Beauty Store Business magazine - January, 2020

Sense Appeal

Creating sensory experiences in-store helps forge memorable connections with customers–and keeps them coming back.

Touch, taste, smell, sound, person-to-person interaction and firsthand sampling–these are experiences that a customer can’t replicate while merely tossing products into an online shopping cart. And it’s these areas where brick-and-mortar beauty retailers can shine, touching all of the senses to increase sales, connect with customers and keep your brand top-of-mind. “Retailers have to recognize that most in-store experiences are very underwhelming; I think after years of cutting costs and labor, we’ve arrived at a diminished customer experience,” says Susan McReynolds, retail strategy manager for CenturyLink in Broomfield, Colorado. “The atmosphere must be visually appealing, with things the customer can hear, see and smell–delivering an awesome experience versus simply measuring success by sales per square foot.” Here, experts explain the myriad ways stores can engage all of the senses to create a unique and immersive shopping experience.

Retailers are now using technology more than ever to offer a streamlined, in-store experience. Trevor Sumner, CEO of New York-based Perch Interactive, believes that technology is shaping the beauty and fashion industries–with brands and retailers such as Jo Malone, Sephora, Neiman Marcus and Reebok stealing market share by creating differentiated experiences for their highest-margin products in-store.

“In this new technological era, customers demand an immersive, personalized and streamlined shopping experience, both online and in-store,” Sumner notes. “Mobile and online content provide rich information, from how-to videos to ratings and reviews to regimen suggestions and more, which shoppers are accustomed to when making purchase decisions but too rarely find in-store. Whether it’s through self-discovery or a guided selling experience, digital solutions can address the frictions in the shopper journey and create an engaging, educational and entertaining experience.”

McReynolds believes that Sephora is the most notable example of a beauty retailer that has mastered the ability to embrace digital across all customer touchpoints. “With an intense focus on technology-driven, immersive, in-store experiences (the Sephora Virtual Artist tool, Color IQ and more) combined with expert beauty advisors, Sephora is blazing the trail for how to create fun, differentiated customer experiences while blending the best of physical and digital retail,” McReynolds says.

Julianne Hough Sally Hansen manicure

She adds that retailers are also rapidly adopting and deploying augmented and virtual reality capabilities–including Sephora, Neiman Marcus, Lowe’s, IKEA, Nike and L’Oréal–and believes that beauty retailers can also leverage these technologies to drive experiential marketing. “For example, a beauty retailer could transport a customer to New York Fashion Week with front-row or behind-the-scenes access to the latest runway makeup looks or hairstyles, with product recommendations on how to get the look in-store,” she explains. “Or, through augmented reality makeup apps or mirrors, customers could try on a new beauty collection and preorder items before they even hit the shelves.”

Sumner agrees that in industries like fashion and beauty, customers often want to see a wide selection of styles as they browse. Technology can give customers access to these options without leaving the store. “For example, at Neiman Marcus, customers can explore products, see similar colors and styles, and see lookbooks of how to accessorize and complete the outfit, all naturally engaged the moment that a customer picks up a product,” Sumner says. “Beauty retailers can also reap the benefits, like with Sephora’s Virtual Artist; this innovative tap-and-try makeup booth uses augmented reality to let shoppers try on an infinite number of lipstick shades and can digitally order out-of-stock products instantaneously.”

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Sumner notes that the growing trend of retail personalization not only creates a new method of shopping, but also drives sales. Perch, for example, has facilitated 30 percent to 80 percent product sales boosts and five to 10 times increased customer engagement for retailers and brands using such technologies. “As customers interact digitally with their favorite products, it can reignite their interest in brands and lead to experiences that heighten the senses and lead to a purchase,” he concludes.

However, McReynolds warns, bolting on tech for tech’s sake won’t necessarily enhance the customer journey. “Retailers must be thoughtful about asking how a particular technology, like augmented reality or virtual, removes friction from the customer interaction and adds value to the in-store experience,” she explains. “The retail environment of the future will focus less on pushing products and more on driving unique, remarkable customer experiences that create brand enthusiasts, and we’re finding that technology helps drive those experiences forward. Ask yourself, ‘Will it enhance the customer journey and ease the path to purchase?’”

Technology can grab the attention of today’s savvy customers, but another successful approach requires just the opposite: connecting with them in a personal way. “In the age of dot-com, I feel that engaging with customers on a real-life level is of utmost importance,” stresses Jessica Richards, founder and owner of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, New York. “The experience they receive at Shen is unparalleled; we are small and have very low employee turnover, plus our staff is incredibly knowledgeable in all of the products we carry, with a master makeup artist in-store. It gives every person who enters the door a true one-on-one salesperson who can spend time with them, getting to the core of what the clients want and need, all while making them feel more comfortable.”

Indeed, McReynolds believes there are questions every beauty retailer must ask: Is my store environment immersive? Does it inspire customer exploration? Does my physical space help create a sense of community for guests? Are my associates product and service gurus who can provide curated consultations and impart expert knowledge? “Beauty retailers have a leg up, since consumers still prefer to touch, try on and sample makeup and products before buying within the physical store,” McReynolds explains. “And, while there are many exciting technologies and digital capabilities retailers can deploy to enhance the path to purchase, if the underlying in-store foundation is not optimized, these customer experience investments could fall flat.”

Shen Beauty Store

McReynolds points to Draper James, Reese Witherspoon’s Nashville lifestyle brand, as a great example of an experience being curated from the moment customers enter: Personifying Southern charm from overall aesthetic to sweet tea service, the concept tells the brand’s story at every turn. “I think retailers need to identify their brand story–and how they’ll tell that, both online and offline,” McReynolds says. “But the physical store is where you can really make that impact.”

