The cosmetics counter was probably the first experiential retailer.
A bold claim, you might be thinking, but don’t worry. I’m going to break it down for you.
From the times of the first foundations and earliest eyeliners, the cosmetics counter in a standalone shop or department store was a place people went to try out products. Going to buy some cologne? Not before you know what it smells like you’re not. Checking out that new nail polish? You probably want to know what it looks like on your digits before plopping down the cash.
Estee Lauder is famous for taking advantage of that desire by making a trip to her counter a prestige experience.
And that trends continues today. At Myagi, we’re proud to be helping multiple cosmetics companies improve the quality of service they provide to their customers. While we’ve been doing that, we also picked up a thing or two about what makes a great experience at a cosmetics retailer.
That’s why we want to take a moment to recognize five cosmetics retailers (in no particular order) that really nail the execution, and to talk about what other retailers can learn from them.
Sephora and Institutional Education
Hey look, it’s the elephant in the room! Yes, Sephora is the largest cosmetic retailer in the world, with nearly 2,000 stores and department store counters around the world.
There’s something to be said about maintaining any kind of customer service quality on that scale, we’re not letting this beauty giant off that easy.
We’re bullish on Sephora because they’ve done a stellar job of scaling up their sales associate education process with their store growth.
In addition to in-store training, Sephora sales associates and managers attend weeklong sessions at Sephora Universities located in glamorous buildings in San Francisco, Paris, and Hong Kong.
Sephora does better than most to provide useful job training to their store employees, and even attaches this extra training directly to their brand. That’s why the public can now pay to join in and take their own course of beauty classes at Sephora Universities.
Lush makes retail personal
Sometimes, providing great customer experiences is about more than offering precise expertise on the products you’re selling. Personal connections with customers can often mean much more.
That’s why we’re giving Lush a nod for personalizing their customers’ experiences.
Training at this UK-based cosmetics retailer empowers sales associates to jump off the script and craft a personal relationship with customers.
As one Lush store manager explained:
“Welcoming customers and demonstrating products is something everyone can do. But everything in-between should always be tailored to customers. We provide training but then empower our employees to serve customers the way they feel is right.”
Reading through any Lush stores’ Yelp reviews makes it easy to see where this mentality pays off. Consider this example from a storefront in Queens, NY:
At Myagi, we’d be the first to tell you that it’s critical to teach your new crop of sales associates all the latest product knowledge. But, as you’ll find when shopping at Lush, helping them to develop personal connections with shoppers can be a huge difference-maker as well.
Innisfree helps shoppers control their experience
Innisfree is a new arrival in New York City, where I’m writing this from, but it’s been a major cosmetics retailer in South Korea for nearly 20 years.
While it my be a newcomer to my neighborhood, it’s already making a splash. It’s not hard to see why.
In addition to aisles worth of popular cosmetics that emphasize all natural and organic options, they have a pester-free shopping experience that’s drawn widespread praise.
You can even see this attitude in their shopping baskets, which blew up beauty internet back in 2016:
In that photo, you can see Innisfree’s shopping baskets, which are designed to help customers communicate to sales associates whether they’re looking for help or would rather be left alone to browse.
Tons of retailers we’ve spoken too have agonized about ways to create extremely personal shopping experiences that don’t alienate introverts or window shoppers. Sometimes, its just a matter of letting the customer communicate to you how they most want to be interacted with.
Le Labo starts from scratch, every time
On the other end of the “high touch” spectrum, Le Labo is a brand that thrives on turning every trip to one of their stores into an individualistic adventure.
At this retailer originating from the French countryside, when you find a perfume you like, you don’t just pick a bottle off the shelf. You need to let a sales associate know what you’re looking for. They’ll ask you a few questions and help you try a few different options. When you find one you like, they’ll take you over to a bench of special machines and mix your perfume right in front of you. Then you’ll leave with the freshest possible perfume that was made just for you.
Meanwhile, their sales associate will be talking with you about the ingredients they’re adding, what other customers like about the particular perfume, and how the perfume-making process works.
With their flashy craftsmanship, Le Labo demonstrates what you can do when you build novel experience into the DNA of your business.
Can a niche business like this perfumery break into the big times with such a high-touch formula? We’re not quite sure, but we also think the world is just a bit more fun when you have more businesses trying unique approaches like this.
Aesop is built to inspire
High quality training for sales associates and unique customer journeys aren’t the only ways to stick out.
Australian-based cosmetics retailer Aesop knows that well trained sales associates are critical to providing great experiences at their stores, but they also want the stores themselves to stand out.
That’s why they build each and every store with a unique design. Some use brick, others granite or bamboo. Still others rely on tile or mahogany.
To read about some of the process that goes into building each of these unique institutions, we recommend this great interview with an Aesop architect in Architect Magazine.
We love Aesop’s unique approach to store building, but we also appreciate their commitment to treating retail employees with the loyalty that they deserve. As CEO Michael O’Keefe explained in a recent interview why Aesop prefers to promote regional managers from within:
“You’ve got to keep up in terms of providing a career path, and we want our people to treat retail as a serious career”
In other words, beautiful stores and excellent product lines are great, but investing in your retail staff is critical to staying competitive.
Finding retail beauty in the cosmetics department
In a lot of ways, cosmetics retailers have been ahead of the curve in providing unique, personal experiences to shoppers for a while now. And today’s hottest stores are constantly finding new ways to innovate and improve.
From Innisfree’s unique approach to helping their shoppers customize the buyer journey to Le Labo’s personalization-first approach, these retailers give customers a compelling reason to get off their computers and into the stores.
Now, we send out a challenge to those of you who sell bicycles or basketball shoes or power tools to implement some of these same ideas into your stores.