Diana Dolling Ross 

As physical stores dig deep into how to stop the migration of beauty consumers to online, industry veteran Diana Dolling Ross has advice. “One of the biggest mistakes made servicing the customer today is simple — no one listens,” said Ross who has almost four decades of experience in the beauty business.

Despite the buzz created by online beauty growth, 85 percent of retail sales are still produced in brick-and-mortar stores and Ross said it is time for beauty to apply extra elbow grease to attract and maintain the clientele. The same tools that have opened avenues for consumers to learn more about products are counterintuitive to sales, Ross suggested. “Technology is distracting people so much that the art of communication is lost,” said Ross, who after four decades of building beauty sales at retail, has started her own firm called DD Stargazer Consulting LLC. Ross is best known for building beauty businesses at high-end independent drugstores, such as Town and Country in Ridgewood, N.J.; City Chemist in the New York Market, and the tony White’s Apothecary in the Hamptons.

While working at her former retail operations, Ross delved into shoppers’ lifestyles and experiences and matched them with the products she felt were a fit. She helped bring in premium brands, such as La Mer and Bumble and bumble, to the beauty departments.

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While acknowledging influencers’ impact on the business, Ross, a beauty enthusiast herself, believes the movement negatively impacts the in-store environment. “They are offering advice without touching the client, they have taken the place of the beauty adviser behind the counter. There is also a lack of customer service and product knowledge,” she cautioned. She’s road-tested her theory, noticing missed opportunities when she mystery shops and leaves empty-handed. “Beauty is sensorial, we need to feel the moisturizer on the ski, smell the fragrance and wear it.” And it isn’t just about teaching talent about product knowledge, but to demonstrate hands-on in stores. “There needs to be excitement, enthusiasm and movement in stores. It is far more interesting to experience in person where an expert is available to show you how to use it properly.”

Ross is a firm believer in hosting store events. Way before the influx of in-store services, she added brow grooming and facials to the drugstores she oversaw. Ross ushered in the wellness concept at Town and Country two decades ago. And, before the concept of open-sell, she brought her sales associates out from behind counters. “When we launched La Mer, the event was inspired by a debutant ball. We had classical music provided by a harpist and the beauty advisers in elegant formalwear, including a pharmacist in a tuxedo. La Mer was presented on a silver platter,” she recalled as inspiration for beauty events that can drive sales.

The Internet has educated consumers about products and ingredients, but Ross actually believes it has only made shoppers more confused. That opens the door, she suggested, for independent beauty retailers, especially upscale pharmacies and specialty boutiques who can connect the dots. “Everything is cyclical,” she said, adding the importance of speaking to an adviser who can apply products to skin will swing back in style. “Ultimately sales will increase from doing what’s best for the customer. We are social by nature and the need to be present with one another through communication and touch never diminishes.”

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