Coming off a year of strong sales growth, L’Occitane International is expanding into the experiential retail space with a Fifth Avenue store focused on in-store technology.
The French beauty and skincare brand reported an earnings increase of 33.9 percent in the six-month period ending on September 30. It was largely attributed to an aggressive growth strategy that includes an expansion of flagship locations across the U.S., as well as spa services in various hotel and resort locations. Now focused on providing an experiential retail experience with a customized approach to service, L’Occitane seems to be taking a cue from fellow Fifth Avenue denizens dabbling in in-store technology, including Rent the Runway and Adidas.
The move also comes on the heels of fellow beauty brands experimenting in the brick and mortar space. Online subscription service Birchbox launched a retail store in 2014 in an effort to expand its consumer base, and companies like Sephora have become increasingly innovative with in-store offerings such as its Color IQ shade matching program, which helps shoppers identify flattering products.
In partnership with design agency School House, L’Occitane modeled a 20,000-square-foot space after the city of Provence, where L’Occitane is based, adopting elements like a town square-style front entrance and signage meant to emulate the numerous boutiques in the area. The back of the store is dedicated to a “Smart Beauty Fitting Room,” modeled after the touchscreen fitting rooms that have have been popping up in the stores of fashion brands including Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff.
The entrance of L’Occitane’s Fifth Avenue store (Image courtesy of L’Occitane)
Shoppers can sit at tables and browse products on screens before requesting samples that are then hand-delivered to them by a concierge. The store also leverages touchscreens to assist with putting together custom gift boxes, which are compiled in store. Christina Polychroni, chief marketing officer at L’Occitane, said its new offers are targeted toward consumers that want a more individualized approach to skin care and beauty, without being inundated with nagging sales associates.
The Smart Beauty Fitting room, where consumers can request to sample products
A wall of 1,800 tubes of hand cream, a top-selling L’Occitane item
“The smart beauty fitting room resembles what we started seeing in fashion a few years back,” Polychroni said. “What we’re trying to do is strike a balance between human interaction and a more individualized, customized approach for the consumer. That’s why we have the digital terminal where you can ask for whatever you want to sample and you can interact as much as you want to.”
Polychroni said e-commerce continues to be a focus for L’Occitane (which experienced a 6.8 percent increase in online sales in the first half of 2016), and the goal for the store is to integrate its online elements into brick in mortar. The brand’s digital strategy has also included enhancing social media efforts, including backing sponsored Snapchat posts on Singles’ Day and testing Facebook Canvas while it was in beta mode.
“One of the main drivers for us is to really have a seamless omnichannel approach,” she said. “We want to be channel agnostic. A consumer who navigates through both retail and web should not be able to identify any differences; we want both experiences to resemble each other and complement each other.”
While the New York store is the first experiential location, she said there are plans to expand to other locations. In addition, the Fifth Avenue location will open an in-store spa in spring 2017.