By  on May 8, 2009

Strolling around a busy department store’s beauty floor wearing only a robe may sound like an excerpt from a somnambulist’s nightmare. However, hoards of women did just that in London’s Selfridges last summer. The near-naked ladies were not participating in peignoir protest, but rather preparing to have their tans topped up by the bronzing brand St. Tropez.

In fact, spray-tanning, eyebrow threading, makeovers and manicures are among the many services British department stores are serving up. More are likely to be added, including weigh-in stations for diet devotees, head-to-toe makeovers and even teeth whitening.

“In this market, customer service is everything and offering additional services is a way of looking after your existing customers and driving new customers into stores,” says Thea Green, founder of the London-based Nails Inc. nail bar chain and the fledgling Get Lashed false lash counter concept. “It’s affordable luxury—affordable not just in terms of money but in terms of time.”

Convenience is a key selling point. “When a woman has the case of the ‘uglies,’ she has to get what she needs done right now,” says Jean Ford, who, with her twin sister Jane, founded Benefit Cosmetics. The brand’s brow bars have been trailblazers in the arena. “It takes the mystery out of a one-and-a-half hour spa treatment and being in department stores makes services à la carte,” says Ford.

“It’s a less scary and more accessible environment than salons and spas,” says Michelle Feeney, chief executive of St. Tropez. “Only 10 percent of British beauty shoppers go to spas to get services. In order to have a wider reach, you have to [offer services in department stores].”

Having one-on-one time with customers is a boon for brands, whose therapists and sales associates have a captive audience. “You’ve got her total attention,” says Debbie Beaumont-Howell, head of beauty and accessories at House of Fraser. “For five to 10 minutes you’re talking to her about the product and selling in a very subtle way.”

According to one brand, its average transaction value in store increases from about $36 to $218 when a customer has a treatment.

Treatments on the beauty floor also create buzz. “It brings kinetic energy and curiosity, and women will stop and stare,” says Jean Ford. “It creates theater and drama,” agrees Noella Gabriel, director of product and treatment development at Elemis, which operates department store “spa pods,” or rooms with specially designed massage chairs where clients are offered facials. “The more exposed our consulting areas are the more successful they are.”

Indeed, British women seem happy to adopt a stiff — soon-to-be-hairless — upper lip attitude to grooming in public. “In Selfridges, our tanning cabanas were by the door, but people were still willing to strip off,” says Feeney. Beaumont-Howell also is counting on women’s willingness to get up close and personal in House of Fraser stores, where she’s considering teaming with Weight Watchers to offer weekly weigh-ins and healthy eating advice, and plans to roll out a concept by New ID Cosmetics, where customers can have makeovers and hairstyling services. “It’s all part of making the store a destination,” she says. “It needs to be an experience.”

Adds Gabriel, “When people are spending less you have to give more.”

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