Increased interest in online channels continues post-lockdown, says Estée Lauder and Brown Thomas

Dylan Brown
by Dylan Brown

Both Estée Lauder and Brown Thomas experienced huge spikes in online traffic and sales during the lockdown period, but this interest is continuing even as stores reopen.

In Qudini’s Safe Stores panel event, our CEO, Imogen Wethered, spoke with Gareth Hughes, Executive Director – Retail EMEA of skin care, fragrance, make up and hair care manufacturer and marketer, Estée Lauder, and Mark Limby, Stores Director from luxury department store retailer, Brown Thomas (owned by Selfridges Group), about how Covid-19 had impacted their online and in-store sales.

In the panel, both leaders spoke about how they’re using social selling, remote channels and appointment booking software to connect with customers online.

Read the full summary from the Safe Stores panel

Here are some of the key insights shared:

Covid has accelerated online offering by 2-3 years, says Estée Lauder

Gareth from Estée Lauder, which operates a number of brands including Tom Ford, Jo Malone, Mac Cosmetics and Clinique, said online sales have increased upwards of 100% for some brands.

“It’s like Black Friday, everyday, for the warehouse teams,” said Gareth.

And while shops might have reopened, footfall has been down on the high street and people don’t seem to be in a rush to return to brick-and-mortar stores.

Gareth said their preparation to reopen stores was largely informed by learnings from colleagues in China, where stores experienced a huge increase in footfall after lockdown, then balanced out.

While the UK high street didn’t experience the same rush of customers returning to stores, a number of shops experienced high spikes in footfall on the first day.

But Covid-19 has accelerated our online offering by two to three years, said Gareth.

There will always be a place for physical stores

There will always be a place for physical stores, said Gareth, but it will be interesting to see how this dynamic changes, said Gareth, especially as many of the retailer’s customers are comfortably shopping online.

Tom Ford store in Covent Garden.

“In general, customers of beauty and cosmetics companies are incredibly loyal – they only go to stores if they want to try something new,” he said.

Gareth also pointed out that online delivery is significantly more relevant to Estée Lauder’s customer base than a click and collect offering, as most of its stores are in inner city locations, such as London’s Covent Garden.

If he could go back to before the lockdown took place, Gareth said he would have invested more in social selling, such as through Instagram, which has really started to pick up, especially in the European and UK markets.

Online appointments bring in new, younger customer base for Brown Thomas

During the lockdown, Brown Thomas’s online sales were noticeably higher, and while its store portfolio has reopened, online is still incredibly busy.

What Mark’s team have noticed, however, is that its regional stores are a lot busier than its Dublin stores, which is a direct result of the decrease in tourists and office workers that normally frequent stores.

Brown Thomas store in Dublin.

The beauty side of things is a lot quieter right now, as people are choosing to purchase online, he said.

Mark also pointed out that there were slightly less mature customers in stores than normal. Younger customers, however, seem less bothered by it all, with the number of younger visitors returning to stores in similar levels as before.

Virtual appointments were particularly popular during lockdown, and virtual experiences will continue to grow going forward, said Mark – but this is a different channel and it requires a unique approach.

“There’s a lot more we can do to connect with customers and have sales through remote experiences.”

To refine their online offering, Brown Thomas has been busy getting feedback from customers and from their teams on how to make improvements.

When creating their virtual shopping and beauty teams, Mark said they handpicked their personal shoppers, choosing stylists who were particularly active on social media, as well as helping these stylists to present themselves well and bring the brand to life.

Brown Thomas customers can book appointments with personal shoppers and stylists online.

Interestingly, Mark pointed out that 60-70% of customers signing up to virtual appointments are new customers.

This aligns with survey findings from a recent Qudini survey of 2,000 UK consumers during Covid-19 which found 54% of consumers want virtual service (such as phone or video appointments) from essential retailers and 31% want virtual service from non-essential retailers.

A lot of new customers have actively engaged with the brand over the last few months through online channels, said Mark, and it will be interesting to see how we can bring these new customers into stores.

Find out more about how Qudini is working with Brown Thomas here. 

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