We’re closing our laptops and heading back into stores. Sarah Halliwell reckons real-life beauty shopping is worth the effort …
We’re back in town. Online sales of beauty might have soared during lockdown, but now we’re seeing a return to bricks and mortar. A British Beauty Council survey found that 64 per cent missed shopping in store for beauty and grooming products. And beauty stores are better than ever, upping their game to draw us back in with a constant influx of new brands, events and “experiences”.
The past year has affected our shopping habits. Anne Gallagher of online boutique The Beauty Kit anticipates a hybrid going forward: “Shoppers are now comfortable buying beauty products online with retailers that they trust. But I think they will also want to go to physical stores – nothing can replace that tangible experience of shopping in person.” And the convenience and price-comparison we can do online now means we expect better value and choice in shops, too.
L’Occitane’s Agathe Leroux notes that “now that customers are getting back to stores, they want a more meaningful retail experience”. As Amelia Kendrick, Beauty Buying Manager at Harvey Nichols, reports, “We saw how quickly our clients returned to the store for that personal interaction and advice which they really missed.” She cites services, from nails to brows, along with face-to-face advice, as drawing us back into stores – it’s about a full day out, not just a quick transaction. In the UK, Harrods is opening standalone beauty stores which pair scents with champagne bars.
And it’s true that a key part of buying a lipstick has always been trying out colours and textures, and getting advice. We need to see and smell things. I recently coveted an eye palette which looked deluxe in pictures online, but in real life proved to be tiny and tinny. The best shops invite a tactile approach, rather than hands-off museum one. Sampling is key. Anne Gallagher believes “people won’t be keen on touching shared testing bottles any time soon.” But brands will find solutions, such as Coty’s touch-free fragrance testing bottles. The Brown Thomas Arnotts Beauty Buying Team say: “Our advisers will decant foundation, creams and so on for trying at home, along with pre-packed samples.”
“Customers want a more meaningful retail experience.”
Since reopening, Brown Thomas and Arnotts have seen us flock back for fragrance in particular, reporting that “sales have grown by 89 per cent versus 2019, followed by skincare (up 44 per cent)”. By now, we’re too Zoomed-out for online consultations. “Buying a fragrance really is all about the sensorial experience,” notes Kendrick. Witness the desert that was Dublin airport’s beauty hall over the summer with no perfume or make-up testing allowed.
This summer, Chanel’s No5 Factory Lab pop-up in Selfridges caused queues round the block, not only to snap up the limited-editions but also for “a scentsational experience”, as Thomas Du Pré De Saint Maur, Chanel’s Head of Global Creative Resources, Fragrance & Beauty explains – “The pop-ups were designed as theme parks dedicated to No5.” The Handmade Soap Company’s new workshops encourage you to engage with the brand in a most tactile way, after a year when “we lost much of the emotional connection with shopping,” notes Siomha Connolly, who visits regularly. “When you realise the care and consideration they put into each product, you want to fill your bathroom with them.”
Increasingly, online meets offline. Pop-up shops give online brands the chance to connect with customers, while avoiding the commitment of a longterm lease. “In my view, there is nothing more valuable than face-to-face conversation,” says Ayu’s Suzie O’Neill, who’s done successful pop-ups at Kildare Village and Dundrum Town Centre.
Finally, sustainability is now a baseline necessity, not an added extra. Refillable beauty is on the rise, and we can all make the effort to go and get our top-ups and to recycle empties. Time to power off our devices and step back in store.
Five reasons to shop for beauty in-store
1. Refills are drawing us into stores. Fill L’Occitane’s Forever Bottles with one of 25 products at the Refill Fountain in the Wicklow Street boutique, combining an experience with sustainability (and lower-cost product). They plan to install fountains in 27 countries this year alone. The Body Shop will have refill stations in 155 UK and Ireland stores (and 500 worldwide) by the end of the year. Skingredients are making their entire skincare range refillable and envionmentally-conscious from October, with more responsible packaging – but the same great results.
2. Foundation matching Ayu beauty returns to Kildare Village with a pop-up this November and December. Brown Thomas Dublin and Arnotts both offer first-of-its-kind virtual try-on technology that allows customers to visualise make-up before purchasing.
3. In-store experiences Get hands on with The Handmade Soap Company workshops in their Wicklow Street store.
4. Discover new brands New arrivals at Brown Thomas and Arnotts this autumn include Stories Parfums and Bon Parfumeur. Head to Boots Ireland to browse US vegan brand Bite Beauty.
5. Recycle your empties See TerraCycle.com for details of stores accepting (clean) empties from all brands, including L’Occitane stores nationwide.
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