Can New Retail Concepts Save Traditional Premium Beauty Retailing?


So much has changed in the premium beauty industry over the past 10 years. The deluge of new product launches, the discovery of new skincare technologies and the emergence of niche brands.

But nothing more so than the way products are bought and sold.

“Exclusivity” was once the watchword of premium beauty companies, who were determined to protect their brands by restricting where they could be sold.

Tight distribution agreements with chosen retailers meant that consumers could only buy premium products where the companies wanted them to and at the prices they chose to charge. For many years, the premium beauty landscape was dominated by department stores, Boots and a few other retailers.

Then along came e-commerce, which has grown faster than anyone could have predicted, least of all the premium beauty houses.

Premium beauty is now more affordable, more accessible and a lot less exclusive than in the past. Perhaps more importantly, the power base has switched to the consumer.

Should traditional retailers be worried?

Judging from the recent retail casualties, Modelzone and Dwell, the high street has much to fear from online. Both specialists fell victim to burgeoning online sales and overexpansion.

For premium beauty retailers, the trick is to find ways of attracting consumers into store and getting them to return. John Lewis, Oxford Street, is a good example, with its new premium beauty design concept based on the idea of a town square. It’s how people have always shopped and still like to, given half a chance.Regional department stores that haven’t progressed the design of their beauty halls in decades had better watch out. There’s no place for the scary consultant ready to pounce on unsuspecting consumers spraying them with the latest fragrance launch. And even if consumers do manage to reach the counter, the profusion of different products can be confusing and off-putting.

But there is a lot that is good in premium beauty retailing. In our upcoming report, 10 Years of Premium Beauty, an exclusive interview with Mark Fanthorpe, Owner of retail design consultancy Umbrella, reveals that premium beauty retailing is “more interesting and vibrant” than 10 years ago.

Speaking on how the internet has cornered the market when it comes to stress-free shopping, he observes: “It can’t beat the high street for pure entertainment.”

Mark believes in a buoyant future for the premium beauty retailer because of the way that shopping on the high street makes us feel. “I’m talking about the excitement of discovering something new, the sensual overload of a department store perfumery and the feeling of belonging as you step inside your favourite shop,” he says.

Retail and online don’t need to fight one another, but can work together to their mutual benefit.Here are some suggestions on how retailers of premium beauty can use multi-channel marketing to retain their competitive edge:

  • Use online as a mechanism to drive consumers in-store and to the counter

  • Make “stars” of your best beauty consultants through online videos and enable consumers to book an appointment with them in-store

  • Train consultants not to “stand & spray” consumers as they walk past, but give them space to explore only then inviting them to the counter for a one-to-one interaction

You can find more suggestions and recommendations on how premium beauty retailers can stand up to online in the 10 Years of Premium Beauty report which launches in November. In this exclusive look at the last decade, you will find out how premium beauty brands can make their retail environments more entertaining and compelling to drive more footfall in-store.