A made up retail format

Stores selling cosmetics have realised that customers don’t like overbearing assistants, and they are making it much easier to experiment with products.

The stereotype of the old-style cosmetics counter, ruled over by intimidating dragons hidden behind layers of slap, is one that persists for many shoppers. And for good reason: it still seems to exist.

While cosmetics manufacturers are forever introducing new, improved ingredients or fashionable packaging, the way their products are sold seems to remain resolutely old-fashioned. Attempts to move away from the norm, for example the ill-fated Virgin Vie chain, have found trading conditions difficult.

But, the industry now seems committed to making things easier for its customers. Store designs are changing as retailers focus on creating a personal and stress-free atmosphere for people to shop in.

Tried by the Virgin Cosmetics Company in 1997, Boots further developed the idea of encouraging interaction and experimentation when buying cosmetics products at its flagship store in Manchester last year.

A Virgin Cosmetics Company spokeswoman says the group aimed to overcome the problem of “quite intimidating” cosmetics counters, when it first launched its shops. “The main essence is that you can play with everything before you buy it. It is much more of an approachable way,” she adds. A number of design groups, including Revolution and Ratcliffe Fowler, worked on projects for the company in the past.

Now other chains in both the UK and US are adopting a more personal approach. Domestically, Superdrug is rolling out a new format created by London design consultancy Carte Blanche. It is due to be implemented in 400 stores by mid-September, with the remaining 310 stores being refurbished in the future. The experience-led concept has been developed to provide greater opportunity for customers to experiment and select products without being pressurised by a member of staff.

Points – known in the company as playstations – are positioned between merchandising units around each outlet, featuring testers, promotional items, lighting, mirrors, cotton wool and bins, enabling shoppers to experiment with several different products.

Carte Blanche partner Su Davies says the new design acts as an “in-store destination point. The curved design maximises display area, while providing an interesting and informative display. It makes it a lot easier for customers to see all the choices in a particular product range and more easily compare different makes of lipstick or mascara.”

Superdrug marketing director Jo O’Connor explains the decision for the revamp, adding the early response to the new format has been positive. “Customer reaction has been extremely encouraging, with many telling us how much they love the new look and how easy it is to find their favourite brands,” she says.

“Cosmetics is a destination category for Superdrug and to capitalise on our strong growth in this area we needed to present a new face for cosmetics in-store, breathing new life into the way products were displayed.

“The old units were very functional and were restricting our plans to develop the category. The new fixtures have created a blank canvas for brands to clearly communicate their own identities, which gives them real stand-out in-store. New features include improved product displays and testing facilities, brighter lighting and clearer brand signage,” adds O’Connor.

US giant Victoria’s Secret Beauty, a cosmetics retailing sister chain to the Victoria’s Secret lingerie operation, has been secretly trialing a store design by London interior designer David Collins.

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Bespoke furniture, including a counter designed to suggest intimacy and enhance customer involvement, has been developed. With the trials, including warehouse mock-up stores, now complete the chain is refitting its stores at the rate of one a week, ironing out any initial problems by opening the first few stores in remote areas, so competitors won’t see them.

The recently-launched cosmetics company Beautyspy aims to have a retail presence both in Europe and the US, having recently launched its website from which people can buy a multitude of products. New York design consultancy Enki has created the company’s corporate identity and branding and will be working on retail formats in the future.

Beautyspy, which currently has offices in London, Munich and New York, aims to open its first retail outlets in London and Germany during the first half of next year, according to co-founder and marketing and PR director Amy Gordinier-Regan.

Senior manager of retail development Fabrice Reynaud says Enki will develop shop interiors from its existing branding, which will subsequently be implemented by architects. “There will be a lot of freedom in the shops and customers will be able to self-serve. The layout will be very open and clean, focusing on the products themselves and enabling the customer to experiment with different things,” he explains.

“We aim to open three to five outlets each year – in the UK and Germany initially and then other markets such as France and Italy, where fashion and beauty are important markets.”

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