The experience of beauty: Panel touts adaptability, engagement

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The experience of beauty: Panel touts adaptability, engagement

By Jenna Lomeli - 06/21/2018
The expectations of beauty consumers are changing, and digital innovation and in-store adaptability are key to meeting their shifting priorities, according to panelists on the Digital Disruption Innovation Summit Beauty Panel, which was organized by Walgreens, Drug Store News and Mack Elevation in mid-April in Schaumburg, Ill.

Anticipating the right way to handle these changing priorities is difficult, but industry leaders discussed the changes that have occurred over the past several years, the importance of adaptability and best practices for leveraging in-store and digital tools to improve customer experience and drive loyalty.

In many ways, the consumer shifts retailers have seen in recent years are demographic, as moderator Matt Poli, executive vice president of marketing at the Emerson Group, pointed out in his opening remarks, building on insights from Michael Dart’s book, “Retail’s Seismic Shift: How to Shift Faster, Respond Better, and Win Customer Loyalty.”

“We have five generations living, people living longer,” he said. “We have different tastes, different cultures, different races. Are we set up as an infrastructure to be able to create these millions of micro-communities as opposed to macro mass markets?”

The good news is that many retailers and suppliers already have the right tools. “We may not have all the answers, there may not be a clear path, but there is our ability to leverage our assets and our hearts to go and figure it out,” Poli said.

While the question of who these consumers are, and how they identify themselves is important, many panelists underscored the fact that these changes in consumer behavior also are characterized by how consumers are beginning to prioritize time and convenience over cost.

“What used to be convenient to consumers — running to your corner drug store — is not enough today,” said Allison Lauria, director of e-commerce at Maybelline, adding that institutions like Walgreens have the assets to be convenient, but that the challenge lies in creating a seamless experience that could set them apart.

The panel of industry leaders proposed many ways for Walgreens specifically and beauty brands at large to craft that coveted showroom beauty experience both digitally, through customer data and strategic online marketing, and in the real world, by utilizing the strength of the people who work in-store.

Facets of digital engagement
The digital revolution has brought many changes to the way beauty brands are doing business. From a marketing perspective, panelists said the way that companies pique interest and connect with consumers is entirely different.

“Years ago, it was about the celebrity, and getting the deal with the celebrity to endorse your products. That’s so over. Now, it’s about getting the right influencer and having them work with you to collaborate and create assortments,” said Ellen Slicklen, vice president of global licensing at Conair and vice president of marketing at HBA Scunci and Conair.

Yet marketing isn’t the only realm that the age of technology has turned on its head. E-commerce is growing, Poli pointed out, and in this changing landscape, it’s important to ensure that the online interface complements the in-store experience in order to remain competitive.

Many of the panelists discussed the importance of using customer data to both increase the efficacy of digital platforms and to encourage greater conversion by using those digital platforms in-store. Discussing possibilities for digital engagement, Amy McAnarney, vice president and general manager for key accounts and business development at Hallmark, suggested that loyalty data is crucial to predicting consumer needs and creating a more frictionless experience.

For example, the knowledge that a customer purchased birthday invitations can be used in concert with digital platforms, perhaps through a reminder email to buy a birthday card some weeks later, all with the aim of creating an even more convenient shopping experience.

McAnarney added that these simple digital reminders can cause a 2-to-3-point increase in sales, but that these reminders need to be well-timed. The question of “when,” however, also can be answered with user data. Clare Campbell, innovation and omnichannel operations at Procter & Gamble, discussed the importance of harnessing loyalty data in a way that allows for a more personalized transaction.

“We believe that big data can be used to deliver a genuine interaction at Walgreens,” she said, adding that implementing user data with canny website and mobile application design, combined with the irreplaceable care of human assets, can help the overwhelmed consumer feel in control of their lives once more. As a result, Walgreens will gain share of their customers’ lives and a lifetime of loyalty.

Reconsidering the in-store experience
Mastering the digital side of business, however, is only half the battle, according to panelists. While it is important to create strong web applications, it’s also crucial to understand how the digital and physical can complement one another.

In the beauty category, one way of enhancing the in-store experience is curating a showroom experience for consumers. Bob Wiltz, chief customer officer at Paris Presents, said that fixturing — creating experiential in-store beauty spaces — is key to this. “They’re making the experience a true showroom. So, the question becomes then, ‘How do you make the online experience a showroom for Walgreens, as well, and what does that look like?’”

The answer may lie in ensuring that the shopping experience is truly omnichannel. “We know that a lot of people are using the app,” Maybelline’s Lauria said, discussing the in-store Walgreens shopping experience, “and she’s on her phone when she’s in the aisle. So how do we connect the dots to make her shopping experience as seamless and easy as possible while she’s in store?”

As McAnarney mentioned, a lot of what falls under the category of beauty products are impulse buys, and creating an in-store experience that minimizes friction and saves time is what helps to draw people into stores. There, within the store ecosystem, the consumer has the benefit of whatever mobile app is at their fingertips, but also the crucial human element that resides at the heart of drug stores like Walgreens.

“The goal would be to have your people assets help drive toward solutions, and not the problem,” McAnarney said. “Thus, it is important to align incentives for in-store personnel to work with online infrastructure in order to best serve consumers when they’re in stores.” Another way panelists suggested helping create that special showroom environment in the drug store context is by turning product releases into events.

Connie Chen, director of marketing for Wet N’ Wild at Markwins Beauty Brands, discussed the importance of creating special collections that are released in limited numbers, and then holding launch events for those products in order to create buzz both online and in stores.

“Leading up to the collections, we’re doing countdowns, we have exclusive reviews and reveals with either media outlets or key influencers, and we’ve seen a lot of success with this,” Chen said, adding that hyping up and releasing products creates a lot of excitement and discussion around a product, so that by the time it’s actually released, a considerable amount of public knowledge is already circulating.

Finding out how best to balance the strengths and weakness that digital platforms create is a question that has a lot of possible paths forward, and it is hard to find one right answer for how best to cope, panelists said.

Jonathan Thompson Hill, vice president of sales at Beier