1 month later: how retailers Estée Lauder and Brown Thomas are coping with life after lockdown

Raj Sangha
by Raj Sangha

We asked Estée Lauder’s Gareth Hughes and Brown Thomas’s Mark Limby how Covid-19 has impacted their stores overall since reopening. Here’s what they had to say.

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 in-store footfall tracking, contactless payments, digital signage and click and collect software to keep customers safe, 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:

Contactless payments and digital signage keep Estée Lauder customers safe

Gareth Hughes, who oversees Estée Lauder’s IT and digital offering, said approximately 97% of its store portfolio (420 free standing stores and 2,000 other locations) has reopened. The global manufacturer and marketer of skin care, fragrance, make up and hair care products operates a number of brands including Tom Ford, Jo Malone, Mac Cosmetics and Clinique.

One of the main differences they’ve noticed since reopening is the strong increase in contactless card payments. In the UK, the new £45 contactless payment limit is “the sweet spot” for a number of its products, resulting in a sharp decline in cash payments.

A Jo Malone store in London

The implementation of a number of social distancing measures, such as one-way systems and floor markings with arrows, and the removal of testers, has resulted in a significantly less personal experience, said Gareth.

The retailer has also launched a number innovative initiatives across its store estate, such as curbside collection and dedicated meeter-greeters.

One of the most stand out initiatives within the Estée Lauder brands’ stores is that they transferred all their social distancing messaging onto their digital signage displays to offer a more premium and branded social distancing experience.

Brown Thomas is tracking in-store footfall in real-time

Mark Limby, who manages store operations for Brown Thomas, said there have been lots of changes in-store, too, from new signage to PPE gear for store associates. He explained that the most important changes they’ve made in stores have been the use of systems to manage customers.

Mark explained that stores have installed live store capacity trackers that display their footfall in real-time on screens throughout the store. This marked a significant change in process, having previously only tracked footfall at the end of day.

Virtual queues and time-slot schedule help manage social distancing

Mark explained that the department store also uses Qudini software to support customers in receiving service across a number of use cases. Using the Qudini appointment booking software, customers can now reserve time-slots to enter their stores, allowing them to stagger customer visits throughout the day.

If a store reaches capacity, which is currently happening most weekends, store teams use Qudini’s virtual queuing system to allow customers to join a virtual queue, where they receive a position number, estimated wait time and real-time notifications about when they can return to store.

In addition, they are also using Qudini’s virtual queuing app for ’internal queuing’ for popular brands within the department store, including Lululemon, Chanel and Hermes. To handle capacity restrictions, each concession brand has a customer host equipped with a tablet to enable them to add customers to a waitlist to enter their section and to receive service. Customers are updated by SMS and a smartphone countdown while they wait their turn.

Lululemon store inside Brown Thomas Dublin.

“A lot of customers find these new ways of managing them reassuring,” said Mark, who also explained their NPS scores are extremely strong as a result of all these digital systems to support customers.

Online appointments still have a place post-lockdown

Mark also explained that Brown Thomas now (using Qudini) allows customers to book virtual appointments with personal stylists and beauty consultants online from the comfort of their own homes. Mark explains this service has seen a huge uptake from new customers (particularly younger generations) that have not previously visited Brown Thomas stores.

As a result, Mark sees virtual appointments as a big area for possible growth within Brown Thomas and a trend across retail.

Qudini’s appointment booking software allows customers to easily book appointments with style experts.

“It has been a real advantage for us… an opportunity to connect with customers.” says Mark.

Brown Thomas is also now starting to use Qudini to enhance its click and collect services by enabling customers to book collection times or to check-in from their phone for curbside collections.

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


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