COVID 19 and Beauty Retailers: Is this the end of the ‘test and play’ format?

    By Georgina Wickman and Ellie Colvin, Retail Consultants at BJSS

    Who misses the Selfridges beauty floor? Being able to take the time to browse counters, compare swatches on the back of your hand, only to return to the first counter and buy that lipstick shade you always go for. Unfortunately, it may be a while before everyone can enjoy this experience again as Covid-19 has disrupted the operations of beauty retailers like never before. Testers have been removed from the likes of Ulta and Sephora. Boots is now doing a 180 reversal, having invested heavily in building a test and play store to now offering virtual services. In this article, we’ll look at the future of beauty retailers and how they can maintain relationships with their consumers and regroup to come out of this crisis stronger.

    Formats of Stores

    Currently, one of the biggest questions for all retailers is how can they best prepare their stores to welcome back footfall? For beauty retailers, this will be a challenge due to the ‘test and play’ format which has been established and labelled as best practice. Instead, stores now need to think about how best they can keep safe and limit footfall but still maximise sales.

    Some stores such as Chanel’s Atelier Beauté in New York is better prepared than most for this shift. Firstly, the store encourages you to book an appointment which allows Chanel to limit footfall and provide consumers with a safe and high-quality service.  The Atelier takes customers on an assisted journey through their everyday beauty routine starting with Cleanse, a space dedicated for consumers to wash their hands and face in preparation for sampling. Next is Care, which allows consumers to try their moisturising products before sampling their colour cosmetics. At the end of the journey, there’s an area where individual orders can be picked up, already bagged, and no customer will touch a single product in the process. Customers can also create an online profile on their phone through which they can keep track of products they like and can purchase them at a later date.

    We believe that this format of a safe ‘one-way system’ for consumers benefits the retailer because they can build a relationship and showcase their products in a safe and controlled format. Data can also be collected on the consumer throughout the journey, which means that once that customer has left the shop, retailers can use that data to better understand preferences. The data can also be used to make better decisions for what the store should display, limiting the number of items handled and contaminated. Although different from the norm, this approach still maintains the immersive experience which has proven successful within the industry.

    Staff within Stores

    Employees have always been fundamental to building an immersive in-store beauty experience. Now though, their role will have to evolve as showcasing to sell products will be much more difficult. Instead of physically applying products on customers, make-up artists within stores will have to become more creative; whether this means guiding users through their own application or making use of virtual tools to demonstrate products. This is something Space NK has adopted during this time through 1:1 Zoom sessions with customers.

    To limit dwell time, something beauty retailers previously encouraged, customers will need to be guided around the store to ensure minimal movement or overlap with other customers.  To help staff understand this change, retailers will need to think about renewing the KPIs that they measure staff against. For example, the number of minutes spent with a customer and the number of customers supported could be new figures that staff are measured against. Retailers may react by ‘staffing up’ however, this will be a short-term solution and they should be focusing on the upskilling and sales training of their staff to help achieve these targets. The focus should be on making the shopping experience more personal, easier and providing a more informative service for the customer. The better they can do this, the more trust they build with the consumer to drive repeat purchases and loyalty.

    Use of Technology

    Although makeup testers have been key in the ‘test and play’ format, there have always been questions about their cleanliness, with multiple lawsuits raised. A 2019 study found that at least 70% of products in stores had a ‘significant level of microbial contamination.’ Therefore, has coronavirus only accelerated the need for this change? This level of risk just won’t cut it anymore.

    The use of technology and individually wrapped disposable testers seem to be the proposed ways forward. Companies like Huda Beauty have said that they are looking at supplying more testers however, this is not an option for many due to the cost and sustainability issues it will raise. Therefore, we believe that accurate and virtually reflective technology of the consumer (e.g. a smart mirror which reflects the colour and texture of lipstick you want to sample) is where investments need to be focused. UK retailers are further behind the curve in this space and should look at US retailers such as Sephora and Ulta who have been investing in AR technologies such as Modiface and Glamst. These add-ons to apps allow customers to visualise what colour cosmetics would virtually look like on them and create a more personalised experience, translating into sales and preventing potential returns. Data collection across all channels should also be better integrated to see what people are researching and buying to allow for more accurate recommendations in terms of shades, colour and formula preferences.

    Renew and Advance 

    Covid-19 has undoubtedly shaken the industry. Strategies to build a more immersive experience within stores have been torn apart and require significant renewal in order to pivot retailers into our new reality. In our opinion, beauty stores must learn to streamline their offerings to create the ideal post-lockdown customer experience We believe that moving forward, retailers must plan and prioritise the ‘journey’ their customers will take within their stores, upskill their workforce, and provide more accurate recommendations and visuals using data and technology. In a world of uncertainty, the one thing we do know is that we are excited to return to Selfridges and see what the future holds for the beauty hall.

    In our next article, we will be continuing our review of the beauty industry with Freya Hansen who will be discussing the future of beauty influencers. Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or comments, we would love to hear from you!