The face of beauty is constantly changing, and Chinese consumers are leading the way. With brands like Armani becoming among the first to debut an AR Mini Program on WeChat, luxury brands are competing to provide the most innovative beauty offerings to capture savvy Chinese shoppers. For traditional retailers, however, adapting to this new digital reality hasn’t been as easy.
Take Harrods, London’s most iconic department store. They’ve been selling beauty products since 1849. So how does a 170-year-old brick-and-mortar department store entice China’s wealthy millennial consumers, a segment known for their fondness for online shopping and e-commerce.
Jing Daily met with Harrods’ Director of Home and Beauty, Annalise Fard, at the pop-up Fendi café on Harrod’s fifth floor, where the appeal for Chinese tourists was instantly apparent. The café, which was originally due to run through to the end of August, has been extended until November. As we arrived, there was a line out the door of eager Chinese shoppers wanting a taste (or a WeChat moment) of a latte emblazoned with the Fendi logo.
Fard spoke on the total transformation of the Harrods’ famous Beauty Hall, which opened this month, on blending tradition with innovation, and how stores like Harrods can stay exciting for the modern Chinese consumer.
What are the most important considerations for a traditional retail store in an e-commerce age?
When I talk about retail, I talk about the three Es: environment, engagement, and experience. I get asked all the time, how does the physical space play into a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted store like Harrods? How does that and the online journey differ? Actually, I don’t think about it in two separate spheres. As far as I’m concerned it is one journey. But the physical environment plays part of that.
I feel like if you squint a bit in most department stores, you could be anywhere in the world. Yes, the brands are amazing, but the brand counters often look the same, the retail journeys are the same, there’s no real differentiating factor. Environment, engagement and experience have to be about the ‘wow.’ When you walk into Harrods, I wanted to make sure that it is unmistakably Harrods.
How has the new Harrods Beauty Hall been inspired by Asian beauty trends?
I travel all over the world, and we take an exceptional amount of inspiration from Asia. Our wellness clinic, which is our integrated beauty proposition, allows us to offer the best of medical aesthetic and holistic beauty under one roof, and that was absolutely inspired by our travels to Asia. I’m off to Hong Kong, Seoul and Shanghai shortly to understand what’s happening out there. I’m also very lucky because I often spend time out there with generations who are important to us — whether that’s Gen Z or millennials — and they’re so good, they literally take us on tours of the cities through their eyes. It’s fascinating, and that’s the best way to learn and reach those consumers.
And are you targeting the growing trend for male beauty and makeup too?
Absolutely. Across our portfolio it should feel as accessible to men and women. Our advisors are multilingual, and we like to show an equal mix of men and women in the space. It just makes it feel really approachable for everybody. Male beauty will also be something that we’re very clearly looking at on our tour in China. It’s a trend that was coming through even a few years ago, but I feel like in the last six months it’s picked up a lot of momentum. It’s definitely being driven a lot out of Asia, where there doesn’t seem to be this gendered differentiation. It’s all beauty, it’s all about looking good and taking care of yourself, and the lines are more blurred. I’d definitely like to be able to deliver some of that here at Harrods as well.
How does Harrods’ unique British heritage appeal to Chinese consumers?
I think the most exciting thing for our Chinese clients is not only the incredible portfolio of brands and products, but they really enjoy the quintessential ‘Britishness’ of Harrods. So, we want to make sure we celebrate that. It’s definitely important to have the combination of British heritage — which our Chinese shoppers love — and innovative forward-thinking designs and products. I think those two things have to go together, there’s the authority and the trust of it being heritage, but equally you have to be moving forward.
What are some of the in-store experiences Chinese consumers have been enjoying?
There’s a lot around personalization and customization, and the idea that Harrods is encouraging you to empower your own self-identity. Especially for our Chinese clients, I wanted to move away from us sort of pushing messages to them saying ‘this is the best XYZ.’ There’s a strong sense of wanting to find something that is not only from your ‘tribe,’ but that is individual to you. From Givenchy all the way through to Jo Malone, the more we can offer of that, the better. We also have AI magic mirrors in our powder room that allow clients to try on makeup looks instantly. MAC also have an amazing technology where you can record your whole makeover and send it to yourself so that the routine is at home waiting for you.
How is the Beauty Hall hoping to reach its high-end Chinese consumers?
I would always say we have something for everybody. And it’s important we don’t dictate what they want. But I would say that whereas before, the Chinese HNWI maybe wanted the big-ticket item that everybody had, now they are looking for something that’s very unique to them.
Our HNW Chinese clients spend a lot of time in the space, so they’re enjoying a journey throughout all of the brands. Whereas maybe a few years ago they would have come in and thought ‘okay I want to go to this specific brand and then this one’, I feel now that they’re really enjoying the total portfolio a lot more.
Equally, HNWI don’t really want to have their makeup taken off and put back on again at a counter in front of other people. Our beauty service proposition is all done in a much more discrete way. I wanted to create an environment where you can have all of these beautiful treatments and makeovers done, but in a way that feels luxurious. We are soon to open a suite of retail-first treatment rooms, where you’ll have treatments from brands like La Mer, Clé de Peau and Dior. So, it will be like you’re visiting a 5-star spa, but retail first.
We will also have two spaces specifically for HNWI to take part in exclusive master classes. Experts can be live streamed into the space from anywhere around the world, without clients directly talking to them. Within that space, there’s a whole production facility too, so that if you aren’t lucky enough to get a ticket to that experience in store, you’re still going to have access to that online wherever you are in the world. I think to really reach and connect with our Chinese clients it needs to be locally relevant but globally inclusive.