Online competition is forcing brick-and-mortar stores to be more engaging than ever before. It’s important stores play to their strengths. While they cannot compete with the convenience online shopping provides, they have a definitive edge when it comes to making a meaningful and personal connection with customers. The big game-changer in this equation are those valuable experiences, taking the form of beauty services and confidence-boosting educational events tailored to your shopping environment. When planned with an appreciation of your customers’ needs and using social media to amplify your investment, your in-store “exclusives” will, in turn, deliver great value to them and repeat business for you.
“Someone asked me recently if I thought retail was dying, but that definitely is not the case,” affirms Norel Mancuso, president and CEO at Social House, a creative strategy group helping clients integrate traditional social media with cultural dialogue and memorable in-person interaction. “However, retail needs to evolve to become a ‘thoughtful experience,’ which is what will inspire customers to share your story and turn them into advocates as opposed to just consumers.”
A high profile example of this is Goop, the lifestyle-driven blog turned retail store created by Gwyneth Paltrow. Although her celebrity cache and the Goop brand bring people in the doors of the Goop Lab and Goop MRKT brick-and-mortar stores, exclusive in-store events, celebrity appearances and services staged on a regular basis are essential in ensuring the ever-changing shopping experience stays fresh and relevant. They entice trend-focused beauty aficionados to see what’s new as they would when they visit her website. Goop excels in staging properly developed events and services, which according to Mancuso, creates a lasting impression on a consumer that lingers long beyond a traditional sales transaction.
“In-store events and services allow you to have a captive audience to listen to and engage with your brand’s story,” Mancuso explains. When stories are conveyed properly, our natural desire as humans is to share that story with others. We find more often than not that consumers who have had a positive experience at an in-store event are much more likely to not only return to the store but also to share their experience across social media.”
Jessica Bailey, vice president of retail for Credo Beauty, notes her company is constantly laying down the groundwork for engaging consumer “stories” through interactive events running the gamut from a Tata Harper master class series to “Female Founder” speaker sessions that dive deep into customers’ beauty and wellness questions. Credo exclusive in-store services include custom Credo mini facials and the popular “Clean Swaps,” where a customer is partnered with a Clean Beauty Expert who will help her “swap” items from her makeup bag or beauty routine to more earth-friendly and natural products. Bailey adds the Clean Swap offering is also an integral part of Credo’s selling culture.
“These events and services bring us closer to our clients and the communities we are in,” Bailey says. “Furthermore, we are always exploring co-branded opportunities to grow the discussion around ‘clean beauty,’ which separates us from the competition. Our clients constantly tag us on social media after having a great shopping experience or attending a great event. In addition to the social media aspect, pure word of mouth is as important in the retail world as the relationships we are establishing with our clients.”
Even if you and your event planners build a solid foundation for an event or in-store service, the structure also needs to be fully fleshed out. Credo’s Tata Harper master classes series, for example, includes a beautiful classroom setup led by the brand’s head educators, and in some cases, Tata herself. Bailey affirms that duplicating this successful formula in every Credo location has brought a strong following to the stores and the brand in equal measure.
“The clients who attend will often come back for a Tata Harper facial at one of our store locations that have spas, will purchase the products used in the class and often become big evangelists for the brand,” Bailey says. “They will also return to replenish, try additional items and even attend other events. We also notice that many clients who are not able to get into the Tata classes will sign up for other classes in the future and even other brand events after seeing the buzz on social media.”
The store group also stages off-site “Mission in Action” events designed to drive traffic to Credo stores. A panel, moderated by someone within the clean beauty/wellness space, is organized to discuss relevant topics. Reps from several brands are invited to showcase their service offerings, while swag bags of great products and bounce back cards for future services are handed to those who attend. “We have seen incredible turnouts for all Mission in Action events and have gained a much broader audience each time we execute one,” Bailey says on how the “Mission” accomplishes higher sales numbers.
