FEW sectors haven’t been touched by the slow, lingering death of the high street. From the loss of big retail names like BHS and Woolworths through to the closure of numerous bank branches, many of our towns have been left with an odd mixture of hairdressers, estate agents and charity shops.
Yet one group of businesses has been overlooked during the shuttering of stores – beauty brands. With Debenhams and House of Fraser shedding sites, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for beauty brand ambassadors to have face-to-face contact with their customers.
That contact lies at the very heart of the beauty sector. It’s an important learning experience for both consumers and brands. Consumers learn from instore experts how to select and apply the best product for their own skin at that time, while brands receive invaluable feedback on their range, in turn helping to fuel their research and development.
This isn’t simply an issue that affects the big multinational brands either. There are a vast number of emerging “indie” beauty brands trying to break into the market that need to have the same contact with customers in order to refine their offerings and win legions of fans.
All is not lost for beauty brands though, and the industry continues to do well despite these challenges. Luxury beauty juggernaut Space NK even announced ambitious expansion plans recently amid double-digit sales growth, reflecting consumer appetite for quality products and informed advice.
Embracing change and innovation is key to success. For example, the new Boots concept store in London is focused on in-store health and wellness experiences, and even boasts an Instagram zone where customers photograph their purchases. A recent report suggested that as consumers become more accepting of wearable technology and the insights it provides on their health, they will also expect the same level of functionality from beauty and skincare brands.
Harnessing technology will help beauty brands to weather the storm, and some of the smartest are already taking notice. During May’s Beauté Connectee conference in Paris, we were thrilled with the response we received to our digital platform and smartphone app, which analyses a customer’s skin and then advises exactly the right amount of product for their specific needs at that moment, extending brand expertise directly into the home of the consumer.
Information from the app can also be shared with the brand, helping them to understand how consumers use their products. It also gives the consumer a chance to engage directly with the brand, ask questions and have that all-important interaction with an expert whenever they need it.
While I was undertaking my biomedical engineering research at the University of Strathclyde, I could see the potential to transfer technologies developed for delivering drugs through the skin in healthcare into the beauty arena. It’s so satisfying to be on the cusp of taking the resulting technology to market.
In the past, the beauty and cosmetics sectors have relied on chemists working in laboratories to provide them with innovation. Now, they must also embrace technology in order to survive the death throes of the high street.
David Heath is the founder and chief executive of Cutitronics.