The relevance of department store flagships continues to be questioned, with Lord & Taylor’s recent closing of its Fifth Avenue store, and Henri Bendel shuttering its New York location and 22 other outposts this month. But Bloomingdale’s is betting on its 59th Street flagship, through beauty.
On Jan. 17, Bloomingdale’s will unveil its updated cosmetics experience, which was two years in the making and boasts an additional 75 beauty brands, including fragrance companies Creed and Hermetica , and 1,100 square feet of retail space (bringing the total to nearly 36,500 square feet). The reimagined beauty floor is the next step of a total Bloomingdale’s 59th Street overhaul, which started in the home department, before moving on to shoes and finally ready-to-wear fashion. Bloomingdale’s investment in its flagship mirrors parent company Macy’s playbook to focus on its best-performing doors (including its 34th Street location, neighborhood stores and outposts with curated merchandise) while reducing space in much of its fleet. Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship in New York City is also undergoing a similar $250 million transformation and updated its beauty department in May 2018. Bloomingdale’s would not share its investment in its beauty experience.
“The beauty department is the first stop on every customer’s journey upon entering the store, and in renovating the space, we had to ensure that it would engage our shoppers,” said Francine Klein, Bloomingdale’s vice chairman and general merchandise manager for shoes, handbags, fashion accessories, fashion and fine jewelry, cosmetics and outlets.
Stacie Borteck, Bloomingdale’s vp and divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics and fragrances, said, “The last time we updated the floor was in 2008, and we wanted it reflect a more modern experience in beauty.” The latest update includes the beauty department’s main presence on the first floor, plus it extends throughout the flagship to encourage cross-department shopping. For example, Glowhaus, Bloomingdale’s millennial-focused makeup destination, can now be found on the second floor alongside women’s clothing (cosmetics brand Anastasia Beverly Hills will debut for the first time in Bloomingdale’s in this area to service customers before they go out for special occasions), as will a second Charlotte Tilbury outpost. (The first destination is on the first floor.) In the fifth-floor shoe department, a dedicated rotating beauty space will encourage an “open sell” environment, which has been popularized by Sephora and Ulta Beauty and directs customers to product via displays versus traditional sales associates.
However, Bloomingdale’s is largely sticking to its tried-and-true beauty brand shop-in-shop experiences.
“We believe it allows the brands to create these luxurious environments which are reflective of their brand image, and that allows us to immerse the customer into the brands’ journeys,” said Borteck.
To make those shop-in-shops more in-line with the modern shopper (Bloomingdale’s would not share its customer demographic information, aside from saying it has both an avid local customer, as well as international one), these beauty counters are replete with technology. Also on Jan. 17, Tom Ford Beauty will debut its new design concept in Bloomingdale’s, which pairs virtual try-on tools for its lipstick category.
“It’s animating and exciting, and provides a service to the customer, where she doesn’t have to try on as many lipsticks before deciding on what she actually wants. That old way is not exactly how the customer is shopping anymore,” said Borteck.
Additionally, Tom Ford Beauty will be unveiling high-tech mirrors, which record beauty consultations with sales associates, which then can be emailed to the customer (complete with product recommendations) to be referenced for at-home use.
Likewise, the La Mer counter features camera technology that shows video product information and application tips when a customer picks up a product displayed. “We challenged our brand partners to come with creative solutions and displays, to infuse more technology and innovation rooted in personalization and customized experiences,” said Borteck.
Bloomingdale’s is not the first retailer to merge beauty and tech, and Richie Siegel, founder and CEO of Loose Threads, said it is taking a “fast follower” approach. “It may not seem like the most original idea, but implementing a strategy like this can still be very successful, even if they aren’t the first, because they do have millions of shoppers. They can do it on a bigger scale, which will have an impact and long tail implications.”
But perhaps the most interesting new feature of Bloomingdale’s new beauty floor is the introduction of its new personal shopping service dubbed “Beauty Stylists.” Designated associates — there will be three at launch, but Bloomingdale’s expects it to grow as demand for the service grows — will offer product suggestions and consultations across the 200 brands Bloomgindale’s carries and will be highlighted on Bloomingdales.com.
“It’s not something you can readily find in beauty retail, but our customer, especially, isn’t shopping only one brand anymore,” explained Borteck.
This is a departure from Bloomingdale’s existing strategy of hiring associates per beauty brand. Prior to this, customers could only make appointments online and in-person with staff at a specific counter, except in curated concepts like Space NK, which launched in 2009, and its more recent launches, Glowhaus (in September 2017) and the science-backed clean shop, Wellchemist. These concepts were the only areas where “unbiased” and “non-brand-specific suggestions” were offered, until the launch of the “Beauty Stylists” program, according to Borteck.
“Making appointments online may not sound particularly groundbreaking, but it is new for us, and the way the customer is shopping today, she wants a seamless online and in-person experience with her beauty advisers,” she said.
To create a fervor around Bloomgindale’s new beauty experience, the retailer is also pulling on the experiential lever. This month alone, Bloomingdale’s will be hosting 20 events in its flexible and rotating event spaces at the flagship starting Jan. 17.
“We want to celebrate launches and animations, as beauty remains an interactive experience,” said Borteck. She expects all of the aforementioned new pushes, including events, to roll out to Bloomingdale’s 38 other locations, depending on success. “Customers want to touch and feel the product, of course, but they want share that experience with the friends in person and socially.”