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Event report: #Decodedfuture by Stylus

Issues including the real value of bricks and mortar stores to ‘beauty digerati’ online customers were on the agenda at the Decoded Future event, run by trends forecaster Stylus this week (26 June 2018) at Tobacco Dock in London.

Birchbox UK director Rachel Humphrey told the audience that online retailers making the leap to physical stores need to, “Stay true to your mission, and stay true to your consumer.” She described the subscription beauty retailer’s move into physical stores as being driven by the opportunity to engage with customers, getting closer to them than is possible online.

Since its first store opened in New York, Birchbox has tried a number of physical outlets including a London pop-up. All of its stores have involved an element of storytelling, in environments that reflect the fundamental DNA of the brand. Customers develop their own beauty box in-store, helped by a human assistant – who replaces the algorithm shoppers would encounter online.  The London pop-up offered the top 100 selling products from Birchbox’s website, merchandised by category rather than brand to reflect the way shoppers search.

Sharmadean Reid MBE, founder of WAH London and Beautystack, says that online technology can improve the in-store service. She says that her brand’s online chatbot booking system makes it easier for regular customers to book their treatments – which means they are more likely to decide to visit. The treatments can take several hours, during which they customers are in constant contact with staff. “The app is about the first mile of the service. Bricks and mortar is the last mile,” says Reid.

In a session on the Evolution of the consumer – nowhere to hide in 2018 a panel of speakers agreed that influencer consumers, transparency, and authenticity are increasingly important to modern customers,  and that these factors cannot be faked. Mark de Lange, founder of optical chain Ace & Tate, was asked where the line should be drawn when it comes to brand transparency. “I don’t think there is necessarily a line to be drawn,” he said. “But for us, it’s in preserving the mystique of the brand.”

Meanwhile Farfetch director Gavin Williams, in conversation with Vogue International’s Lauren Indvik, looked at new ways to create in-store moments. He said that European retailers need to ‘look East’ for inspiration on how new and online technology can be integrated in-store.

Williams forsees a future where customers will be recognised and greeted by name when they enter stores, and where all items – including their clothing – will be IoT (Internet of Things) enabled.

Crucially, Williams says it is vital for customers to be able to opt out of interactions that some of them may find intrusive, though he points out that customers in China do not seem to share the privacy concerns of those in the West – and suggests that consumers here will change their views.

“UK consumers were shocked when Gap came to the UK and the sales assistants said hello to them,” he says. “But the option to switch off all personalisation is massively important.”