E-Commerce: Can it ever be big in beauty?

May 2015

Three industry insiders — Adam Plummer, who is Director of E-Commerce at The Body Shop, Claire Vero, who founded Aurelia Probiotic Skincare in 2013, and Lauren Brindley, Head of Premium Beauty & Fragrance at Alliance Boots — opened up about how new consumer habits and expectations pose challenges to established retailers and emerging beauty brands alike. To succeed in this environment, organisations of all sizes need to use customer insights to keep ahead, stay agile and develop great digital content.

Lauren, what challenges exist today in omni-channel retail and how does a big brand like Boots need to respond?

Lauren: We're seeing within beauty that customers have become more restless. They're definitely more connected and informed. There's also this "want it now" culture — the ability to get products where they want, when they want, how they want. This has to be at the forefront of how we build retail propositions now.

To be able to innovate and create in that space is really important. I've got a phrase, "We're always in beta." In this world, everything is always changing and evolving, we're talking to the customer all the time, we're really listening to her and testing on the job a little bit more.

We've changed as an organisation to adapt to make sure we are constantly developing our propositions faster, moving from being reactive to living in the future. The Advantage Card gives us an amazing database, but we have to go from what we've just learned about the consumer to thinking, "Where is she going to be in six months? How can we move our retail proposition to make sure in the next six months we're just as relevant as we are now?"

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare got its start just over two years ago. Claire, what challenges are you facing in this climate?

Claire: We started as a solely digital platform, so we didn't have any retailer support in the beginning. We needed to get customers to ultimately desire to try the brand. Now the main challenge that we're having is we're getting this more educated consumer; that's probably a lot to do with vloggers and bloggers. How can we create a content strategy to get that consumer to understand and believe in the brand? Then, once the hygiene content is there, what's next? What's going to keep them coming back?

So the challenge is getting the customer to discover us and then really want to become a part of our story. Our website is our shop; it has to be as good as the bigger brands.

Adam, everyone knows The Body Shop brand; how is it rising to current challenges?

Adam: For brands like us who own the full end-to-end piece, it's about agility. The adage "Fail fast" enables us to trial a lot of different things, learn lessons and move on. In a traditional retail environment, e-commerce is often seen as a vertical. But that's not how the customer sees us. So internally our biggest challenge overall has been to try to change that vertical compartmentalisation of e-commerce and look at digital horizontally across the whole business.

Externally, when I look at the market my concerns are about competitors who have really nailed the fulfilment side, some of the bigger players who are really strong in their fulfilment network. But our brand positioning and understanding of our customer base puts us ahead.

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