ulta beauty

Browse the recent headlines of retail trades and you will get nothing but a picture of doom and gloom — how Amazon and social media are killing the country’s bricks-and-mortar retail locations.

How is it, though, that retailers like Ulta Beauty are able to grow in these tumultuous times when their department store rivals are closing locations and filing for bankruptcy?

Are Amazon and social media really to blame for the downfall of retailers and brands like Macy’s and the Limited? Or, is it that these brands lost their relevancy? Rather than evolving with the digital current, these brands have stayed the course, relying on their customers to remain loyal.

While brands like The Limited, BCBG, Wet Seal and American Apparel are shuttering hundreds of stores; retailers and brands like Ulta Beauty, Kendra Scott Design, NYX Professional Makeup and Revolve are reaching the coveted Millennial consumer across multiple channels.

Let’s look at how these brands are succeeding and how you can incorporate their strategies to win:

Meet Your Customers Where They Are

Brands and retailers have to think beyond the traditional bricks-and-mortar model by integrating digital content to create memorable customer experiences. L’Oréal-owned NYX Professional Makeup, a digital darling with almost 11 million Instagram followers, works with both mega-influencers and micro-influencers across all social media platforms. A customer shopping in a NYX bricks-and-mortar can access those influencers’ tutorials and user-generated content simply by scanning a product at a shelf display. In-store tablets also give customers the ability to match makeup looks to their outfits and are encouraged to play with the makeup and share on social media.

Kendra Scott empowers its customers to help give back to their communities through the Kendra Gives Back philanthropy program. She cares about what her customers care about and meets them in the moment creating affinity and awareness for her brand. Events in store encourage community building which is harder to do on the web yet current generations are seeking.

Ulta Beauty is also hyper-focused on enhancing their customer experience across all channels. The company’s in-store salons reiterates the company’s “All Things Beauty, All in One Place” mantra and takes advantage of the fact that salon guests have a reason to frequent the store and spend triple than the average customer. Ulta further augments the customer’s in-store experience by utilizing artificial intelligence — the company recently partnered with digitally native brand Madison Reed, a company that provides customized professional hair color and hair color products at home. Ulta will be installing Madison Reed’s chat bot “Madi,” a bot that uses image recognition technology and an algorithm to match hair colors will be in-store to help customers select the right hair color. Ulta also recently revamped its loyalty program and created a store credit card — both providing valuable shopper data and analytics.

The Need for Speed

In this age of “need it now,” the concept of “Fast Fashion” and “Fast Beauty” appeals to customers, particularly Millennials who quickly want access to the trends they are seeing on the runways and on influencers. While brands like Asos, H&M and Zara are known for quickly translating runway and street trends to merchandise, Revolve leverages the speed of a trend’s exit as much as its entrance. As soon as a trend hits the mass market, Revolve abandons ship, according to a 2015 Fortune article. Cofounder Michael Mente said in the article, “If you ride a trend too far, it’s hard to get the customer back.”

When it comes to beauty, companies like NYX are more agile than their cosmetic conglomerate peers that usually take several months to launch a collection — NYX can spot a trend and turn it into a collection in a matter of weeks. NYX famously sent out an e-mail blast touting its “Dupe” lookalike for the Kylie Lip Kit as soon as it sold out.

Sphere of Influencers

Working strategically with influencers is key to building a brand’s authenticity and sense of community — but don’t just look to the top. Forward-thinking brands are using micro-influencers more than ever — not only because it’s more cost-effective but because these micro-influencers create a more intimate, niche sense of community. With, say, 10,000 followers a micro-influencer can communicate and engage with an audience far more effectively than a big-ticket influencer.

NYX works with the entire spectrum of influencers — from the largest Instagram and YouTube stars, whom they feature giving tutorials and content in their bricks-and-mortar stores to micro-influencers they discover via their yearly “Beauty Vlogger of the Year Competition.”

Revolve is known for having some of the strongest influencer relationships in fashion. For an influencer, to be a “Revolve Girl” translates to being an “It girl” which means being invited to all-expenses paid and outfitted trips around the world, going VIP to Coachella, and attending exclusive events at the brand’s members-only Revolve Social Club, an L.A.-based showroom/event space/shopping space. And, of course capturing every moment on social media…

Most importantly, founders are the most genuine influencers. Kendra Scott has put herself out in front of the brand with a heartfelt story of how she built her company. She has a blog, a podcast and engages in conversation with her customers.

Whether you are a retailer, fashion or beauty brand, one thing is clear: in this day and age you have to get out of your comfort zone and attack digital-first marketing. No one can rest on their brand laurels, and everyone should be watching where your customer is going next.

Sonya Brown is general partner at Norwest Venture Partners. Her profile can be found here.

For More Business News From WWD, See:

Amazon, Wal-Mart and Apple Top List of Biggest E-commerce Retailers

Consumer Preferences Reshaping Retail Landscape

Study Shows Doing Business Globally Can Increase Payment Errors