This story is one in a series of stories on Glossy about the future of the experience, examining all the ways that face-to-face interactions in beauty and fashion are changing. You can read more stories from this series here.
The masks are coming off and full capacity has returned for beauty retailers, but the pandemic has meant beauty shopping is less convenient and more digital.
Beauty retailers are increasing store capacity limits as foot traffic rebounds. According to research firm GroundTruth, overall foot traffic for beauty retailers was 226% higher in April 2021 than in April 2020. Although hygiene restrictions have eased, many remain in place for consumers. product testers and their application. But as services remain limited, retailers have introduced in-store digital and omnichannel features such as QR codes; virtual trial; buy online, collect in store and same day delivery at a rapid pace.
Restrictions lifted, but hygiene protocols remain
The classic functionality of the beauty shopping experience, including product testing and in-store transformations, is still limited.
For Ulta Beauty, most stores are open at 75% of their retail capacity and its salon business is open at 50% of capacity; 156 US stores remain at less than 75% of their retail capacity. When the new state and local restrictions are lifted, the number of stores open at less than 75% will be 116 next week. He remains cautious with the services for now; only front-end services are back in store. The product testers have yet to be brought back to the ground; the current plan is to reintroduce them for all product categories except mascara in July with new protocols in place. This will include telling customers to sample the products on their arm rather than testing them on their face, said Kecia Steelman, COO of Ultra Beauty.
Other retailers like Sephora, The Detox Market and Credo Beauty have brought in testers, but customers can no longer touch them – the request must be administered by staff.
Credo Beauty, which had frequently held in-person in-store events and offered makeup and skin care services before the pandemic, plans to resume them in August. In-store purchases have increased as its foot traffic has increased by 50% since February. The retailer currently achieves around 65% of its sales in e-commerce, up from 85% in 2020 but up from 30% in 2019. It predicts that in-store sales will account for 40% of sales for 2021.
Customers entering beauty stores are also increasingly returning to browse mode, after pandemic store visits were typically quick trips to pick up specific items.
“We have seen, over the past two weeks, a drastic change in customer behavior,” said Romain Gaillard, Founder and CEO of The Detox Market. Previously, pandemic shopping habits meant that “people who walked into a store all specifically wanted to buy something. So you had less traffic, but I would say 100% conversion. Pedestrian traffic to stores started to pick up at the end of May. Over the past 10 days, he said the retail situation has gone from “very cautious customers not wanting to touch things now, [where] no one wants to wear a mask and they want to hit all the testers. He does not plan to make the testing restrictions permanent, saying if the pandemic recovery continues successfully, product testing “will eventually return to normal.”
While mask mandates in most US states are either fully lifted or lifted for those vaccinated, some staff are still interested in wearing masks. Ulta Beauty staff members can notify the company that they are vaccinated in order to waive the mask requirement. But with the Delta variant spreading and new mask guide being issued in certain states, the company added that protocols may change daily.
“I hear about them when I visit stores, and some of our associates still really want to be able to wear their masks because they have kids at home who aren’t yet vaccinated,” Steelman said.
For digitally focused retailers, it takes much longer to reopen stores. Luxury beauty e-retailer Violet Gray, for example, is waiting until fall 2021 to reopen its only physical store in Los Angeles. Glossier, meanwhile, just announced the opening of a new permanent outlet in Seattle in August, followed by stores in Los Angeles in the fall and London in the winter. It will bring a physical store presence back to New York in 2022.
In the meantime, Violet Gray uses her store staff to create online content and manage phone and live chat consultations. In September, she will use her store space to shoot her fall campaign.
Stores are getting smarter
While testing of physical products has remained limited, digital in-store functionality has proliferated.
QR codes, for example, are being adopted by a growing number of beauty retailers in the United States. Ulta Beauty has increased the presence of in-store QR codes that link to its mobile app, which offers features such as product information, virtual trial and skin analysis. Credo Beauty is also adding QR codes to store shelves.
“We’ve introduced QR codes much more widely throughout our store,” Steelman said. “People’s behaviors and their view of shopping in the real-world format of physical stores continue to evolve. “
“The customer is hungry for more information,” said Annie Jackson, COO of Credo Beauty. She added that restaurants popularized QR codes during the pandemic, making their integration into stores “a total no-brainer.”
“They are kind of expected now,” she said.
Ulta has added thousands of new SKUs to its GlamLab virtual trial feature, and its app downloads doubled in 2020. While Ulta’s model is to allow users to virtually try products through their own phones, other retailers such as MAC Cosmetics have adopted the installation of in-store displays for virtual fitting.
Another feature retailers expect to maintain is virtual consultations with store staff. After the start of the pandemic, beauty retailers including The Detox Market, Deciem, Cos Bar and Heyday launched virtual consultations by store associates through the Hero platform. They joined a handful of retailers who had already set up virtual consultations, such as Credo Beauty.
Omnichannel options set to continue
Pedestrian traffic has not returned to 2019 levels, according to most retailers. But even customers who shop online have become accustomed to the omnichannel options that were quickly added by retailers during the pandemic. A recent study by January Digital and Coresight Research found that over 34% of US consumers under the age of 45 rated online shopping, in-store pickup, and curbside pickup as “very important.”
Consumers “expect the same amenities they had during Covid to continue in the months and years to come,” said Sarah Engel, CMO of January Digital. “Easy and free product returns for online orders, visibility of inventory between stores and the website, and the ability to buy online and pick up in-store or curbside were also rated very important by consumers. “
Curbside pickup has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Ulta Beauty and Sally Beauty, for example, have added curbside pickup to their existing online shopping and in-store pickup options. Sally Beauty also offers an in-store shipping option for some stores. According to Brenda Rutenber, group vice president for Sally Beauty, these omnichannel features “will stay in place” even as foot traffic increases.
“They were extremely well received,” she said. “The customer expects a smooth experience between the site and the store. One day they might want to buy online and pick up in store, another day they might have more time and want to come in and log in.
Sally Beauty is also planning to join the growing number of retailers offering same day delivery. Its goal is to launch the feature through a third-party platform in mid-July. It will join a wide range of beauty retailers who have added same-day delivery through partnerships during the pandemic, including Sephora, which launched with Instacart in September. Other beauty brands have teamed up with Postmates and Uber Eats for delivery from their physical stores.
According to Rutenber, Sally Beauty sees its in-store presence in all 50 states “as an advantage because it allows us to do same day delivery, and a lot of retailers can’t.”
Physical retail is here to stay
Even during the pandemic, beauty has doubled in physical retail. For specialty beauty retailers, big box or department store partnerships have remained a popular model as Sephora has partnered with Kohl’s and Ulta has announced its launch at Target.
“One of the things that has definitely changed this year is our partnership with Target. We’re going to see that come out later this summer, so it shows that we still believe a physical presence in shopping is important to our consumer, ”Steelman said. Another wave of the virus caused by the Delta variant would not deter investment in physical retail, she said.
“We have seen that our best buyers are those who buy online and in stores. There is no compromise between one or the other. It is very clear that we think the physique is an important part of Ultra Beauty.