NEW YORK — Technology lies at the center of L’Occitane en Provence’s new retail concept, outfitted with digital gifting stations and a smart beauty fitting room to fuel a connected shopping experience.
“It’s technology without losing the human connection,” said Christina Polychroni, chief marketing officer at L’Occitane, during a tour of the brand’s recently renovated U.S. flagship on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District here. The 40-year-old brand quietly reopened the doors to the 2,000-square-foot store two weeks ago and will see an official unveiling on Dec. 14.
“Sometimes we tend to go to the other extreme, but [with this store] we still have that human touch,” she explained.
Where giant posters and product once populated store windows, there are now just benches designed to encourage interaction between consumers and beauty hosts (L’Occitane’s verbiage for sales associates). The intention is that passersby will see all of the interaction happening in the window and be compelled to come in and explore for themselves — and hopefully buy something along the way, according to Chris Skinner, founder of School House, the design firm L’Occitane worked with to conceptualize and execute the brand experience.
Skinner, along with Paul Blackburn, L’Occitane’s associate vice president of design and construction, North America, sought to create a shopping environment with two consumers in mind. Skinner said digital gifting stations and a smart beauty fitting room might appeal more to a younger, autonomous shopper who wants to “lead their own path,” with a concierge station at the back of the store geared toward the assisted customer “who grew up with the Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom who wants to be guided and pampered.”
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That’s not to say that there isn’t crossover. Skinner and L’Occitane specifically created the smart beauty fitting room as a place where technology and human interaction could meet. Located at the back of the store and composed of a communal table with four stations that each has a sink and a digital screen, customers are urged to interact. They can play with the screens and request product to try that nearly instantaneously is brought to them by a beauty host.
“It’s a personal connection that supports digital for for an in-person experience,” Skinner said. “Even within these past four weeks, Nyx [opened] in Union Square and Glossier [too]. Glossier is stripped back and basically a hangout for the community, and Nyx has huge screens in the window. It’s [L’Occitane’s] sweet spot in the middle — it’s that connection that’s upheld by a digital experience and a human experience. No one thing leads.”
Digital is a priority in the redesign, but so is product and the way in which it’s showcased. Laid out by category, the front of the store has “top-line views” of the brand’s offerings and giftable items, followed by the middle portion of the shop, inspired by a Provencal interior. Dropped ceilings and overscaled bookcases are organized by category — skin, bath and body, men’s home, gifting and fragrance — with a massive workshop table down the center. There’s also an emphasis on hand care, which is what L’Occitane is known for (one Shea Butter Hand Cream is sold every three seconds worldwide). A vast wall of mini tubes of hand cream hang in the back of the store facing the smart beauty fitting room — 1,800 tubes of all 13 flavors, to be exact — with a concierge station on the opposite side. Two miles of red, pink and yellow colored ribbons dangle from the ceiling that will change according to season.
Additional doors, featuring a new look, will start to roll out in the spring, and according to Polychroni, the plan is to have three completed in the U.S. and 50 globally by the end of next year. The brand has 3,000 doors globally, with 217 in the U.S. and 42 in Canada. Since the brand’s typical retail footprint is 500 to 600 square feet, the concept will be adapted. Future renovated shops will contain elements of the flagship but won’t be a “carbon copy.”