How to Win in Retail at Christmas: Lessons From the Beauty Sector

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Beauty products are no longer considered a luxury, with more than two-thirds of consumers admitting that they would still purchase products – even if watching their spending.

Society’s obsession with youthfulness and beauty drives thousands to the high street in search of an elixir. Cosmetics aisles are full of teenagers trying on makeup to appear older, and older shoppers searching for the best anti-aging cream, so they can look younger. All are looking for a confidence boost.

With today’s media fixated on image perfection and the body beautiful, the feeling that you don’t quite match up to the ideal leaves many consumers vulnerable, driving them back to stores in search of the perfect fix.

To find a solution, cosmetic and beauty brands continually refine and innovate their product ranges, often turning to science in search of a new treatment or enhancement. Those that land a breakthrough can command fierce loyalty from consumers. So how do brands encourage such a faithful audience to try something new and switch from their staple products? And in such a competitive marketplace, how do they hold on to the customers they’ve worked so hard to attract in the first place?

Two leading brands approach these problems in very different ways. One uses cutting-edge technology to put in-store experience before purchase. The other takes a much more human approach, employing experts and brand ambassadors who can offer shoppers advice and personal recommendations.

More than skin deep: how Charlotte Tilbury and Max Factor draw customers instore

Appealing to a younger audience but still relevant to all, Charlotte Tilbury’s experiential adventure is a luxurious journey of self-discovery.

The store’s ambience and styling are without doubt, the biggest attraction. Sumptuously upholstered velvet seats and lavish gilded mirrors lit by in-vogue chandeliers sit beneath a canopy of gold palms. The result envelops the shopper in a glamourous world of pure escapism. Creating such an inviting instore experience can’t help but draw customers in and gives the brand a real competitive edge.

Once inside, magic mirror installations allow casual, fun and most importantly, commitment-free exploration of the range. There’s no pressure to buy. Via AR, shoppers can try on multiple makeover looks, encouraging them to experiment more and stay for longer at the installation.

This level of deep engagement mixes education with entertainment, to deliver perfect Instagrammable moments that shoppers can share in real time with friends.

Max Factor takes an altogether different approach. It is an iconic, established brand, with credentials to match. This in itself is an attraction, and the brand still relies heavily on its heritage and reputation. Known as ‘The makeup of makeup artists,’ it’s perhaps no surprise that in store styling cues reflect the film industry, with glamourous, framed shots surrounded by lights, and products displayed to echo the expanding makeup boxes that are the daily tools of professionals.

This authentic style and professional positioning allows Max Factor to offer expert advice and tuition in a trusted and confident way. For customers who need a little help and guidance, this is a real draw and strong selling point.

From the brand’s point of view, it is a great way to build personal relationships with customers. And their reputation as ‘trusted experts’ makes it easier for brand ambassadors to encourage trial, sell additional products and upsell to a new product range, increasing basket spend.

However, this level of personal service is both a strength and a weakness. Although fantastic for long term retention, one-to-one attention is both time and staff hungry. Customers are required to book an appointment for their makeover, dissuading casual browsers and younger customers who are new to the brand. It all feels very serious and grown-up.

The product-centric displays do a lot for brand awareness but little for entertainment. Max Factor banks on its expert advice as the main draw and brand selling point, adding value for its customers through human interaction.

Taking a leaf out of beauty’s book to win at retail this Christmas

So, what lessons can other retail sectors take away from the beauty industry?

Brand ambassadors and product experts are certainly an area for exploration and are a great way to demonstrate category expertise and exert authority over competitors. Apple’s geniuses are a great example of how expert advice can be offered to ensure a shopper finds the perfect product for their needs and lifestyle. Personal recommendations and up-close-and-personal demonstrations cannot be replicated by online retailers. Giving the store the upper hand.

The trick is to ensure the experience doesn’t become stale over time, giving shoppers a reason to come back. This requires a degree of investment as it means content has to be updated to stay on-trend and staff have to be trained in what’s new. Again, Apple does this brilliantly.

The tech giant’s educational seminars go way beyond a typical “how to” session. Creative professionals are brought in for their expertise and help tech newbies by making it easier for them to understand and use their tech and products.

If the high street is to survive, retailers need to rethink how they use their physical space. But it’s not a case of remodeling. Experience is the way forward; the one thing that shoppers cannot find online. Whether that experience comes from human interaction, product expertise and advice or from more entertainment-focused platforms such as AR and VR is down to the individual brand. Get it right, and they won’t just survive – they’ll thrive.

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