At Shen, for example, the customer experience includes plentiful testers to encourage engagement, and Richards requires that each brand send a new set quarterly to ensure freshness. “This is not only a representation of your brand at retail but also allows the customers to see the potential of products,” she says. “We sell mostly niche brands, so for them to produce sample sachets is very expensive; hence, we invest in small sample jars for customers to take home and try.”

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Meanwhile, Shen customers can request that any specific products they want to try be used in services in-store, such as facials. “We have all the products in the store in the treatment rooms and each experience is catered to your skin type,” Richards explains. “One of my pet peeves was always walking out of a facial and having 19 products by one brand lined up and the esthetician insisting I need them all. Not one brand of products is right for everyone, so it’s important to diversify and show the customer why–which also prevents people from buying the wrong product for themselves.” As an extra touch, estheticians give The Beauty Chef boosters and supplements to clients after facial treatments for a memorable finish.

Finally, McReynolds recommends that retailers must keep an eye on social media engagement. “For beauty retailers in particular, reimagining the store of the future requires an intense focus on creating those Instagrammable moments,” she asserts. “In today’s digital world, social currency is invaluable. Brands must assess whether they have Instagram-worthy areas within the store to drive social interaction and influence among consumers.”

Neiman Marcus

To create winning events and a lasting impression, Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lion’esque Group in New York, also advocates incorporating Instagrammable moments. One memorable Lion’esque project, with the Too Faced cosmetics brand, invited a slew of influencers to unveil its waterproof mascara, complete with a bathtub and mermaid tail for snapping pics. Swings added a playful element for all ages, while another area allowed attendees to shoot their own music video. The four-day event received widespread press coverage, from Elle to PopSugar, plus a huge boost in social media interaction and brand awareness.

At Flourish Body Care in White River Junction, Vermont, its retail store goes “all out” to create a great customer experience, says Kirsten Connor, owner and formulator. With a Happy Hour and Sampling Program on Friday evenings and free mini-facials once per month, customers are lured in not just to shop but also to experience the brand and enjoy themselves. “We’ve installed a huge sink where customers can try things out to see how they really work; we switch up the lighting–bright by day, soft and low by evening–and we keep the music upbeat or instrumental with a funky vibe (there’s absolutely no loud or intense music in here!),” Connor notes. “But the thing that has made the biggest difference of all, and it’s completely subliminal, is a very large array of ‘feature’ plants that we rotate to different areas of the store. They completely draw people in. It feels very alive and engaging but also completely natural, and it helps people relax in here and linger.”

Similarly, at ScrubzBody in Farmingdale, New York, owner Roberta Perry plays upbeat music, while an essential oil diffuser sends pleasing fragrance into the air. “We always have the shop decorated and immaculate, so even when just looking in the windows, you get a sense of calm,” Perry says. “But the best thing we did to improve the customer experience was adding a washing station to the front of the sales floor. The reason is simple: When customers try, they usually buy. We have them select their favorite fragrance and we give them a really wonderful hand scrub massage. Who doesn’t want a bit of pampering? It is the single best thing we do that converts to sales.”

Ultimately, any extra touches, no matter how small they seem, that indulge customers’ senses help create the total experience. And that’s what customers will remember–and it’s what will keep them coming back. “Experience is currency, and customers are surprised and delighted when they find something cool and interesting, especially when they can insert themselves and share on social,” Gonzalez explains. “The more you can add elements of discovery and education to create those ‘aha’ moments, the more impressionable you’ll be to customers–and create those opportunities for them to think about you even when they walk out the door.”

The right lighting, music and perks, like free in-store beverages, can go a long way toward making your store a must-visit destination for clients.

“For lighting, the brighter the better, as it shows flaws—and then we can fix them,” says Jessica Richards, founder and owner of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, New York. “And for music, being that we are young and fun, we like to have the traditional, like Rolling Stones, mixed with the new pop songs. Everyone loves both of those genres of music.”

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Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lion’esque Group in New York, notes that the ideal music will vary from brand to brand. She points to one case study that researched the effect of “musical fitting rooms,” with brands programming the music according to the tag of the clothing (think rock ‘n’ roll for jeans shoppers or classical for evening attire). “All the senses have an impact on how you perceive a product or brand and how it’ll fit into your life, creating an emotional connection,” Gonzalez explains. “You can have different lighting or smart mirrors to show what you’ll look like wearing cosmetics in daylight, in the office or at night. Or you can have a video recording during a makeover that allows customers to later review the video and practice copying the look at home.” Alternatively, having a particularly memorable scent permeating the store can trigger memories long after customers leave. When appealing to customers’ senses, don’t forget the basics to truly set the scene.

Studies show that slower music will cause your customers to buy more.

Audio and video marketing company Spectrio, in an article on how music affects shoppers’ behavior, points to several studies with interesting findings. For example, the company reports that most studies have found “slower, more leisurely music causes shoppers to spend more time contemplating their purchases and enjoying the atmosphere. It also leads to a significant increase in sales. Up-tempo or fast-paced music encourages quicker shopping and fewer purchases.” However, Spectrio also notes it’s important to know your customers and tailor your tunes to the ones that resonate best with them.

Meanwhile, LUX magazine reported on a research project “designed to measure the impact of light on customer buying behavior,” finding that “customers spent more time in the areas lit with warmer light settings than those with cooler ones.” LUX also reported that research shows stores should employ high-contrast lighting for retail areas, diffuse general lighting, pinpoint accenting in shop windows and wide-area backlighting of shelves to create a space where shoppers will want to linger—and are more likely to purchase.