Beauty is becoming big business for high street retailers and fashion chains. Drapers finds out why
harvey nichols beauty lounge the parlour
Department stores and high street retailers are spending big on beauty. The last year has seen a wave of glitzy new beauty hall launches and refurbishments. In July, Harvey Nichols unveiled its new 13,000 sq ft Beauty Lounge, which offers customers a range of beauty services, dedicated beauty concierge and extended opening hours. Not to be outdone, in August John Lewis announced plans to “supercharge” the beauty side of its business with a £9m investment that will increase the beauty halls in its Bluewater, in Bristol and Cambridge stores by up to 50%.
Savvy high street retailers are also entering the market. Swedish giant H&M and Primark followed in the footsteps of Topshop and New Look by launching make-up ranges this year. With the economic impact of Brexit still unknown, fashion retailers are banking on the “lipstick index” – the phenomenon observed by former Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder, who noted that during 2001 recession sales of cheaper cosmetic items such as lipsticks rose.
Beauty allows customers to be creative and play around with style in an easier and less expensive way than clothes
H&M beauty concept designer Sara Wallander
H&M beauty concept designer Sara Wallander says she is surprised the retailer had not launched a full beauty collection before now: “We’ve had beauty before, but it was more like an accessory and now we’re doing beauty for real. It fits perfectly with H&M. We want to do fashion for your face, as well as for your body. Beauty allows customers to be creative and play around with style in an easier and less expensive way than clothes. It’s much easier to dare to experiment with nail varnish or an eyeshadow than to buy a new outfit.”
A strong beauty offer is becoming more important for retailers battling unpredictable weather argues Matt Leeser, head of buying for beauty, well-being and leisure at John Lewis.
“Beauty is a relatively weatherproof market, which is obviously attractive to retailers. It remains robust through economic downturns. There’s also constant innovation in the market, with new products and brands launching constantly to attract customers.”
He adds: “Customers have to repurchase their favourite products but it’s also a treat market – they like to reward themselves. A big reason we’ve invested in beauty is because it’s a good entry point to John Lewis. If we have lots of exciting beauty brands, it encourages customers who might not normally consider John Lewis to come in and buy other categories, like womenswear, while they’re in store.”
Daniela Rinaldi, group commercial director at Harvey Nichols, agrees: “Customers can buy beauty anywhere now – online and on the high street – so we’ve concentrated on making it all about the environment and all about the experience. It’s an antidote to being able to shop for beauty anywhere. For all of us who operate multi-floor stores, the ground floor is absolutely critical because that’s where customers form their first impression, so beauty is very important as both a category and for its location in the store.”
The rise of beauty bloggers and vloggers has also forced retailers, particularly department stores, to change their approach to beauty, argues Steven Skinner, senior vice-president of retail and consumer goods at business consultancy Cognizant: “Beauty has graduated from being an impulsive buying sector to one with a much more considered decision-making process, in part because of the prevalence of product reviews by vloggers, as well as the need for consumers to try before they buy, particularly among millennials.
”The vast range of products available means a ‘try first’ strategy has come back into fashion. To capitalise on this, retailers have gone to great lengths to promote the beauty product journey as innovative, drawing customers in with access to emerging brands and salon-quality mini-makeovers.”
For fashion retailers, beauty is looking good as another way to bring shoppers into stores and brand them from head to toe.