By  on September 4, 2009

LONDON — While Selfridges may be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the department store’s Oxford Street beauty hall has no intention of showing its age.

The 20,000-square-foot ground-floor space is undergoing a facelift, thanks to a plethora of beauty behemoths introducing their most cutting-edge counters and corners. The overall look is also being tweaked to create a greater sense of space, thanks to wider aisles.

“We looked at everything about the hall as a style exercise,” said Stephanie Traore, marketing and development manager for beauty at Selfridges, adding the goal is to show brands in a surprising way and offer customers unique shopping experiences. “Beauty is about energy. We asked ourselves, ‘What’s our energy?’”

She said the retailer is about midway through its beauty floor revamp, which kicked off last year.

Freshening the beauty department’s appearance is also a strategic move for the store as a whole, according to George Wallace, chief executive officer of retail consultancy MHE Retail.

“Selfridges wants to be seen as a leader and to keep ahead of the competition,” he said. “Since cosmetics and skin care typically do not suffer as much as other categories during a spending downturn, it makes sense that the store is giving priority to that department over other categories, such as home and leisure.”

Industry sources estimate Selfridges’ beauty department annually generates 70 million pounds to 80 million pounds, or $114.4 million to $130.8 million at current exchange, apparently ensuring its position as the highest-turnover prestige beauty floor in the world. Those sources said the space has been delivering growth in the region of 10.5 to 11 percent per year, a trend likely to at least continue.

The store’s beauty team surmised shoppers come to Selfridges for newness and theater and so decided to set the scene with unique and dramatic counters.

Christian Dior and Chanel, for example, over the next two months will introduce counter concepts devised specifically for the store. Chanel also unveiled a fragrance-specific boutique Aug. 24, and Estée Lauder, Yves Saint Laurent, Lancôme and Clarins are among brands to have introduced new look spaces.

Lauder, for instance, used sofas, chinoiserie and Gracie wallpaper to create a living room-like atmosphere. “I was inspired by Estée’s personal style,” said Aerin Lauder, the brand’s senior vice president and creative director, adding Gracie wallpaper was often used by her grandmother when decorating her homes and offices. “We mixed modern elements with aspects of our heritage. We wanted to create a boutique feel, which is warm and welcoming.”

Lancôme’s space is bedecked with large LED screens, which stream films featuring the brand’s products and items available exclusively at Selfridges, as well as a makeup “play table.”

“Moving images are an excellent way to communicate innovation [and] technology, as well as to showcase mini-films featuring our brand ambassadors,” said Alexandre Choueiri, general manager of Lancôme U.K.

Clarins, meanwhile, has introduced a “top table” within its stand, where customers are invited to meet beauty experts. The space also includes a spa, plus a private treatment room where customers can sample makeup and skin care products.

To make it easier for customers to locate stands on the shop floor, Selfridges issued guidelines to brands regarding individual selling spaces. The use of canopies over counters, for instance, is restricted so that shoppers have an unhindered panoramic view of the floor. Also, white marble floor tiles are being installed across the department to replace individual brands’ floor coverings so as to create a greater sense of space.“The space feels lighter, more open and airy,” said Traore.

“Openness is key to the experience at Selfridges,” said Andrew Rogers, European marketing director of bareMinerals, which has a counter in the store’s beauty hall. “It’s important to us that people come and sit down at the stand, so anything that’s more open is better.”

Daniel Annese, senior vice president and general manager of Estée Lauder International, also gave the revamp a thumbs-up. “Selfridges is a key flagship in terms of commercial value and visibility, as London is a gateway to international,” he said. “A large percentage of business generated there is from tourists, so having a unique environment makes a big statement about the modernity of a brand.”

According to sources, a department store will typically spend 100 pounds, or $163.50, per square foot when refreshing a beauty hall, which covers the cost of installing new flooring and lighting, for instance. The beauty brands it carries will then spend an additional 200 pounds, or $327, per square foot on their counters and stands.

As well as asking for unique and innovative concepts, Selfridges also encouraged brands to design counters that allow customers to move easily from one space to another.

“When the area is fluid, the customer feels she can get in or go away quickly. It gives the customer choice,” said Traore. “[She doesn’t] feel funneled into that area.”

She pointed to Lancôme as an example of a counter offering ease of movement since the brand’s space features multiple points of entry. “The idea of the girl behind the counter is gone, it’s old-fashioned,” she said.

Indeed, despite the inclement economic climate, on a recent Thursday afternoon Selfridges was bustling. Counters across the department were dotted with women undergoing makeovers; a clutch of businessmen sampled scents at the Tom Ford fragrance counter, and, at a temporary QMS MediCosmetics stand located in the center of the department, one woman received a facial in full view of passing shoppers. MAC Cosmetics, a perennial Selfridges hot spot, was in overdrive, too.

“It’s not just about having a unique product anymore, but also about how you can show it in a surprising way,” said Traore, adding brands have been asked to deliver unique marketing programs for the store.

“We’ve been honest with brands,” she continued. “We say to them, ‘if you have a big footprint, what are you going to do for the Selfridges customer?’”

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