Ask Alison: How beauty brands are getting up close and personal with digitised stores

Here’s the latest ‘Ask Alison’ post from retail expert and DRG contributor, ALISON BISHOP, looking at the emergence of interactive digital stores coming from the premium beauty sector

Bobbi-Brown-beauty-store-Covent Garden

It’s official; Covent Garden has become London’s Beauty Quarter when it comes to stores. Luxury brands Chanel, Dior and Burberry all opened mini beauty flagships here in the last couple of years while Marc Jacobs followed recently with its Tweet Shop pop-up. Now prestige beauty brands Clinique and Bobbi Brown (above) are experimenting with new, highly personal store concepts.

This cluster of beauty retail temples is a sign that luxury brands consider the sector a growing market, where millennial consumers like to experiment with new products and get personal advice. Christopher Bailey recently announced that expanding Burberry’s beauty offer is ‘on his 2015 to do list’, and judging by its digital artwork backdrop at Dior’s brand new Greene Street, New York store, we might well be in for a creative ‘phygital’ approach to beauty for Dior’s Bond Street flagship renovations. That giant floral digital display is crying out for installation in a perfume or cosmetics department, no?

So as luxury brands get in on the cosmetics act, beauty brands are finding the need to up the ante when it comes to premium stores and VIP-level customer service. Cue Clinique and Bobbi Brown, who have both launched stores in the last month that focus on one-to-one experiences at their new Covent Garden flagships.

Clinique combines data-mining and lab-style store design at its new 700 sq ft retail concept called the Great Skin Lab. Billed as a digital experience that will guide consumers through a ‘day in the life of their skin’, the store houses interactive pods and a moisturising station, where shoppers answer a series of questions on their lifestyle to determine their future skincare needs. The level of service here beats the department store scrum hands down. You can easily spend an hour investing in some serious ‘me & my skin’ time to reap rewards later.

Meanwhile, Bobbi Brown’s new Studio flagship store, her fourth in the UK, is just next door. Studio stores are designed to help foster a type of cosmetics community, encouraging customers to think out loud about their favourite looks, what works for them and what doesn’t. The staff then brings those problems or scenarios to life via learning-led tutorials, making everyone a pro – a service at the heart of the Bobbi Brown philosophy.

The interior style is SoHo loft, with a central artistry table where playful testing is encouraged. One wall uses an LED display to show pages from Bobbi’s sketchbook and concept diary. Called The Inspiration Wall, it gives a snapshot into the world of Bobbi Brown, as well as a closer look at some of her best selling products. New at the Covent Garden store is the DIY shopping experience where visitors can browse iPads showing content from a designated skincare apothecary and follow up with experts in-store to discuss routines and cosmetic choices from the artistry table. There is a whole suite dedicated to Bobbi Brown’s updated menu of make-up lessons.

All we need now is for subscription box beauty product specialist Birchbox to follow its data-driven New York store with one here in beauty-central Covent Garden. #YesPlease. And surely it’s just a matter of time before BeautyMART sets up shop here too?

For luxury brands, beauty represents a new frontier that allows younger customers to experiment with aspirational products at affordable price points. Destination stores are everything and are increasingly trumping the beauty industry’s traditional department store counter culture. With the allure of personalisation plus retail theatre to engage customers, premium beauty brands are joining the fray where dedicated flagships allow brands to gain market share and a bigger, stronger fan base.

Follow ALISON BISHOP on Twitter, read her previous guest posts on Disneyrollergirl and read more of her retail insights on her blog, The Retail Planner.