Retail experts: Why pop-ups and pick-ups may spell beauty's future

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

In a post-COVID world - with social distancing measures and hygiene concerns - pop-up stores offer beauty brands and retailers flexibility (Getty Images)
In a post-COVID world - with social distancing measures and hygiene concerns - pop-up stores offer beauty brands and retailers flexibility (Getty Images)

Related tags: retail, pop-up, COVID-19, coronavirus, Beauty brands, e-commerce

Beauty has weathered waves of uncertainty during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and pop-up stores or curbside pick-up locations could be the key to a much-needed business boost, say two retail experts.

With worldwide store closures and extensive nationwide lockdowns for months during the COVID-19 crisis, swathes of beauty brands and retailers turned to e-commerce. But now, as lockdowns continued to ease and retail slowly reopened, could pop-up stores and pick-up locations be beauty’s next smart move?

Florence Wright, senior retail analyst at e-commerce consultancy Edge by Ascential, believed so.

Pop-up stores are ‘low-risk’ and ‘low-cost’ testbeds

“The format is particularly relevant to the uncertainty surrounding retail and consumption in a post-COVID landscape as they are a relatively low-risk and low-cost testbeds for trends and experiences, which can then be applied to the wider store estate if successful,” ​Wright told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

Operationally, she said these stores were also “more straightforward”​ when adapting to post-COVID needs, compared to legacy in-store operations. “Brands and retailers choosing to adopt this format will be able to easily design the store with social distancing in mind, giving a central focus to elements which promote this, such as digital try-ons or mobile checkouts.”

Michelle Smith, business director at retail design consultancy Fitch, agreed: “A pop-up strategy allows brands to address many of the critical considerations as we enter the next stages of the COVID pandemic – customer optimised product offering, flexibility in location, modularity in experience and connected commerce.”

Smith said pop-ups offered beauty brands and retailers two things in a post-pandemic world: re-engagement with consumers and ‘test and learn’ platforms for technologies, formats and products.

Pop-ups give brands and retailers a chance to trial new technologies and concepts, says Smith (Getty Images)
Pop-ups give brands and retailers a chance to trial new technologies and concepts, says Smith (Getty Images)

Traditional beauty stores were loved for being “dynamic and sensorial experiences”,​ she said, providing unique services, community gatherings and product trials – factors challenged under the current crisis. “The temporality of pop-ups offers brands and retailers the opportunity to move forward with speed and agility. In the beauty sector, they can provide an ideal testing lab for touchless trial, pick-up only locations, vending solutions, and unmanned experiences.”

‘Curbside pick-up’ – following in the footsteps of Starbucks

Smith said unmanned pop-ups were a particularly interesting opportunity for beauty, given the stark focus on hygiene in a post-COVID world. “Leveraging touchless tech – motion and voice activated touchpoints – could enable effective brand experiences, product trial and connection to services, either via video to staff or through AI,”​ she said.

There was also the option to create digital pop-ups, like Ted Baker had done in April with the launch of ‘Ted’s Bazaar’ – a temporary online retail space where all profits went to nominated charities.

Smith said beauty brands could also consider pick-up models, successfully implemented by the likes of Starbucks – a brand motivated to create the “most convenient and frictionless experience for ordering a cup of coffee”.​ Its launch of a mobile order only location in New York last year had been designed to drive convenience and consumer loyalty, she said, with a similar spot in Beijing.

“This is an immensely fortuitous launch from Starbucks who are always setting the curve.As we see curbside pick-up taking off across retailers, I think beauty could learn from Starbucks’ example of driving convivence for replenishment and gifting shopping missions,”​ she said.

Wright said there was also plenty of inspiration to be drawn from the beauty world, notably from Glossier – a “well-known leader in the pop-up space long before COVID-19”​ – and Huda Beauty that launched its first pop-up London store at the end of 2019.

Pop-ups for big and small beauty players

Wright said there were many big beauty brands that had leveraged pop-ups in the past for specific purposes, such as Shiseido with its multi-sensory pop-up in Singapore in partnership with retailer Watsons to showcase its heritage. But pop-ups also offered indie or niche brands a way to drive reach and acquire new shoppers, she said.

Smith agreed: “For indie brands, many without any permanent physical retail spaces, pop-ups offer that all important ‘in real life’ connection to a brand.”

And both Wright and Smith added that the pop-up concept could be leveraged by both, simultaneously – with collaboration between big and small brands and retailers.

“Given the cost investment for pop-ups, collaborated and curated pop-up spaces are an ideal way for both large beauty groups and indies to maximise investment,”​ Smith said.

Wright said: “Collaboration is a growing trend across retail, as retailers seek scale, efficiencies and new capabilities through brand partnerships. And we can feasibly see some of the larger beauty and drugstore retailers implementing pop-up stores inside their own estates. A good example of this is Walgreens with its Birchbox store inserts in the US.”

Post-COVID pop-up challenges

She said the biggest challenge for ensuring these beauty pop-ups worked in a post-COVID world would be would be balancing the appeal of beauty experiences with the continued requirement for social distancing.

Smith agreed: “This challenge will come with increased scrutiny and pressure on budgets, operating restrictions, staff health and wellbeing. Our advice to brands would be to consider a customer journey mapping exercise first and foremost; understand how consumers are behaving and identify the key areas on the journey for optimisation and think about how pop-ups can support a changing format strategy.”

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