The beauty industry is having a moment. Seemingly overnight, a new wave of startups has taken the industry by storm. In fact, Forbes reports that in 2017 U.S. independent beauty brands rose by six percent to a $17.7 billion, with skin care products taking up 45% of the growth.
The beauty products we buy and the way we buy them has changed. While the retail industry at large scrambles to keep up, it’s these rising beauty brands, both big and small, that are rewriting the rules of modern retail. They’re not only tapping into shifting consumer mindsets through harnessing cult social media followings and adopting more conscious production methods, but they’re also showing they understand how to use physical stores to engage customers IRL.
A place to experiment
Walk into a sprawling Sephora storefront, and you’ll find rows upon rows of products from different brands beckoning to test them out. The staff mill about, offering free advice and makeovers. The music is pumping, the space is brightly lit and the technology is designed for play: there are augmented reality apps to help pick your right lipstick shade, face scanners to match your skin tone and touch screens to sample fragrances.
Sephora, the multi-brand beauty retailer owned by the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, currently counts more than 2,300 locations in 33 countries. While it may not seem as if their retail format strays much from the traditional department store, they’re in fact setting the example for how brick-and-mortar retail can thrive in our digital-first world.
As Business of Fashion reports, “LVMH has created the perfect platform with which to harness the power of niche brands without the need to invest capital to acquire them.” In other words, Sephora gives the conglomerate a laboratory to test and incubate new brands and scale ideas quickly.
Localize the content
While Sephora’s big stores are thriving, the global beauty retailer is also testing new concepts. Last year they launched Sephora Studio, a boutique retail concept embedded in a neighborhood in Boston. The intimate concept caters to the growing amount of city dwellers who don’t have or want to make the time to visit shopping malls. Design details such as “Hello Newbury Street” etched on the marble floor and exposed brick walls hint at the fact that the store has been custom-built for the location.
Perhaps Sephora has taken inspiration from trendsetting Australian skin care brand Aesop, who’s been rolling out this neighborhood-first concept for years. Each store is uniquely designed to blend with the distinct identity of that area. They also tailor each store, so that it brings value to the local community. For instance, working with local designers and bringing in useful services such as coffee shops or florists.
Keep it customer-centric
While A-list celebrity endorsements plastered across billboards may have once been the way to sell luxury beauty, this smoke and mirrors approach no longer flies. Seven out of ten millennial women research beauty products before making a purchase. Instagram influencers and YouTubers spread expertise and trends like wildfire. Consumers are savvier than ever, and as a brand, they’re your biggest asset.
Take Glossier, the cult beauty brand that’s a blogs-to-riches story. Born from her beauty blog Into the Gloss, Founder Emily Weiss launched Glossier in 2014 with just four skin care products she had learned her readers were looking for. She then used social media to build a relatable brand, making sure to listen to what her growing community wanted to crowdsource product development. .
Today, Glossier counts 24 products that are sold direct to consumer, both online and offline. Their “showroom” in New York bridges both worlds seamlessly. It feels more like a gallery than a shop– there aren’t any aisles to browse in this millennial pink wonderland. Rather, the sales staff dressed in pale pink jumpsuits come over for a chat and help place your order. As a result, it attracts swarms of fans eager to hang out on pink crushed-velvet sofas and test the products
To connect with new audiences, the brand has also launched a series of pop-up concepts in new markets, from an 18th century townhouse in West London to fashion mecca Colette in Paris. These spaces go beyond just beauty experiences to host talks and screenings, connecting with local audiences IRL. All of their “feed-friendly” content is then shared online, building their hype in the local community.
Glossier knows where their audience hangs out and finds ways to meet them there, even if that means venturing outside the beauty world. This month, the brand has taken over San Francisco’s renowned Rhea’s Café, in the same ilk as its previous collaborations in New York City with Morgenstern’s Ice Cream and Momofuku Milk Bar. The cafe has been restyled to fit the Glossier aesthetic, with pastel pink details and beauty products displayed amongst the vanity mirrors and countertops. Diners can order buttermilk chicken fried sandwich or Korean steak sandwich, with a side of lip gloss or moisturizer.
Doing it for the ‘gram
Beauty brands know better than anyone the power of creating shareable content online, so it’s no surprise they’re tailoring their spaces to compliment this. They know stores are less about pushing product, more about creating “Instagrammable” experiences – whether by way of hair and makeup masterclasses, panel talks or get-togethers. When the luxury beauty supplement subscription service The Nue Co, launched a pop-up in New York’s SoHo, only a fraction of the 3,200 sq ft space was used to display product. The majority of the space was used to host yoga classes and talks with industry tastemakers, all of which were shared and streamed online.
The big brands are catching on too, as they redirect their marketing dollars toward new ways of connecting with consumers that merge the physical and digital. Chanel has shown it’s ready to leap into the future with experiential retail concepts like the Chanel Beauty House, “the most Instagram-friendly pop-up ever”. The Los Angeles pop-up celebrated the launch of their Instagram community @WeLoveCoco that counts over 46k followers, inviting influencers to come play with virtual reality, color-themed cabanas, a pearl-filled bathtub and much more.
Today’s rising beauty brands are giving people new reasons to come in store, discover and share their experiences online. In the process, they’re shining a bright light on the future of physical retail and showing other brands how to have more fun.