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Touch Me, Tell Me, Sell Me: The Business of International Beauty

Daniela Ciocan

The international language of beauty comes down to one thing: the personal connection. With the evolution of technology, consumers’ tastes have leveled to a common global consciousness where shopping behavior is more aligned than ever. I see first hand the high demand to stay competitive and launch new brands and categories from retailers, as well as the ongoing need for the one-on-one connection.

To get a pulse on the global state of beauty, I connected with four prestige retailers from abroad that represent some of the leading beauty players within their respective markets: Le Printemps (France), House of Fraser (the U.K.), La Rinascente (Italy) and Fedco (Colombia).

As an overview, Latin America is a global pocket of strength, and its emerging markets are a catalyst for current and future growth. Analysts at many beauty companies recognize developed countries have modest growth, while the BRIC countries have been a high risk for economic upheaval. In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico are the primary movers, but it’s also worth noting other traditionally beauty-oriented, smaller countries such as Peru, Colombia and Chile are also making a global impression, and Fedco is a prestige chain of perfumeries in 13 cities throughout Columbia.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union (EU) countries have been struggling with unemployment, a faltering economy and austerity measures that impact consumer confidence. Despite these conditions, the French selective cosmetics market grew 3% in 2011 due to the perfume category (+4%). This growth represents the majority of the business, as skin care was down 1% in 2011.

In light of the country’s economy, the decision of Le Printemps (a traditional French prestige department store with 17 locations) to redesign its beauty department to represent the unique tastes of the French consumer was a laudable but risky decision. However, the positioning of its new La Belle Parfumerie in the flagship store helped the chain increase 18% in 2011.

The beauty market in the U.K. has grown despite high unemployment and a sluggish economy, and fragrance leads the pack (+11%), followed by color (+9%) and skin care (+8%). House of Fraser, the country’s 62-door department store chain, has been followed in the news lately due to its focus on niche brands. To accommodate this, the U.K. retailer launched two new store concepts and a redesigned website.

In Italy, another country marked by economic distress, the beauty market is down by 3.9%, yet the prestige department store La Rinascente has risen above this trend by implementing a focus on niche products in fragrance and skin care categories. U.S. brands, with strong marketing messaging and clean points of difference, resonate with the Italian consumer, which has helped La Rinascente maintain as a premier Italian department store with four locations.

While diverse in their own right, these four retailers agree that when it comes to the business of beauty, it’s a business that constantly needs innovation, fresh concepts and a balanced assortment of recognizable brands to keep consumers engaged.

Fragrance continues to be a strong category and represents huge growth factors for both Le Printemps and House of Fraser, while the nail category leads at La Rinascente, and innovative skin care and anti-aging products are the most shopped at Fedco.

So, internationally, does consumer behavior become more conservative when faced with a limited budget? Does consumer trust in a brand take precedence over the desire to try a new niche brand? Yes and no, and cultural demographics seem to weigh in on these considerations. For example, in Colombia and the U.K., the consumer is drawn to established brand names, while in France and Italy, the interviewed retailers are finding more open- minded consumers eager to experiment with new beauty finds, particularly in luxury skin care and fragrances.

According to Charlotte Tasset, chief merchandising officer of beauty and lingerie at Le Printemps, “The consumer has not lost its appetite for newness and luxury, as well as a high-end skin care appetite encouraged by the revamped department and assortment of brands featured” at the flagship Paris location.

With fragrance being the top category, all four retailers placed major focus on fragrance launches in the past six months. Fedco launched Hugo Boss Hugo Xx, Cartier Declaration, Gucci Guilty and more; House of Fraser expanded to include Chanel Le Bleu, Jimmy Choo, Elie Saab and Valentino Valentina; Le Printemps offered 10 new brand concept counters in its flagship, with Tom Ford Beauty and Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle entering the La Belle Parfumerie; and La Rinascente focused on skin care, and organic and biotechnologically advanced brands in particular.

But what about the e-channel? According to a Forrester Research report in The Wall Street Journal, online sales are projected to make up approximately 9% of overall retail sales by 2016, up from 7% in 2001 (additional information is available at “Online Retail to Reach $327 Billion by 2016”). These international retailers tend to view the Web first and foremost as a source of information, and secondly as engaging the consumer. Fedco is focused on its website reaching the highest number of visits for a beauty portal in the country, attracting and educating consumers on beauty, and its next mission is social media and continued database growth. House of Fraser also focused on its online presence, revamping its website and experiencing sales growth as a result. However, for Le Printemps, the focus is on delivering a unique store environment, with online as its next focus, according to Eric Allary, the retailer’s merchandising and commercial beauty manager. And La Rinascente’s website is dedicated to providing information on events, new product launches and services provided in store.

But what is drawing consumers to these retailers? Le Printemps has focused on fragrance, which traditionally account for roughly 60% of its beauty sales, with its La Belle Perfumerie. The French retailer also focuses on skin care through a partnership with Clarins. House of Fraser unveiled new store concepts to draw consumers, and La Rinascente has a multibrand fragrance room with artisanal scents. These retailers work hard to create the ideal environment that will not only get the consumers to come in once but to continue returning.

Speaking of the store environment, why would retailers continue to invest in an unpredictable, challenging and costly category? It seems consumers, while educated and aware of the distinctions between ingredients and delivery systems, want the interaction with a beauty advisor—a personal connection where a someone remembers their names and lets them know about special events. Eidelman notes, “Colombian consumers love receiving advice in order to make the right decisions for their beauty, health and general welfare shopping choices,” and Fedco stores have experts in each beauty category, while the store environment and visual displays reinforce its special events. And Tracy Van Heusden, senior beauty buyer at House of Fraser, says, “The consumer is always looking for a pampering deal and therefore in our stores, we try to offer as many pampering promotions as possible to meet these needs.”

At Le Printemps’ La Belle Perfumerie, it’s about engaging the consumer with brands’ stories. Tassett says, “The consumers’ needs vary by their preference on self-service. More or less support via interactive tools depends on the product category, but the beauty advisor’s role will always remain the same as that of the brand’s expert.”

So, do consumers and retailers differ from country to country? Not much overall, as we see retailers of all origins focusing on providing unique in-store beauty environments with dedicated beauty advisors to develop consumer connections. And consumers tend to behave in a similar manner, taking recommendations from friends and beauty advisors to heart and investing their money on brands with established reputations. The consumer connection—it’s a simple concept that results in big business growth worldwide.

As director of marketing for SoGeCos Americas/Cosmoprof North America, Daniela Ciocan is responsible for keeping this professional trade show fresh. She implemented new initiatives such as Discover Beauty and the International Buyer Program, and selects the brands for Discover Beauty, a testament to her vision for what is hot in the industry. She previously was responsible for Awake Cosmetics’ luxury specialty store distribution launch in the U.S., overseeing all aspects of brand management, and following her success with establishing Kosé in the high-end market, she introduced several other brands, such as Sekkisei and Predia, into the masstige sector. Ciocan, who graduated magna cum laude from FIT, currently serves on the ICMAD advisory board and is chairwoman of the communication committee.