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Omnichannel Isn’t an Overused Word, Retail Execs Say

Beauty executives from Walgreens, Ulta Beauty and Cos Bar outline their retail strategies and the importance of e-commerce at a CEW Insider panel.

Retail isn’t dead, especially in beauty.

But e-commerce is playing a more important role than ever, according to Lauren Brindley, general vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty and personal care at Walgreens; Kecia Steelman, chief store operations officer at Ulta Beauty, and David Olsen, chief executive officer of Cos Bar.

The three contended that omnichannel is not an overused word at CEW’s Reinventing Retail Stores event on Tuesday in New York, moderated by Beauty Inc editor Jenny B. Fine. Brindley, Steelman and Olsen emphasized that a consistent experience — online and in-store — remains key, as shoppers who purchase in both locations tend to spend more.

Brindley noted that omnichannel is really about the “seamless retail experience” — that no matter where the customer interacts with a business, they get the same experience. “It’s about the DNA of your brand showing in the right way,” Brindley said. “For brands and retailers it’s really important to think about wherever you show up, the DNA of your brand or your business, she has to understand the connection…who you are, what you’re about.”

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Walgreens has recently upped its focus on beauty, rolling elevated beauty offerings complete with highly trained beauty consultants and testers into 2,000 doors, with another 1,200 doors coming before the end of the year.

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At Aspen, Colo.-based Cos Bar, which has traditionally focused on bricks-and-mortar locations, “the big opportunity…has been in digital,” Olsen said. Since he took the helm as ceo in 2016 (he was previously with Net-a-porter), e-commerce has gone from 2 percent of the company’s business to 15 percent, he said.

“What we’re trying to do in digital is really re-create that in-store experience,” he said, adding the reason people are still talking about omnichannel is that it’s not yet in place, partially because of clunky legacy software. “If you’re disregarding digital and omni, you’re dead,” Olsen added.

For Ulta, the omnichannel shopper is the best customer, according to Steelman. The way to execute a good experience for Ulta has been to reduce silos and have the retail and digital sides work as a team, she noted. “If you’re looking at the business holistically, you’re looking at the business in the right way,” Steelman said.

A big part of Steelman’s strategy is to get out of the office and into the stores to listen to feedback. “I get cranky if I’m in the office too much,” she joked. “The answers aren’t at corporate, they’re in the field.”

Services, too, play a key role in the retail-customer relationship.

At Cos Bar, services come in during the one-on-one relationship that sales staff has with their customer. Walgreens, with a pharmacy-services background, is training its beauty staff more than ever before, Brindley noted. Ulta is in the process of ramping up its services side (it has a salon in every store), with the retailer’s professional hair team coordinating artistic personnel of multiple brands to train Ulta stylists. “This is the first time in the salon industry that these brands are playing together,” said Steelman.

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