The direct-to-consumer brand was initially set to expand into the UK and France across retail and online in March, following months of planning, but had to delay the move as the COVID-19 crisis escalated in the region.
Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Masa Sei, chief global officer at Bulk Homme, said COVID-19 had “escalated into a full-blown global pandemic” just before the Europe launch dates.
“As a consequence, we of course had to consider the impact this unprecedented pandemic would have on the retail sector – both for brick and mortar locations and on e-commerce,” Sei said.
As the situation continued to worsen across Europe and the globe, Bulk Homme therefore decided to delay the launch to a “time that would be more appropriate for the market”, he said.
Digital-first approach and challenges
Once circumstances started to improve, with the worst of the pandemic having passed, Sei said the brand decided to go ahead with expansion plans but launch “on digital channels first”.
“Initially, our entry into the market was balanced between brick and mortar and e-commerce retail. Due to the circumstances, we’ve shifted our communications to focus more on digital and building a robust e-commerce platform,” he said.
But that came with its challenges, he said, particularly when entering into new markets.
“While e-tail is growing, a lot of people still want to touch and experience their products first-hand. Making an entry into a market when exposing your customer base directly to your product is nearly impossible is quite a challenge,” he said.
“We still hope to expand our brand into brick and mortar locations, but it seems the impacts of COVID-19 will persist for quite some time.”
Asked if Bulk Homme remained confident it could succeed in European, Sei said: “We’re sure we can still launch successfully in the EU. While COVID-19 has brought a lot of fear and uncertainty into everyday life, it has also been a time of reflection for many. People are taking into consideration things like self-care, personal interests and hobbies etc. more than before.”
Experts say an engaging online presence is ‘crucial’
Djalal Lougouev, co-founder and chief product officer at Ometria – an AI-driven, cross-channel marketing platform for beauty, fashion and homeware – previously said COVID-19 had shifted the retail world entirely, forcing industry to invest online.
However, digital engagement had to be done right, Lougouev said. “There’s definitely the risk of everyone going online creating a consumer experience that is rushed and not fully thought through, because the number one priority now is to go online.”
He said brands had to ensure they took responsibility of the “end-to-end experience” – a far cry from the wholesale models many were more familiar operating in.
Michelle Smith, business director at retail design consultancy Fitch, agreed and added that brands had to address the consumer ‘dreaming’ and ‘exploring’ mind states better in the digital world. “In beauty, that comes to life through how services are offered online – through events and communities online; that bigger brand experience and experiential aspect that you can traditionally only get through a physical store,” Smith said.