecca’s new flagship store is the largest beauty store in the Southern Hemisphere.Image: Supplied. “For beauty retailers, there was always the appeal of discovery, escapism and social connection in-store – this is what made the store a key part of the beauty shopping experience,” said Michelle Bower, associate director from London-based agency Dalziel and Pow. “Retailers will need to focus on this as shoppers return to stores, making the store magical and fun, creating a compelling reason to visit. But this doesn’t mean the store should fight the digital channel or tools – both should work together, blending the journey to create a truly inspiring, meaningful and helpful experience.” Harrods’ new Insta-worthy store. Image: Supplied. Upping the ante From ear piercing and workshops to express blowdries and facials, services are quickly becoming part-and-parcel of the beauty bricks-and-mortar experience. Personalisation is the name of the game. At the new Sephora flagship, customers can enjoy dry styling at The Blow on the Go, schedule an appointment at the Benefit Brow Bar or take part at the Sephora Beauty Studio. The store also includes more breakout areas and curated spaces for customers to play with products. According to Claire Steel, design product leader from Dalziel and Pow, while online shopping offers convenience, personalised product fitting is a significant part of physical store experience that simply can’t be easily replicated digitally. “Nothing can replace someone helping you find your perfect shade of foundation. One-on-one product matching will be much more appreciated and can be more of an experience. Think personal shopper style spaces and experiences,” she said. Now that customers have had a year to get accustomed to the notion of online shopping on a regular basis, they will require a compelling reason to get off the couch and into shops, said Steel, who predicts retailers will offer fewer dense product displays and more experiential elements in the future. Enter Harrod’s H Beauty store concept, described by the retailer as “the ultimate beauty playground” and featuring cult brands, Insta-worthy action and interactive experiences. There’s a giant teddy bear at the front of the store, the perfect backdrop for social media selfies, a make-up play table, a skincare station offering mini facials and skin consultations and a sampling station, boasting a selection of free gifts when customers spend over £50 in-store. There’s even a luxurious Champagne bar for shoppers to kick back in after all the fun. According to retail expert Gary McCartney, the essential ingredient is relevance, as new forms of retail evolve into fulfilment centres. “I believe physical retail will decentralise, with a renewed interest in localities and suburban high streets, as people continue to take advantage of more flexible working arrangements,” he said. “Convenience stores in these locations are starting to transform, but what we’ve found is that what you sell and how you sell it must be relevant to that customer. Similarly, if you expect people to travel for a flagship physical store experience, it had better be worth their while. Safety first Given the high-touch nature of beauty stores, it’s no surprise that safety and hygiene continue to play a key role in many stores. But beyond hand sanitiser stations and social distancing, some retailers are going the extra mile by offering appointment-based services and consultations and wellness checks. Dermalogica recently introduced a Clean Touch Certification training programme which ensures that all in-store interactions exceed and lead the category’s current health and safety requirements. “Luckily the development of various AR/VR technologies has enabled virtual testing in-store – these have proved to be successful and will become an expected part of the in-store experience,” explained Bower. Closely linked to the expectation of a hands-free and low-touch experience is the offer of more convenient services, such as contactless payment, click-and-collect and better in-store stock checks to avoid wasted store visits, she added. Bower’s team recently worked with Next to launch click-and-collect service pods available in their car parks.