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How to Close the Digital and Retail Gap, According to Coty’s Fred Gerantabee

Retailers and brands should think of how consumers naturally use technology and work that into physical stores, Gerantabee says.

Retailers need to adopt digital in the same ways as consumers, according to Coty Inc.’s vice president of digital innovation Fred Gerantabee.

That means bringing the digital trends that consumers are adopting into the retail environment.

“If 90 percent of the consumer base says, ‘I love to order things through Amazon Alexa because I can do it without my hands, I can just speak to it.’ The answer isn’t like, ‘well, that’s not how we do things,’ like an old principal,” Gerantabee said. “The answer is, ‘OK, let’s find a way to make this work. Let’s bring some of the behavior from your world into the retail environment so it feels like you are home.'”

Voice was just one example Gerantabee gave, but his overarching message was that in an era with more stockkeeping units and less shelf space, brands and retailers need to think about the service options they can bring to the store to improve the shopping experience.

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“We need to start thinking about what we call a service-based culture,” he said. The idea is to focus on not just what goes on the shelf, but helping shoppers feel confident in their ability to pick the right product and understand what to do with it.

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“It’s not enough just to stock shelves anymore — we are now in this service-focused culture,” Gerantabee said. “How are we inspiring people to be their best? How are we creating a level of confidence with product selection? How are we helping them look at something on the shelf and immediately understand, ‘this is right for me, this is how I apply it, this is how I’m going to get the best results possible.'”

Getting it right means thinking about the customer standing in a store with a mobile phone and the customer sitting at home online shopping differently, he said. “If you treat the two the same, you will never, ever nail it,” Gerantabee said. It also means working with shoppers’ existing behavior and “not trying to invent new behavior out of the ether,” he noted.

Going where the customer already is — like Facebook Messenger or mobile cameras — should be supplemented with tools that augment the shopping experience.

“Tell them, ‘Hey, you guys use this stuff anyway. Let’s add to your universe by telling you more about these products or, more importantly, what they can do for you,'” Gerantabee said. “If you do visual search and you give them a price? Come on guys, that’s lazy. Let’s give them context they can’t get standing at the shelf.” That means showing reviews, how-to videos or color inspiration, he said.

Gerantabee gave a few Coty-specific examples of how the beauty company’s brands are incorporating digital into retail. Nioxin, a professional hair brand, helps shoppers pick out a regimen at the store shelf and guides them back to the register so they don’t end up just buying online while standing in the store, Gerantabee said. And Bourjois, a color cosmetics brand, just debuted a new magic mirror in London that sits above a lipstick tray.

When shoppers pick up a lipstick from the tray, the mirror shows them what it would look like on their lips, without them having to apply a shared tester. “It’s more hygenic, honestly,” Gerantabee said.

It’s also an example of how retailers should be working hand-in-hand with the technology teams during the store design process to develop a seamless experience for shoppers, he noted.