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Beauty Adviser Confidential: At Your Service

An insider’s look at life behind the counter.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 03/08/2013

Living in a digital age, when product discovery and purchase is as simple as the click of a button, beauty advisers report they are challenged, more than ever, to sway customers to shop in-store. After speaking to sales associates across skin care, fragrance, cosmetics and hair care brands one thing is clear: A personal touch is the key driver of sales in the brick-and-mortar channel.

This story first appeared in the March 8, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Customers want services and they want to be pampered, even guys,” says one Midwest-based associate, a regional manager for a men’s skin care line. “They want to be recognized and called by their first name. That’s how you grow your business and get them to come back.”

The skin-care manager, who has been in the business for 13 years, says these days the job comes with a litany of unique challenges. “Customers are more in a hurry, everybody is working and in a rush, they don’t have as much time to spend,” she says. “Also, the Internet is really interfering and competing with us for sales.” To that end, in-store selling incentives are extremely effective, including gift-with-purchase offers, demonstrations and services like facials and personal-need assessments. “You can buy the same products online but it’s not the same as someone taking a look at you specifically and helping you identify your skin needs or talking you through a purchase,” she says. “Being hands-on is what brings people into the store.”

With a customer base that includes men and women between 18 and 60, this associate says her typical sale is about $150 (products range in price from $7.50 to $100). Responsible for training associates in 125 stores across the Northeast and the central U.S., she says her company holds frequent corporate meetings where advisers learn about new products and sales techniques, which are taught primarily through role-playing exercises. Because her sales area is so expansive, she says it’s important to spend time in local stores to get a feeling for each demographic’s idiosyncrasies. “Every region is really different,” says the adviser, who travels a few weeks per month to train brand associates. “In Texas, for example, everything sells quickly, while Boca [Raton, Fla.] is a much harder sale because of an older client base. For us, the commonality is customer service.”

When it comes to trends, the skin-care adviser says this past holiday she noticed a swell in sales of antiaging products. Looking to spring, she says hydration will get a big push from her brand, as well as aromatherapy and gender-neutral products.

Generating excitement for fragrance sales has become more arduous, according to a sales manager who works for a luxury fragrance company in a department store in a high-traffic mall in the Northeast. “We make a big deal of new fragrance launches internally,” says this person. “We’ve been hyping our spring launch among our sales team since Christmas, which translates to the consumer.”

The fragrance associate, who has worked in beauty for about a year and previously sold jewelry, says she was hired to help increase sales, which had been lagging. “Sales were struggling because there hadn’t been a steady counter manager,” she says. “Having that continuity on the floor and stressing daily, monthly and yearly sales goals have helped turn things around.” Training-wise, the brand ambassador says associates get biyearly “university-type” seminars where they learn company standards and selling philosophies. “It is stressed that the shopping experience should be consistent whether [customers] buy here or at another store,” she says. “Quality and customer service should be the same across the board.”

She adds that associates are also trained to offer hand and arm massages to shoppers in-store. “That is a perk most customers will sit down for,” she says. “It’s something a shopper won’t get online.” When asked what customers are most drawn to, the fragrance salesperson says limited-edition scents and new fragrances are her brand’s biggest buzz-generators. “People always want to be the first to try something,” she says, adding that value kits are also effective. This holiday, for example, the brand offered a $95 fragrance sampler, which she says flew off the shelves. “We blew away our numbers for holiday,” she says. “People are coming in months later looking for full-size bottles of the scents they tried.”

This adviser’s typical sale is $185, and she reports spending 10 to 15 minutes on average with a shopper. “Those customers you have a relationship with are the ones who come in again and again,” says the associate, who emphasizes the importance of follow-up calls to ask how customers are enjoying a product or a sample. “Once they get hooked, they get hooked.” When asked her most valuable selling technique, the associate says, “Product knowledge and honesty. If you know your product you can sell it.”

Selling color cosmetics is all about an educational in-store experience, according to a freelance makeup artist and beauty associate for a top makeup brand in the Northeast. “A well-seasoned artist will also be a good salesperson,” he says. “If you are executing makeup well and teaching how to do it as you go, products sell themselves.” The beauty adviser says his typical sale, which will usually follow an in-store makeup application, is about $50. Although the company is quite “focused on trends,” the makeup artist says best-selling products include mostly staples, like face powder, mascara and eyeliner. “We are a big trend-based company and we do seasonal trend training a few times a year,” says the artist. “At these sessions, you get basic training as well as the opportunity to sharpen your skills, from the most natural look to the most dramatic and editorial.”

Another big part of the learning experience for brand ambassadors, he says, involves watching fellow makeup artists create looks in-store, learning tips and tricks along the way. “There is a sense of community on the floor,” he says, adding that many of his coworkers are also his best customers. “We love to watch each other and ask a million questions and show each other how to do new things.” When it comes to customer service, he says patience and education are key to selling products, as is providing an engaging in-store experience.

Empowering the customer in his chair with the tools and knowledge to create a look, he says, will almost always result in sales. “This holiday, two of the biggest trends were well-sculpted skin and matte lips in bold red, burgundy and wine colors,” he says.

Looking to spring, he believes innovative textures will be a focus. “I love the idea of a creamy, satiny finish on lips; shine on eyes; patent-leather textures; dewy, almost buttery skin, and metallics,” he says. “It’s going to be about textural changes and unexpected finishes.” Another recent trend he observes is “smoky eyes with soft poppy-colored lips rather than pale nudes,” he says. “It’s about pairing colors like bright pink, lavender and peach with the classic smoky eye.”

 

Interaction and confidence-building are also central to the hair world, as one stylist, who works for a hair-styling chain in the Northeast, reports. “For many clients, their hair stylist is their therapist,” he says. “These women tell me everything.” Constantly being asked for “Kim Kardashian” or “Victoria’s Secret–model hair,” this stylist says women usually visit the salon before a special event or a night out, noting that the training at his company is centered on providing a consistent experience and look, regardless of the stylist. “In this business, it’s key to listen for the little hints for what a client wants.”

To keep employees aware of how their customer-service skills are translating to clients in the chair, the company sends out an automated e-mail asking for feedback from all clients after a styling service. Reviews are then shared with stylists. “Most of mine are girls saying that I’m fun or that we had a great conversation,” says the stylist. “It’s clear people come in for the experience and the relationship.” One trend of late is customers asking him to be in a picture with them, showcasing their hairstyle, which they then upload to Instagram or Facebook. “Girls want to show off online how fabulous they look with all their friends,” he says. “After styling a girl, it’s clear she’s feeling great about herself. The whole experience gives them positive emotions about themselves and in turn, the brand. This is what they come back for time and time again.”

 

The Human Touch: What’s Working In-Store
1. Incentives, whether value-based, like gift sets, or service- based, such as a free hand massage
2. Generating excitement for products among sales associates and customers before the official launch
3. Educating shoppers on new techniques, particularly makeup applications
4. Infusing customers with confidence: Who doesn’t want to hear how fabulous she looks?
5. Follow-up interactions that invite customer feedback