On beauty

22 Jul 2021

This week: What’s the deal these days with brick-and-mortar beauty? We can all learn a little something from a multi billion-pound industry.

on beauty


Beauty, deemed non-essential from the start, has taken a lot of hits since last year. Remember when we thought testers would forever be a thing of the past?

• “The pandemic has been clarifying for [beauty] retailers: despite the boom in online sales, there’s something irreplaceable about physical interactions,” noted Brian Baskin in The Business of Fashion. Ulta Beauty, a U.S. chain, has seen foot traffic higher than pre-pandemic levels. Glossier, which does 80% of sales online, just closed an $80 million funding round to open more brick-and-mortar doors in cities like London, Los Angeles, and Seattle – which is the second most popular U.S. location for Google searches for the brand.

• Think beauty is only skin-deep? Conversations about equality and inclusivity, spurred by last year’s momentous civil unrest, have turned into more than just talk. Sephora was one of the first major retailers to sign up for the 15% Pledge, and has already hit its haircare target. They also launched an incubator this year, supporting Black-owned startups like EADEM. British hairdressing standards now include styling Black hair as an education requirement.

• In the UK, where personal grooming is mighty popular, there’s been a 33% jump in hair and beauty businesses started by entrepreneurs who’ve been made redundant during the pandemic – with nearly half saying they have always aspired to run their own show. Harrods is also launching more H beauty stores across the country, after the success of their first stand-alone concepts in the suburbs. And yeah, Amazon did open a salon in east London. No, we don’t know anyone who gets their hair cut there.

So, about those testers – they are mostly back, but with some safety protocols in place.


There’s also plenty of innovation when it comes to IRL for the hair, skin, and self-care industry.

• British skincare brand Haeckels is going back to its Margate roots, where it plans to transform an old casino into takes deep breath: laboratories, editing and recording suites, offices, a beauty academy, and a skincare and fragrance school. Oh, and there will be beehives. It’s one of the retailers Adam Thompson spotlights in an opinion piece on retail innovation for The Future Laboratory. “Think beyond product sales and create cultural connections that resonate with audiences, giving them experiences that can’t be created online,” said Thompson.

Allure just opened their NYC store, with products organised by breathy “headlines” not dissimilar to what you might read in the magazine. Products from Lord Jones and Monastery sit on the “Here’s How to Get Soft, Dewy Skin All Year Long” shelf. “We really think of the Allure store as media on the ground,” said EIC Michelle Lee. It’s a format that publisher Condé Nast is going to explore more, with branded properties like bars and even hotels on the horizon.

• In a 2020 global study conducted by fragrance giant Firmenich, 56% of people agreed with the statement: “Since the global health pandemic, I appreciate scent more”. “Scent will help consumers connect, disconnect and reconnect in physical spaces,” said marketing and creative director Justin Welch. “Different spaces will be scented with different fragrances to create varied ambiences”.

Smell is our oldest sense. People only remember 5% of what they see, but 35% of what they smell.

It comes as no surprise that last year brought on a boom in home fragrance. As we get back out there, will scent be the future of shaping in-person experiences?

Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.