No testers, no makeovers, no swatching. As 200 Boots beauty halls reopen this week, we look at how beauty counters are moving to a new shopping experience

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There's nothing that can quite match the Aladdin's cave experience of meandering in the beauty aisles swishing your fingers across an iridescent highlighter at Fenty or swatching every shade of lipstick at MAC.

We've long given up thinking that IRL shopping can get back to anything like its pre-pandemic form. But what will the 'new normal' look like when it comes to beauty buying? We're about to get a glimpse this week with the reopening of 200 of Boots’ beauty halls. As an essential retailer (i.e. a chemist) Boots has been open throughout lockdown. You could still buy makeup from the self-select beauty sections home to the likes of Rimmel, Max Factor and Maybelline, although this wasn’t well-publicized. Unsurprisingly they didn’t want to encourage visitors in just to buy a new eyeliner or mascara.

The premium beauty counters (Chanel, Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, etc). But these are opening this week with Boots beauty specialists wearing PPE on hand to offer brand-neutral advice. As a customer, you'll be allowed in without PPE, but you'll need to follow the social distancing guidance.

Other beauty outlets will follow suit as soon as regulations allow. Space NK will begin a phased opening of stores on 15 June, in line with government guidelines for non-essential shops. They will be opening select stores at a time, they tell us, to test and learn to ensure a safe shopping environment for both customers and staff.

One of the most iconic beauty shopping destinations is Lush, well-known for a hands-on, unpackaged shopping experience. The brand plans to open in England on 15 June and tell us it is finalising plans, taking its lead from stores in the Netherlands and France. "Many Lush shops are setting up a kiosk by the front door to serve, avoiding the need for customers to enter the shop at all," explains Elizabeth Bowles, Lush's senior press officer.

In France, Lush is offering individual soaps for customers to wash their hands, plus shopping baskets will only be available for the number of customers allowed in at one time with social distancing. “Once there are no baskets available you have to wait for more to be disinfected and available again before entering,” says Elizabeth.

Charlotte Tilbury, Selfridges and MAC told us they were still finalising their reopening plans and had no information to share at this stage.

With weeks of lockdown trading under their belts already, Boots are bringing the insights they have gained into play for this week's reopening. “Having been open throughout lockdown has allowed us to learn and adapt to new ways of shopping,” says Joanna Rogers, vice president of beauty at Boots. “This means that we can bring back makeup and beauty aisles in a safe way, allowing customers to shop in confidence.”

How will beauty testers work?

The days of swatching eyeshadow and testing lipsticks on the back of your hand are gone. At least in the way we’re used to.

“Testers for makeup, fragrance and skincare will be removed from [Boots] stores and will be reintroduced when it is safe to do so,” Joanna explains. “When they return, testers won’t be on public display in the beauty aisles and will be dispensed by a beauty advisor with strict hygiene and hand-washing measures in place. Perfumes will be spritzed onto an individual fragrance blotter, liquid foundations will be pumped into a disposable pot and powders will be swiped with a single-use sponge and placed into a disposable pot.”

While this might be ringing ring landfill alarm bells, Boots says that testing pots will be made out of paper and wood and the spatulas and buds are all recyclable.

Lush, where you can normally go wild with will see a big change. "With no product testing and less demonstrations possible, Lush shops will be supported through tech such as  Lush Lens ," explains Elizabeth. "Customers can download the Lush Labs app and scan unpackaged products (over 50 per cent of Lush's range) in-store. The phone’s camera is able to recognise products and give the customer detailed ingredient information, price and ‘how to use’ demonstrations through videos via the app."

Can I still have my makeup done at a beauty counter?

No: makeup consultations will be touch-free, Boots tells us. We won't be able to perch on a stool while the beauty advisors work their magic anymore, but they will still be on hand to offer advice, wearing full PPE and visors.

“Beauty advisors can chat through hints and tips on application without the need for physical contact,” explains Joanna. "We're also trialing online consultations with our beauty specialists following the successful launch of virtual appointments with No7 and Liz Earle advisors. Customers can get personalised, expert skincare and make-up advice from advisors over the phone or a video call."

When the beauty halls first open Boots will not be able to provide foundation shade matching in-store. At stage two of the reopening (the date has yet to be announced) foundation will available for customers to test with disposable applicators. The beauty advisors will offer advice and guidance through a non-touch consultation.

It's a similar picture at Space NK. “To start with our stores will remain contactless in terms of customer consultations,” says the company's head of PR Jini Sanassy. The brand will encourage customers to continue to go online for in-depth consultations. You can book onto  beauty masterclasses or have a virtual consultation to colour match foundation and skincare

How will we walk around the store?

Just like in the supermarket, shoppers will have to follow designated routes around the store at Boots. There will be two-metre guidance signs so you’re able to keep your distance from others.

We're also going to be spending more time queueing outdoors at smaller stores such as Space NK (bring SPF or brolly as appropriate) "Entrance to stores may involve a queue as we restrict the number of customers that are able to enter the store at one time," says Jini. They will also offer curbside rather than in-store collection of online orders.  "Curbside collection is a convenient solution for customers who do not want to pay delivery charges and prefer to collect their order from store – their order will be sent to the stock by our warehouse with the usual deliveries," they say.

Can I have beauty treatments instore?

One of the parts apart hitting the high street is popping into Superdrug to pick up a nail polish and leaving with threaded brows and a mani, but will instore beauty services be available? And if yes, what will they be like? GTG's Jemma called into the London Marble Arch flagship to find out.

"Overall it was very pleasant! We had the usual suspects; track and trace, social distancing wearing face masks, etc. but surprisingly the ‘new normal’ felt, well just as normal as ever! Yes, the beauty services (hair, nails, brows, and even piercings) have adapted to accommodate social distancing, but it felt reassuringly safe; each treatment station had screens installed and cleaned after each session, staff are supplied with PPE and went above and beyond to make sure you feel safe and comfortable. The days of the frantic Marble Arch store are gone for now, as Superdrug have put measures in place to ensure they don’t have over the maximum number of colleagues and customers in the store and studio at one time; so you may have to wait longer, but means more space to grab some bargains. Walk-in appointments are still available, depending on booking and capacity, of course."

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