By  on September 20, 2013

Power is mutual — and for Shiseido and Bloomingdale’s, it’s a reciprocal relationship.

Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer Michael Gould and Shiseido Cosmetics America’s ceo Heidi Manheimer spoke to a packed house at The Harmonie Club in New York about how to keep brand identity intact in a retail partnership for Cosmetic Executive Women’s Newsmaker Forum event on Thursday evening.

Moderated by Jill Scalamandre, senior vice president of Philosophy and Coty Prestige Skin Care, the panelists shared insights into what makes a successful partnership in today’s digital landscape.

“Everything is changing,” said Gould during the discussion. “There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, ‘If you’re on the right track, you’re going to get run over.’”

Manheimer noted that the biggest difference in how the industry has evolved is that the consumer is everywhere and the industry has to meet them everywhere. “The definition of a brand is the relationship with the consumer,” said Manheimer. “The first thing you need to say [is] are we in a place where we share the same consumer.”

Manheimer gave the example of how Shiseido’s backbone is service. Coming from Japan, Shiseido executives were used to customers spending an hour in the department store. Bloomingdale’s informed them that the customer wants that same service in 15 to 12 minutes.

“What makes Bloomingdale’s different?” Gould asked rhetorically. “It’s the culture that people have to come first. The more exciting the store is, the better the online business is going to be. The Dior account doesn’t need another transaction. It needs beauty advisers and beauty experts that have relationships.”

Alluding to the hot topic of Millennials and how to stay on top of younger trends, Manheimer mentioned Shiseido’s new Ibuki range and its target consumer. “When you look at the younger consumer, all the research tells you that they can’t even tell you if they bought it in-store or online,” she said. “They look at it all the same. They want it to be one experience.”

Switching gears, Gould addressed the need to lure more consumers into the cosmetics department. He disclosed that “38 percent of apparel customers bought beauty last year. It’s not like they don’t see [the beauty counter]. It’s not in the corner of the fifth floor. We have customers spending a lot of money with us. Some are FOBs [or free-on-board customers who buy from the store’s catalogue or Web site] and some are not. What are we doing to nurture that?”

“The clientele can be in-store for 30 years, you punch in their information and it pops up that they are a loyalist,” he said, stressing repeatedly the need to form relationships with customers. “But how do we give someone the confidence that being someone’s friend is different than being someone’s salesperson?”

Manheimer added, “The challenge is to make sure they want to come back. During 9/11, we were so surprised. While everyone’s bracing themselves for terrible business, Shiseido did extremely well. When we went to evaluate why, it’s because we had real relationships. Consumers were calling counters to see how the beauty consultants were.”

Turning back the clock, Gould signed off by addressing Carlotta Jacobson, president of CEW. “Twenty-one years ago was the last time I was at a CEW event,” he said. “It took me 21 years to come back, and I hope in 20 years you’ll invite me back.”

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