ASSISTED SELF-SERVE

Byline: Faye Brookman

Give the customer what she wants.
That seemingly simplistic but essential theme was sounded time and again by Summit attendees. It emerged as the motivating factor behind department stores’ growing efforts to open up their selling environments, as well as mass market retailers’ desire to upgrade fixtures to include more educational information.
With prestige outlets going to assisted self-serve and open-sell units and mass looking to add more makeup information, a fear has developed that the two environments will begin to look too much alike.
However, the panel discussion centering around self-service in its many permutations dispelled that notion by illustrating the dramatic differences between the two approaches.
“The quality of service will continue to separate department stores from the mass market,” said Robin Burns, president and chief executive officer of Estee Lauder USA and Canada.
She maintained that even with the move to unlock products, the role of the beauty consultant is key.
With open sell, the job description of beauty adviser changes, which Burns said she hopes will help the industry improve sales and retain its employees longer.
In mass outlets, the evolution of open sell involves advances in fixtures to include talking displays and more educational literature — rather than adding beauty consultants, as some have suggested.
What is clear, according to the panel, is that a segment of the customer base prefers to make a self selection — whether in a drug or department store.
“The message is, there is not a single customer,” said Burns. “There is the customer who wants to be left alone or the one who is just replenishing and wants to get in and out.”
Burns compared cosmetics with two other department store mainstays that were traditionally housed under glass — bras and ties. “Guess what? When they came out from under glass, sales tripled and quadrupled in units overnight,” she said.
The Lauder chief said merchandising needs to be created for the consumer, not the manufacturer.
Rita Mangan, senior vice president for cosmetics at Federated Merchandising Group, agreed and cited efforts Federated has made to react to consumer demands to make the department more accessible, including self-serve environments at Bloomingdale’s.
“Does it work? The customers love it. They truly like the idea these departments are attractive and nonthreatening,” Mangan said. Unit sales increases are running 20 to 40 percent ahead, she said.
Mangan attributed the gains to the new design, but also changes in the role of beauty consultants. Burns agreed and said that Lauder has revamped its training process for the open-sell environment.
“Training sales consultants for this new environment is critical,” she said.
“Product training is not enough — you need training on body language and teamwork.”
She said assisted self-service allows the company to take its demonstration dollars and distribute them more effectively. “Job descriptions have changed,” said Burns. “You have a more skilled adviser, then a second-tier-zone person who works in the open sell, and third tier is more of a cashier.”
She believes the new selling environment will help reduce employee turnover because people will be happier and — an obvious incentive — make more money. “And, we can hire people with specific skills and promote from within,” she added.
Open sell has been the traditional approach in mass. However, Kathy Dwyer, senior vice president of Revlon, illustrated how that environment is also being transformed in order to better serve consumers.
“We believe assisted self-service is how we assist the consumer in making that purchasing decision,” she said. “We want to think about being in the store with her and when she’s not in the store.”
She said Revlon looks to help women, even when they take 10 minutes of their spare time to think about cosmetics, by reaching them with unique promotions and sampling vehicles.
“Women want to simplify their lives. They are looking to focus, delegate and eject. It is our job to make sure cosmetics is not in the ejection category,” said Dwyer.
Although product innovation is crucial, Dwyer said the next frontier is enhancing the selling environment. She said people want information — but they want it only when they want it. To address this, Revlon has created “talker-testers” which explain products and offer a sample. The company also publishes Revlon Reports, informational booklets distributed in stores and in magazines.
Lorraine Coyle, managing director of the Beauty Group for Eckerd Corp., echoed the call to give the customer what she wants when it comes to service — or no service.
“The customer has told us loud and clear that shopping isn’t the leisure hobby it was. They expect clean, comfortable stores and information to make quick, but intelligent decisions,” she said.
Until a few years ago, Eckerd was one of a handful of drugstore chains committed to service in all stores. Now the chain has cosmeticians in select stores, but their roles have changed.
“They have to be display cabinet experts and experts on inventory management,” Coyle said.
She added that fixturing plans need to be determined two years ahead because of the exorbitant costs of resetting departments. Planogram changes, she said, require 50 man-hours per store.
Assisted self-service in the mass market means teaming up promotional efforts with in-store displays. Coyle credited Revlon with generating tremendous interest in its color promotions, which are then executed in a consistent manner in the store. Sales results after a recent Revlon promotion showed a 30 percent increase, which Coyle attributed to the integrated marketing plan.
Vincent Butta, senior vice president and national sales manager for Advertising Display Co., described wall systems in both mass market and department store settings and how the two are meeting in the middle.
Fixtures, he said, need to be modular and custom-made for accounts. He also showed fixtures that can calculate the number of units sold.
“Planogramming and restocking are very important in the mass market,” said Butta. “We need to provide testers and color chips that are easy to change. You need fixtures that are easy to clean and easy to update.”
He said spring-loaded displays that push products forward for automatic replenishment have been common in chain stores, but will also be used in department stores.
“Taking the glass off and making shopping accessible is a step department stores are taking,” he said, noting that the future could be in interactive displays where the consultant is actually a computer.
Whether the adviser is a person or a computer, products can’t be put in a totally open environment without some protection against pilferage. Joe Ryan, vice president of the global source tagging division of Sensormatic, discussed technological breakthroughs — after the “alligator tag” — to thwart theft.
He described tiny electronic article surveillance items that can be embedded in product or cases. Results from a test of 250 fragrances in a drugstore showed a 62 percent increase in sales when the products were put into the open.
EAS, he said, can allow retailers to get products into the open like this and encourage shoppers to try product lines without the fear of pilferage.
The panel concurred that pilferage is always a threat with open sell.
“That’s why I’m glad I met Joe,” said Burns.

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