Besides testing and reviewing products, the one thing that really interests me about the beauty industry is the evolution of how brands interact with the customer, particularly in the online space. However, a real problem area still exists with bricks-and-mortar counters, all revolving around key principle of customer service (or lack of!). I submitted this article as part of Beauty Heaven’s Blogstar competition and thought I would reproduce it on my own blog. You are all consumers – what are your thoughts?
There’s been a lot of noise lately about shoppers skipping bricks-and-mortar department stores and making their beauty purchases online. The retailers are complaining that they can’t compete, but is price really the problem?
For decades, department stores have held a monopoly on high-end cosmetics. It didn’t matter what the price was and what the service was like – if you wanted the product, you had no choice but to buy it there. Over the past few years, aided by a boom in e-commerce, beauty products have become far more accessible to a broader range of consumers. The retail landscape has changed significantly but many counters are failing to adapt.
Price is a key factor but it seems that many brands have forgotten the basic element of sales – customer service. Customers want to be pampered and to feel special. They want someone to help them who is polite and knowledgeable, and can show them the right products and techniques to look their best. A customer has to feel comfortable enough to share their insecurities with a complete stranger.
Beauty brands often strive for the image of luxury, but some staff are confusing this with unapproachable. A sales assistant should not be snooty or aloof, no matter what brand they are representing. Most of the time I’m too scared to come within five metres of the counter, let alone touch the products for fear of a sales assistant snapping “Can I help you?!”. This is one of the key factors that has made beauty bloggers so popular – the ability to see real-life photos of products from the comfort of your home, without the pestering and the hard sell.
Given the universal policy of not accepting returns on used cosmetics, customers want to be absolutely sure before they buy. Trying on products is essential, but often there is reluctance by counter staff to spend the time on a proper application. Foundations and skincare need to be trialled for a few days, so why are counters so loath to provide samples? Customers don’t want to feel like they are begging for the right to try products.
One-off sales need to be translated into long-term relationships through positive experiences. Redeemable makeovers have become a popular way to add value, as have in-store visits by international makeup artists. Some brands even demonstrate key looks in dedicated studios at the back of the counter.
Everyone likes a free gift, but purchasing rewards are in desperate need of an update – how many of us have a huge bag of unused, generic samples sitting under the bathroom sink amongst a pile of cosmetic bags? Products chosen by the customer and tailored to their needs will provide the most popular and provide highest level of satisfaction. Interestingly, no-one has thought to implement a points-based loyalty program like Sephora’s hugely popular Beauty Insider.
Have you drifted away from the department stores? What could they do differently to win you back?