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Beauty businesses go digital to combat COVID-19

It’s been a tumultuous month for the beauty and health industry, which struggled to stay afloat when social distancing was first introduced, then saw the closure of many of its physical stores.

However, some retailers are pivoting their businesses and launching new digital offerings to continue their relationship with customers.

Mecca shut its bricks-and-mortar stores last week, then launched virtual services on its site, where customers can make an online booking for a free personalised beauty consultation via FaceTime.

“If our customers have beauty questions that need answering, they can choose a quick 15 minute beauty pow wow, or a 45 minute skin or make up consultation with our MECCA experts,” a spokesperson from Mecca told Inside Retail. “From foundation matching to how to get the most out of your skincare, one of our ‘fount of all knowledge’ in-store hosts will call our customers on FaceTime to talk through and demonstrate everything they would typically see in store.”

The beauty retailer also launched Mecca.Live on its website last week, which features daily updates on new brands and products. There are also videos and tutorials on Mecca TV and Mecca Chit Chat, a new Facebook group for customers to discuss all things beauty, and so on.

According to the retailer, “Mecca.Live is a 24-hour beauty update for our Mecca community, while they are not able to physically visit our stores. We’re inviting our community to join us at Mecca.Live and take our beauty conversations to the next level.”

Ella Baché ‘gets on the rocketship’

Another retailer that has switched its focus to online is 66-year-old beauty giant Ella Baché. The very moment that it temporarily closed its stores two weeks ago, the team unveiled its new virtual salons, which they created and launched within 10 days. The beauty franchise has 120 salons nationwide.

“We knew what was coming, like we all did. The choice was pretty clear around this. We could either let this thing totally smash us or get busy being innovative and creative to get through and make it to the rebound,” explained CEO Pippa Hallas.

“We thought about our value proposition, which is all about being experts in skin solutions and empowering individuals to feel comfortable in their own skin, and we could do that in a virtual world if and when our stores and salons close.”

Many customers have quite a tightknit relationship with their skin therapists, so for them, continuing to meet with them is vital, explained Hallas.

“For many customers, skincare and therapists are part of their lives and routine; they look after their skin and mental health in many ways. You tell your skincare therapist so much of the same stuff [as a therapist],” she said.

“We want to connect with those customers online and the people they’re used to seeing. I feel like that insight was really important for our strategy, as opposed to just rolling out our e-commerce site. We wanted to continue to offer expert advice, tutorials and how-tos, but from their own real therapists, not influencers and celebrities.”  

As a result of the new virtual salons, 130 of Ella Baché’s franchisees are now continuing to run their businesses. And while they may not recover all their lost sales, it gives them a new channel to continue working. Each of the franchisees now has their own site on which they can host personal consultations with clients as well as sell products.

“We’d been working really closely together with the Franchise Advisory Council in the leadup to this event, talking about things like rent, staffing, etc,” explained Hallas.

“But when we launched this, we built everything for [the franchisees] so they didn’t have to build a thing, except for turning on their social channels, creating content and doing skin consultations. They were really grateful.”

Ella Baché’s beauty school has just turned fully digital too, so students can still learn from home. Hallas added that the Ella Baché team also ramped up its online marketing strategies in recent times. For the last 18 months, the business has been slowly moving towards more social and content-led marketing but as Hallas said, “we needed to put a rocket under it”.

“To transform a business this quickly, I’ve been really clear to myself that we just have to go for it – we had no choice. But we’ve had to also learn and adapt each day. So right now, we’re busy helping out franchisees get set up in how to film content and speak to the camera and get them feeling confident,” she said.

Lessons learned

Hallas first came on board as a young CEO at Ella Baché when the GFC hit. When she looks back on that time now as a more experienced leader, she believes that she learned the importance of offering her teams clarity through good communication, a clear plan and “hope that the rebound will come”. She also referred to an analogy that she has heard during her career: “If you get asked to join the rocketship, don’t ask which seat to sit in.”

“Don’t question the negative details right now; you absolutely need to look for the opportunities in this chaos and go for it,” she said.

“Use this time to get creative, get innovative. Of course, you have to take care of the fundamentals of the business and make sure everything is protected, but this is an enormous change that’s forcing business to adapt and innovate. You absolutely have to get on that rocketship.”

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