Coronavirus has upended traditional concepts of omnichannel retail, and has required brands to think creatively, on their feet and with the acute knowledge that retail as we know it will be permanently changed.

Deciem, the Toronto-based skin-care brand, closed its 35 stores on March 15, added virtual consultations to its e-commerce sites and also wound down its social and digital marketing in light of current events. In the time since, Nicola Kilner, Deciem co-founder and CEO, has been considering how these changes will inform Deciem’s omnichannel approach moving forward, especially since the company is prepared to keep doors closed until 2021. Deciem also sells at Sephora.com and Ulta stores in the U.S. and at Boots and Harvey Nichols in the U.K., among other retailers internationally.

In the latest edition of Glossy+ Talks, an exclusive series for Glossy+ members, Kilner discussed why the brand has cut back on social media posts, how she expects customer behavior to change and how Deciem is remaining agile in uncertain times.

Glossy+ members can access the full video of the Talk and Nicola Kilner’s slides below.

Determining appropriate communications
Since Deciem’s March 15 announcement regarding store closures, the brand has only posted twice on Instagram, with one post on April 16 about its production of hand sanitizer and another on April 27 about its virtual e-commerce consultations feature called Deciem At Home. Kilner said she hesitated about whether to cut back on posting and whether to even talk about hand sanitizer production, out of concern customers would view it as opportunistic.

-“We are only going to post when it feels appropriate. We are doing very little at this moment, and we are comfortable with that. We would rather be sensitive and focus on the touchpoints when it matters, as opposed to over-communicate in a way that would be unkind and insensitive to the situation.”

-Kilner said the touchpoints that matter include sharing what the brand is doing with its stores; showing support for the brand’s key workers, as it did with the anti-bacterial hand gel post, which became the brand’s most engaging post ever with over 70,000 likes and 5,000 shares; and conducting consultations available on e-commerce.

-“One of the hardest things around Covid-19 is the speed at which decisions have to be made. We’re used to making quick decisions, but we have had to consider the impact across so many stakeholders and people … How people act at this time is really important, and as a business, one of the things we are aware of is how much sustainability is going to become more [important].”

Rethinking the store concept
The addition of Deciem At Home, has significantly helped drive conversion, will remain a permanent fixture on Deciem’s e-commerce site, said Kilner. So far, there have been over 20,000 chats initiated by customers with Deciem beauty consultants, and over 1,500 orders attributed to the program.

-Deciem has begun using e-commerce platform Hero (UseHero.com) to help transition its in-store retail workers into becoming online beauty consultants. Kilner said there are so many people at-home wanting knowledge, that if a technology can be used to create or maintain jobs at-home, it is a “win for humans and society.”

-Sampling online is very difficult, since customers cannot feel and experience a product first-hand. Deciem has always offered a 365-day return policy because, as Kilner said, one-time sachet samples of skin care are not effective, since so many products rely on consistent usage to be effective. Opportunities exist online through enhanced recommendations, such as suggesting a product to someone based on other products they have used or their skin type. Ultimately, how to approach sampling will be a cost on both retailers and brands, she said.

-“A lot will change permanently with retail. With store locations near offices and busy areas, we are thinking of how to make them more like click-and-collect locations. It’s a matter of convenience and quick services, because people will also become aware of the negative impacts of online delivery on the environment, so if someone can walk past a store and collect it themselves, they will. However, if the whole world turns into Amazon, we lose some magic. People do still want human connection and want interactions, so it’s about finding the balance.”

Staying agile
Deciem is a large company with over 1,000 employees across seven offices (including a 70,000-square-foot space in Toronto), plus it earned over $300 million in sales in 2018. But the brand retains a startup company’s ability to pivot quickly and embrace the unknown, said Kilner. Given the current rapidly changing circumstances, brands need to become comfortable with acting quickly, she said, and Kilner’s north star is simply asking whether something feels right for Deciem to do.

-“The world is changing, and it won’t go back to normal until there is a vaccine. So for anyone to be brave and make a decision, especially a decision about doing the right thing, that will resonate with consumers around the world.”

-Deciem’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution product recently went viral on TikTok, and while most brands have been eager to jump on the TikTok bandwagon, Deciem is remaining at a cool distance for now. The brand does have an account with 10,000 followers and did create an educational video to demonstrate how to safely use the product, which was viewed at least 500,000 times. Kilner said there is so much forced content on Instagram now that she does not want to inauthentically push the brand on a platform like TikTok.

-“Brands should not be afraid to try things, because the audience does not mind the times when you fail, so long as you’ve done something with good intentions. With Deciem At Home, we only managed to only do 2% of conversations live, in the first few days, because we had too much demand.” Non-live consultations were handled via text or email, where consultants would respond when they could.

Event video

See the slides

A Deciem storefront in the Flatiron district of New York City.

Deciem was founded on the concept of doing things others quite simply don’t. Nicola Kilner, Co-Founder and CEO, is on a mission to continue doing just that.

Kilner said Deciem sent out a social media message announcing its temporary store closures on March 15 only two hours after making the decision, which she said kept in line with the brand’s commitment to transparency.

Deciem launched “Deciem At Home” as a virtual consultation through its e-commerce in light of coronavirus, but will remain a permanent fixture.

By embracing what it has not been able to control, such as changing consumer behaviors, Deciem is able to react quickly and appropriately.