A love letter to Beauty Departments

After the atrocious ‘service’ (and I use the word loosely) I had the misfortune of experiencing at Boots recently, I’ve been even more aware of customer service – or lack thereof – across the board.
Surely in this online age and with the ‘grab-n-go’ mentality that seems to be here to stay, it doesn’t mean that we’re forgetting how to deal face-to-face with customers? Or are we now simply cutting out human interaction altogether?
It’s one thing to offer self-select beauty and self-service tills. It’s quite another to make that the only option available to your customers*.

‘UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA’ I hate you.

I can see that there is a desire for some self-service tills in busy stores to relieve pressure on tills and offer an alternative for people who have no desire to chit-chat and need to get back to their desk. I mean, I won’t use them, but I can see that they have their place. More so when it comes to a sandwich and crisps at lunch.

For me, they will never, ever replace human interaction and traditional ‘customer service’. Because that’s what it’s about, your customer. Not your bottom line, not your shareholder, your customer.
You could look at it and say self-service tills save money. Personally I look at them and see the members of staff they’ve replaced. Don’t tell me that you can’t afford staff. You can. You just have to make less profit. And who knows? Maybe if you offered the service, you’d make more money, and keep your shareholders and your customers happy.

I’m in the middle of reading Estee Lauder’s ‘A Success Story’. I love a good biography/industry book. Yes, it’s a book about how she built her business, but she mentions ‘customers’ on nearly every page. This is a brand built on service. (As an aside, she also throws some brilliant, funny, shade on her competitors and it is well worth a read. It’s available here.)

The holding of a customer’s hand is classic Lauder technique.

Mrs Lauder doing her thing.
Selfridges Beauty Hall of old.

Selfridges today

I have always loved a good beauty hall. I can wander for hours, literally whole days, looking at what’s new, including the fixtures and new counters, new brands and the most fun for me, people watching. I love watching the interaction between sales people and customers. It’s my thing. I get it. It seems weird if it’s not your thing. But I love it. Admittedly, I may be biased. I was raised around beauty counters.

Mum doing her thing in her first beauty job in Liverpool in the 60s.

Nana doing her thing on a different counter in the 60s.

Whenever I travel, the first place I hit is the department stores. In New York I can spend an entire day doing Bergdorfs and Barneys beauty halls. Another day doing the Ulta/Target/Duane Reade Holy Trinity.
I love beauty, I love (most) people, I love beauty customers, I love beauty teams. That experience cannot be replaced with a till that shouts at you about unexpected items in a baggage area.

Beauty halls in huge department stores have massively upped their game and continue to do so. The competition from online is fierce, so you need to give people a reason to walk through your doors.
The main one for me will always be the experience. Dealing with knowledgeable staff, holding everything in my hand, trying it on my skin, swatching powders, trying lipsticks, reading ingredients labels, talking to the staff, it’s all part of the fun.

Adding apothecary-style units to beauty halls in department stores has, for me, added to the entire experience, because you will still have to pay for it at a till with a live, human being manning it. All of the self-select areas of beauty have staff in them that are trained in the brands on offer. It’s the modern way to do beauty.

On top of that, we now have services. All of them.

Harvey Nichols Beauty Lounge

Harvey Nichols London recently opened their Beauty Lounge, offering hair, nails, brows, lashes, henna, infusions, three beauty rooms and LED therapy. It’s insane. A dedicated entrance means it’s literally open dawn til dusk. It’s a one-stop shop if you have an event.

Liberty recently refurbed their beauty halls, making even more room for the beautiful niche brands they are famous for. Byredo, Frederic Malle, Surratt, Le Labo, just a few of the standouts, and now Skin Laundry has arrived fresh from L.A. offering 15 minute laser & light facial for busy people on the go. Facials and a Blink Bar mean you can fix your face from top to bottom in a couple of hours.

Liberty in all it’s glory.

Selfridges also has everything. Face, hair, body, brands, nails. The whole caboodle.

I love it. I love all of it. Every time I walk through a beauty hall is like the first time.

The new Liberty hall.

No, it’s not always perfect, yes, staff have bad days and can be obnoxious and not very well-trained. But I’d rather a person having a bad day that can be trained than a wall of machines any day.

Further info:

Harvey Nichols Beauty Lounge
Liberty
Selfridges

Not a sponsored post, no affiliate links.
Photographs other than mine were sourced from Pinterest, if you are the source please let me know and I will happily update.

*Twitter friends will be aware that I recently tried to spend money (the pre-holiday shop) in Boots to be faced with only self-service tills, no human beings were available. Literally. A manager pointed to the self-service machines as if I was an alien while he did paperwork on his clipboard and said ‘the tills aren’t open’. I attempted the self-serve tills and when it started giving me grief about unexpected items in the bagging area on the third item, I lost all patience. I left it all there. Walked out. They watched me leave the shop (kids in tow) rather than open a till to serve me. I wasn’t being a diva. That’s not me. I was being a busy, stressed-out customer, keeping kids amused while we shopped everything from skincare to suncream to hairspray to deodorant and tampax. We went to Superdrug for the essentials and I bought the rest from dept stores.

If your store is open, your tills should be open.

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