The Body Shop shapes up to challenge competitors

The Body Shop must reinvent its ethical principles to appeal to today’s more sophisticated cosmetics consumer, designers claim this week, as the company moves to strengthen its marketing resource.

Andy King, who has prior experience at Mothercare, WH Smith and Boots the Chemists, joined as director of marketing last week to work at a global level alongside creative director Franco Bonadio, who was hired earlier this year (DW 12 June).

King’s appointment follows flat retail sales figures in The Body Shop’s October financial statement, at just over £306m, with pre-tax profits of £9.1m.

While some parts of the global picture are encouraging, the UK faces a challenging competitive environment. Like-for-like sales at UK stores were down 9 per cent in the six months to 30 August.

The Body Shop chief executive Peter Saunders has said his products should offer cheaper alternatives to Estée Lauder, Clinique and Elizabeth Arden – a strategy referred to as ‘masstige’ or in between mass and prestige positionings.

In response, the chain has begun a ‘Refresh programme’ to update visual merchandising, uniforms and in-store signage, but designers believe it must review how it motivates customers, particularly in the UK.

Corporate Edge director Peter Shaw believes it will be ‘an incredibly tall order’ to develop a premium offer, though the brand ‘might do well to follow the model of Tesco Finest’.

‘When The Body Shop launched it was first [to market], with a unique set of products and a unique approach, as well as a very focal founder,’ says Shaw.

‘Now, ethical has gone mainstream and the luxurious nature of the products isn’t enough. [King and Bonadio] must question how they position the product offer and refine that.’

Design Conspiracy partner April Kent says The Body Shop is ‘a victim of its own success’.

‘Boots, Lush and others have all now started to do what it used to be renowned for. In these post-“No Logo” times, they need to get back to being more proactive, more radical and more edgy.’

Easytiger Associates director Adam Devey Smith says the main priority is to increase footfall. ‘They need more reason for new customers to shop [there] in the UK. [Having] revolutionised the skin and hair-care market, too many others have joined its sector. The Body Shop needs to use its believable [and] strong personality to revolutionise other related profitable sectors or invent a new one.’

Brands such as Clarins and Aveda have more convincing customer-focused offers, he says, and Lewis Moberly creative director Mary Lewis echoes the point.

‘Segmentation has definitely improved, but The Body Shop still needs to offer its customers a heightened in-store experience,’ she says. ‘They remain vulnerable to retailers offering a holistic approach to wellness.’

Neither King nor Bonadio was available for comment. But a Body Shop spokesman points to the brand’s international reputation.

‘You’ve got to remember that we have a successful global brand. A lot of UK retailers have tried to expand outside the UK and failed,’ he says. However, he admits the Refresh initiative ‘recognises specific challenges [the brand faces] in the UK’.

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