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The Rules of Engagement

By: Daniela Ciocan
Posted: April 4, 2012, from the April 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

Much has been said about the role the Internet plays in our daily lives. The Internet has transformed today’s consumers, the world of retail and the shopping experience. Not only has the World Wide Web made consumers more knowledgeable and given them instant access to all sorts of information—product details, reviews, price comparisons, availability and more—but it has also narrowed our attention span, creating the expectation of quickly finding that special something, identifying unique points of difference and completing a transaction in just a few mouse clicks, thus making a trip to the store a special occasion. So what does that mean for beauty retailers and brands? How do you continue to attract customers into brick-and-mortar stores, get them engaged and keep them coming back?

As an industry insider, I am privileged to speak to many new and established brand owners and retailers. So I chatted with a few business colleagues to get a solid perspective on what one should do when evaluating the final touch point where the consumer and the beauty brand finally come into direct contact with one another: the retail store.

To create compelling reasons for consumers to shop brick-and-mortar stores, there is now an immense focus on the experience provided. When creating a total experience the consumer can connect with, product knowledge, services, samples, focused presentations highlighting trends across different price points and loyalty programs are all more crucial. It is interesting to see how various retailers respond to this challenge.

There is the resurgence of the masstige segment through the active efforts of Duane Reade’s Look Boutique, now also being tested and rolled out to select Walgreens stores. There, you can see the focus on product knowledge and testing: Trained beauty advisors are on hand to provide skin care consults or makeovers, giving the consumer the ease of experiencing multiple brands and selecting the one most-suited to her unique needs. There is Bloomingdale’s flagship store’s revamped beauty department, offering more in-store concepts where the brand can take ownership of the experience. And then there is C.O. Bigelow, the New York retail institution that has managed to survive and thrive since 1838. The store, while retaining its old-fashioned apothecary look and appeal, presents a myriad of novel items scattered throughout the store in an organized chaos, giving its consumers the sense of a scavenger hunt. At first glance the store looks intimidatingly packed with an array of niche beauty products; the store’s discerning consumers are enticed by the brands they know and love that get moved around the store periodically, forcing the customers to move along a planned path that helps them discover something new and unique to the store. Yet at the heart of C.O. Bigelow, the apothecary tradition remains intact—a staff with in-depth knowledge and products stored behind a counter, promoting open dialogue and engagement with consumers. And these are just a few examples of how retailers choose to connect with their consumers now. The strategy of how to connect and provide a compelling in-store experience varies based on the market channel, yet the motivation remains the same: Keep consumers engaged and keep them coming back.

Retailers rely even more on the power of the brand to make the connection with consumers and close the sale. There is more focus on the part of the retail establishment to narrow its assortment to brands the consumer already somewhat recognizes. The quest for niche beauty brands seem to have been curtailed since the economic crisis hit, and while some innovative retailers are still seen actively seeking novelty to bring to their consumers, the number of new brands hitting the market is smaller. This means marketers need not only a unique point of difference but also ways to stand out, be it through smart and clever copy, color or packaging. The brands have to support their retail partners more than previously expected; the in-store presentation is carefully created to not only fit within the retailer’s store design requirements, space limitations and assortment but ultimately to reflect the brand identity as well.