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Beauty

Counter culture: is Boots about to rival Sephora for beauty shopping?

May 3rd 2019 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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Many of us fill our boots when visiting a Sephora in Europe or the US, but the transformation of Boots’ beauty halls could see us quite literally doing the same on home soil. Here’s how the way we buy beauty on the UK high street is set to change

If Sephora is your kinda sweet shop, the fact that Boots is relaunching its beauty halls in its image (not officially, but wait for it…) will have your mouth watering. Gone are the lab coats, loitering at tumbleweed counters wondering where that specific member of staff is at or pedestrian brand options. Boots beauty hall 2.0 is modelled on the expansive choice and ‘at your fingertips’ knowledge of online beauty emporiums, with the tangible benefits of face-to-face masterclasses, Q&As and physical discovery zones. Because try as the Internet might, scratch, sniff and swatch is still beyond the remit of e-retailers, although we give it ten years max.

For now, Boots is looking to bring the ‘beauty haul’ to the beauty hall in terms of more niche, cult product and brand launches - expect 805 new beauty products by the end of May and 20 new brands making an appearance over the next six months. There won’t necessarily be a specific brand rep on each either - Boots Beauty Specialists have been selected from a pool of beauty enthusiasts to provide advice and expertise across the board, supposedly in an unbiased capacity although they probably won’t be sending you to the Superdrug down the road. Given that 90 per cent of all beauty sales in the UK in 2017 were in-store purchases according to Euromonitor, and a correlating 90 per cent of Brits are generally within ten minutes of a Boots store, bringing the pace and breadth of a social media scroll/ Sephora style ‘beauty edit’ experience to your trusty local chemist seems genius, but will it swing your purchases and how novel is it really? Here’s why shopping at beauty counters might be about to get a whole lot better, with a nod to good old Mrs Boot…

Mrs Boot was onto the ‘beauty discovery zone’ in the 1800s

Florence Annie Boot, the wife of the son of Boots’ founder Jesse Boot got cracking on business matters as soon as they married in 1886, bringing in never seen before product ranges and designing the layout of the dispensary and perfumery halls at the flagship Pelham street Boots store in Nottingham, shaping everything from countertops to lighting to optimise the customer’s experience. Floor to ceiling lotions and potions surely constitutes the ‘beauty haul’ of days gone by, and the fact that the offering was so rigorously curated mirrors the refit of 24 Boots beauty halls in 2019 - open furniture, interactive ‘experience zones’ and thoughtful multi-brand edits were all part of a trip to the shops in the 19th century just as they’re having a second-wave today. Albeit with touch screens, ever-changing virtual trend windows and Youtube studios, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Florence would have been onto that had she had access to a Wifi hotspot.

“Empathetic” beauty specialists at your service

Now this is a funny one because I’m sure that most in-store beauty consultants would argue that their empathetic approach already garners both sales and a loyal clientele, but just to dot the i’s Boots’ newly trained Beauty Specialists have undergone a “unique empathy training module to learn how to connect with the customer beyond the product and looking for the reason behind why they are shopping it.” In essence, they’ll compassionately point you to the kinds of products that could help you to solve a specific issue rather than making a product from only one particular brand ‘fit’ you.

The newly created role is apparently a first for the British high street and recruitment has centred on finding “true beauty junkies” according to Commercial Director and VP of Beauty and Gifting at Boots UK, Joanna Rogers:

“We’ve scoured the UK for the biggest beauty enthusiasts to fill these roles and have recruited using an in-depth online selection tool and a robust showcasing test where they are invited onto the sales floor to see how they interact with customers.”

Once on the floor, Beauty Enthusiasts offer everything from one-on-ones to master classes and Joanna emphasises that the beauty bootcamp doesn’t stop there:

“We have an exciting training programme lined up for our new Boots Beauty specialists. We have a beauty education team on board that we calling the ‘Beauty Academy’ and everything our new specialists will do will sit under ‘Beauty University’.

“We will be using a digital social learning platform that feels like a community for them where we will ensure they are up to speed on all of the latest trends and products. We will be using a digital social learning platform that feels like a community for them where we will ensure they are up to speed on all of the latest trends and products.”

Essentially, the Open University comes to an open-plan beauty hall near you, and the fresh from class Beauty Enthusiasts will be taking a leaf out of the influencer book too, because you can’t ignore that kind of social media driven magnetism in this day and age.

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It’s influencer influenced

No surprise there really given the gigantic following and buying power that influencers garner - Joanna explains where the influencer model will come in:

“We are also looking at getting influencers involved to help to shape our Beauty Specialists’ way of thinking, for instance perceiving how our customers want to receive content and what makes an interesting approach in terms of creating said content. We’re kicking off with ‘get-the-looks’ for customers to then try themselves at home. All training is also unbiased to help our beauty specialists to think about the right products for a customer and not what they ‘think the customer needs’, in the way that an influencer would present multiple brands and edits depending on who they’re talking to.”

You’ll see all the makeup newness on Insta first

Boots buyers are becoming more cutting edge - you’ll now be able to pick up the likes of K-Beauty brand Tony Moly and eco-friendly Soaper Duper alongside your meal deal. Edgier makeup brands in particular will also be debuted specifically on Instagram according to Joanna, to “provide visual beauty inspiration content and continue to create a buzz around the latest brand collaborations.” It’s not rocket science, more keeping up with the times, but it’s handy to see what’s coming so that you can browse strategically as you pick up a prescription etc.

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800 million of you will step foot in the beauty hall of the future

While Boots.com remains the company’s “flagship store”, Joanna and her team believe that marrying the variety, convenience and tech offerings of online shopping with the physical experience of nipping into a store and trying the latest cosmetic hype in real life will drive footfall. Mintel analysts predict that UK beauty sales will grow by at least 17.2 per cent over the next five years, and seeing as Amazon and the like still can’t help you try ten lipsticks on for size and that foundation shopping online remains a bit of lucky dip, Boots nationwide beauty refit would seem like a wise investment. Primarily online only beauty success stories such as Cult Beauty and Glossier prove that store space isn’t a must for happy customers and healthy profit margins, but just as Whatsapp isn’t replacing IRL wines, so cyber beauty compliments Mrs Boot’s original discovery dream. We expect a lot from our beauty products and those selling them to us, and perhaps sandwiching together the digital and the physical means that we’re finally being served.

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