Beauty retailers Sephora and Ulta Beauty have made a living through services and the model of letting consumers’ try-before-they-buy. Yet both of these tactics fall under new pressures amid today’s COVID-19 regulations and concerns.
As stores begin to open up, the two will see how consumers react to a new shopping experience. Ulta started reopening on May 11 and now has around 330 stores (about a quarter of its fleet) open for retail, with 283 of those stores offering salon services. The retailer said 800 stores offer curbside pickup, while Sephora has refrained from launching curbside service.
Sephora stores began reopening on May 22 has more than 100 reopened (out of 490 stores across the Americas), but it is not offering services, including makeovers, skincare treatments, or in-store classes. Ulta is offering services by appointment only, performing associate and client wellness checks, using protective wear, increasing cleaning between appointments, and implementing social distancing between stations.
COVID-19 has hastened channel shift across retail, Ulta CEO Mary Dillon said during the retailer’s recent earnings call.
“We believe much of this new consumer behavior will be sticky,” she noted. “So we're focused on how we can move even faster to win in an omnichannel world.”
To this end, the company is accelerating investments to expand its shipping capacity this year and ship-from-store capabilities.
As both retailers reopen, here are two areas of retail technologies they are employing to respond to shopping behaviors altered by the coronavirus.
“The opportunity to test and play is an important part of the beauty shopping experience,” Dillon said. “So while we've kept most testers on the sales floor to help guests visualize color, texture and packaging, we've made them unavailable for guest use.”
As an alternative, Ulta is pushing its GLAMlab tool, an interactive virtual experience within the Ulta Beauty app, which allows users to virtually discover and try thousands of beauty products. According to Dillon, since the crisis began, guest engagement with the tool has increased nearly five times, and more than 30 million shades have been tested virtually.
“We're reimagining the guest experience in product discovery and looking at ways technology, services and the role of our associates can evolve to create a new wow experience for our guests,” Dillon said. “Our Ulta Beauty app and GLAMlab tool will continue to play a big role in guest discovery and trial. Today, guests can use GLAMlab to match foundation, try on makeup, and play with hair color and lashes. And in the future, guests will have even more opportunities as we accelerate the implementation of new categories and experiences.”
Sephora also announced testers in its stores will be for display only. The retailer offers a suite of virtual tools, including Sephora Virtual Artist, to aid in product selection. Sephora Color IQ technology scans the surface of skin and assigns it a special number, which reveals scientifically precise foundation, concealer, and lip recommendations. Consumers can learn to recreate trends with instructions that actually map out where to place the product on their face, how to blend them, and which products are needed to achieve the look. They can also compare color swatches from a range of brands side-by-side on a virtual arm.