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Published July 15, 2020
Published July 15, 2020

COVID-19 has triggered a wave of changes to retail, from a surge in online spending, to a new reality for physical retail, including social-distanced selling, temperature checks, and curbside pickup. Despite months of grim headlines, the beauty and skincare industry has stood out as a rare bright spot. A recent study from McKinsey found that beauty brands with scalable e-commerce operations reported sales that were twice as high as their pre-COVID-19 levels, and beauty giants Sephora and Amazon’s April beauty sales were up by 30 percent compared to the previous year.

Aside from a consumer base that has been more willing to spend while in lockdown, beauty has fared far better than other industries because of its willingness to experiment and look for innovative ways to connect with its customers. We’ve seen brands quickly adopt things like virtual try-on tools, TikTok campaigns, livestreams, and virtual shopping.

Bringing the In-Store Experience Online

The brick-and-mortar experience is particularly important in the beauty industry—in-store purchases made up 85% of all spending in the category pre-COVID-19—making technology that replicates that experience online particularly impactful. Given that, it’s perhaps unsurprising that virtual shopping, in particular, has taken off since the pandemic hit, with brands like Glossier, Credo Beauty, Cos Bar, BareMinerals, Tata Harper, Kiehl’s, Dermalogica, and Clinique all launching or ramping up their offerings in recent months.

These services connect online shoppers with knowledgeable retail associates who offer the expertise and product recommendations that beauty shoppers are accustomed to receiving in a physical store. And the results speak for themselves. Our beauty partners have seen a 41 percent increase in online conversions over the last few months, and sales through HERO now account for up to 15 percent of their total revenues.

Deciem at Home

Amongst the brands who have recently unveiled virtual shopping services, there’s one in particular that stands out for the success and sophistication of their launch: Deciem. In April of this year, in response to the closure of all 35 of their physical stores, a 300-person retail staff that the brand was committed to keeping on the payroll, and a desire to give back to their community during a difficult time, Deciem turned to HERO to launch Deciem at Home.

The service offers the brand’s online customers a chance to connect to a brand ambassador from their local store (some of whom are working from home due to continued store closures) to ask questions about Deciem products and how best to care for their skin. Video chat and photo-sending capabilities allows users to share visuals of specific skin concerns and receive tailored recommendations in response.

CEO Nicola Kilner spoke to the importance of this kind of personalized interaction, particularly at a time when many of the brand’s customers were isolated at home as a result of social distancing. “We knew that only good things could come from being able to meet the people who support our journey in person. Today those in-person meetings are not possible, but the human connection matters more than ever. Skincare is deeply personal, and our audience deserves to receive dedicated advice before considering what may work for their specific needs.”

The results have been striking: in the three months since launch, nearly 250,000 shoppers have logged on to request virtual skincare consultations, spending an average of 37 percent more per order than the brand’s typical e-commerce shoppers.

Key Takeaways

Deciem’s strategy offers key learnings for other beauty brands looking to replicate their success. Prior to launch, every associate attended an in-depth virtual training session complete with best practices on retrieving incoming chats, initiating video calls and inviting customers in-store. Given the volume of chats coming in—nearly 25,000 per week—and because the associates were working remotely at the time, Deciem also created a comprehensive scheduling system to ensure that they had adequate coverage for all incoming queries. Both factors contributed to a high degree of customer satisfaction, with users rating their experience an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars.

The marketing team at Deciem also put significant resources behind the rollout. An announcement alerting online shoppers to the launch of Deciem at Home lived on the homepage for several weeks after the initial launch, while a dedicated landing page featured an in-depth FAQ on how to use the service. They also used Deciem’s Instagram account to promote the service to their 1.1MM followers.

Lastly, the brand approached Deciem at Home with the idea that this was an educational and relationship-building tool, rather than a pure sales play. This mindset empowered retail associates to engage with customers on a variety of different topics, many of which were unrelated to Deciem’s products. In fact, Kilner recently shared that an associate spent an entire chat engaging with a customer on the right water temperature for washing her face, while the manager of Deciem’s Fifth Avenue store recounted fielding multiple questions about blue light filters from people who were stuck inside on their computers all day.

In today’s uncertain economic environment, with 70 percent of consumers expecting COVID-19 to have a negative impact on their household income over the next few months, this kind of no-expectation engagement from a brand goes a long way towards cementing long-term relationships with customers.

A Lasting Shift in Retail

Even with retail beginning to reopen in many parts of the world, the pandemic has already left its mark on how consumers shop, and we’re likely to continue seeing a sustained increase in online spending. Given the importance of a consultative approach in beauty and the results from Deciem and others, I think we’ll see even more brands embrace virtual shopping—bringing the best of the store experience to customers, however they choose to shop.