What's new in beauty and omnichannel retail

This month, Bloomingdale’s unveiled its revamped cosmetics floor at its 59th Street flagship store, with 75 fresh brands, and 1,100 square feet of additional space. In addition, in a nod towards investing further in omnichannel, the store launched a new venture: its new “Beauty Stylists” program. This is said to be the first of a number of retailers rolling out a similar strategy in beauty styling this year, including Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The aim of the Bloomingdale's program is to encourage shopping across the 200 brands in-store through the beauty stylists, who have a dedicated area on the shop floor. Also, for the first time ever, customers shopping online can book individual appointments with the stylists on Bloomingdales.com, whereas previously appointments could only be made with the brands individually.

This is a promising start to the year for omnichannel retailing. With customers demanding seamless online and in-person experiences that are tailored to suit them, stylist programs will facilitate this demand hugely. Since Amazon disrupted the traditional retail model by launching Amazon Go last year, the pressure to embrace the omnichannel concept has been felt by traditional retailers internationally. Beauty, has certainly been a late adopter to e-commerce. The beauty industry leading with an experiential shopping model in its path to purchase, and therefore it is incredibly hard to marry up the consultation aspect, and one-on-one advice, with new innovative technology ideas prevalent in other segments.

In 2017, Saks Fifth Avenue launched its online booking feature for in-store beauty appointments, with a view of preparing the market for its own new beauty experience, launching in the following May 2018. In a push to align digital with brick-and-mortar in the beauty shopper category, following the launch, Saks began sending 39 different types of personalised email notifications to online and offline shoppers, featuring anything from appointment suggestions to launch reminders. As a result of this campaign, omnichannel shoppers spending a staggering 1,000 percent more than online-only shoppers, and 200 percent more than the offline customer on a 12-month basis.

Equally, Sephora and Ulta Beauty’s respective forays into omnichannel have been successful. In September 2017, Sephora merged its digital and in-store merchandising teams, naming it "omnitude". Also in 2017, Ulta debuted its store-to-door program, whereby customers could order online in the physical store location and have products shipped to their home directly. Ulta also is starting to roll out a buy-online-pick-up-in-store initiative, however this feature is currently only available in certain stores.

2019 is clearly set to be a year of transformation in omnichannel retailing and beauty, with many retailers continuing their efforts to innovate with clear, customer-centric strategies. It will be interesting to see whether other stores will follow Bloomingdale's "Beauty Stylist" example, and whether the US market will see the same success as APAC in this area.

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