David Olsen, CEO of luxury retailer Cos Bar, notes his in-store events work on two levels: They help new customers learn about Cos Bar’s philosophy and offerings, and encourage existing customers to discover new brands or gain more knowledge of their favorite brands. Interesting in-store guests connected with buzzworthy brands can add depth and personality to those messages.
“Our events team collaborates closely with our store managers to come up with creative ways to personalize our events to give our clients and potential clients something truly memorable,” Olsen says. “It’s all about creating an atmosphere with your (brand) partners with synergies that make sense, and will excite and entice people to come in. Once they are enjoying the experience, our well-trained team of specialists will make them feel at home and take it from there.”
Olsen cited several examples of events that not only fit perfectly with the Cos Bar customer, but customers in specific markets. This included a wellness panel at a Dallas location with celebrity facialist Joanna Czech and beauty mega-influencer Courtney Kerr, and a Mother’s Day party hosted by KNC Beauty founder Kristen Noel Crawley in its Brentwood, California, store treating local moms to a day of pampering, manicures from Olive & June, and in-store activations with brands like YSL. He also pointed to a successful event with partner brand Natura Bisse that works on different levels. Invites are extended to the most faithful Natura Bisse clients first. Then, Cos Bar will invite select media and influencers to promote even more brand awareness.
Just Press ‘Play’
Mancuso observes that beauty influencers are taking the place of an on-site expert staffmember in some cases. She cites brick-and-mortar retail clients who had touch-screen displays installed in stores with a selection of influencer how-to’s, which in turn creates a sort of in-store service teaching the consumer how to achieve a desired look. The interface can go even further to suggest what users should buy in order to achieve the look.
“This type of in-store social/tech integration has the power to change the way retailers think about staff count and square footage,” she continues. “One of the biggest trends that we are seeing across multiple categories is...virtual reality (VR) shopping experiences. Imagine walking into a beauty store, grabbing a headset and shopping in a “beauty universe” via the VR set in which you can communicate to influencers, try on full-face makeup and purchase products all via the headset. Augmented reality, meanwhile, is an easier way to give users a slightly less immersive experience while still showing them what a look or style could be for them.”
Bailey points out that the implementation of technology in both special events and the day-to-day shopping environment can bring more customers into the stores.
“Last year, we hosted a ‘Shark Tank’ event at our Nolita store where brands submitted their line of products for the opportunity to pitch our panel of industry experts and a live audience. In turn, our panel, audience and Instagram followers were able to vote for their favorite pitch, with the ‘winner’ earning a meeting with our director of merchandising & planning. If a customer can’t come to a store location, we also have an online platform that will bring our Clean Beauty Experts to her through a live chat feature, Credo Live, where we can answer questions, provide recommendations and send color swatches and tutorials.”
Goodbye... and Hello
One thing implied in the term “special events” is that they are limited in number. Therefore, your management and party planners need to be mindful about oversaturation and being sure the party’s bells and whistles don’t overshadow the products or the message. Bailey reminds us that events are a team effort because of the hard work involved in planning and being sure they are properly funded in a realistic way to ensure you see a return on investment. “The true success of events is measured over time in loyalty to your brand, return trips and recommendations,” she says.
“When our events become stagnant and redundant, that’s when we know it’s time to go back to the drawing board and brainstorm exciting new activations with our brands,” concurs Olsen. “Looking at new customer acquisition is important after events, as is creating a memorable experience for our most loyal segment. Over time we are able to track the success of an event or partnership by seeing how frequently attendees are returning to Cos Bar. For example, we teamed up with Allure last December on a holiday shopping event that ended up translating into hundreds of thousands of social impressions and new clients that continue to shop with us.”
When planning experiential in-store events, Mancuso advises that you consider the goals and objectives first. “This will help you decide on what success means to your brand,” she says. “Do you want to capture emails on-site so you can retarget via paid media? Do you want to drive traffic to your website via a photo retrieval site or Instagram story swipe up campaign? Are you looking to gain followers or increase engagement by a certain percentage? Ask yourself these critical questions as setting realistic and upfront goals can help direct the initiative as a whole.”