The Rules of Engagement

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.

Today’s in-store displays are more artistic, more visually stimulating and more interactive. The development process is a laborious task during which numerous aspects must be considered and many departments may need to be involved. One of the leaders in the area of in-store presentations, Royal Promotions Group, helped compile key points that should serve as a beginning in the development process. Considerations always must be given to the brand’s image and the extent that the character of the brand can be brought to life, particularly when retailers have their own unique, strong image.

Brands that have the luxury of owning their own stores can interpret the design of each boutique based on location and local culture. VMV Hypoallergenics, a lifestyle brand of hypoallergenic beauty products with boutiques in Asia and North America, has had to be creative in retaining certain elements (steel and wood) for its stores as the tying elements, but the overall store designs shift and vary.

What is the common denominator and what are the most important signature elements you want the consumer to instantly associate with your brand? What is your two-to-four-year product launch strategy so the investment cost of in-store units is maximized and the templates created are easily updated given planned launches? What type of lighting is necessary for the displays to best showcase the items and not compromise the integrity of the formulas? What are the key items and how does the customer intuitively understand what sets these items apart? What is the brand’s system and how do you create a foolproof path to shopping your brand?

This brings us back to the technology aspect of retail. Today’s store environments, while providing a unique hands-on experience, must also integrate elements today’s computer-savvy consumers have come to expect. A few of the ways stores can integrate technology are by including Wi-Fi in their retail environments, providing touch screens that recommend products, offering virtual makeovers by selecting models with similar features and/or colorings, incorporating RFID-based technology to reward loyalty and implementing replenishment reminders, introducing Quick Response (QR) codes, providing self- and smartphone-checkouts, and even showcasing holographic beauty advisors that greet you, like at the Duane Reade Wall Street location. The one challenge the industry is grappling with is how to incorporate such technologies to complement the in-store experience. QR codes are great, but what relevant message can you provide to entice consumers enough to want to scan the code and then feel satisfaction that the action had a relevant purpose behind it? How do you use technology without driving consumers away from your store to online or other outlets as a result of price comparisons?

There are so many areas that brands must consider as they face the crucial point of contact, the point where the brand speaks directly to the consumer and seeks to make the connection—the retail point of distribution. Ian Ginsberg of C.O. Bigelow said, “The brands must never lose sight of the ‘10 foot rule,’ which entails that the consumer should know what the product is and what it does from 10 feet away.” Does your brand do that? Those brands that master this rule are the ones that thrive at retail and keep their customers coming back for more. Experience is crucial; your retail strategy has to give customers the total experience, keep them engaged, and keep them coming back again and again.

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.

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