January 29, 2015
January 22, 2015
Minnesota cold just might be the new cool, reports Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal (1/23/15). "Innovation comes of adversity," says Tom Fisher of the University of Minnesota, noting Minnesotan products born of the state’s "harsh climate and hard-core work ethic." "Winter and cold climate is actually a huge economic advantage," he adds, suggesting that this is because hard winters force people to stay indoors and think. The sentiment is fueling a drive to reposition Minnesota, and parts of other states, as the American North.
Traditionally, Minnesota is thought of as part of the Midwest, but that’s unsatisfactory to Eric Dayton and his brother Andrew. "The Midwest tends to be what’s left over after all the other regions are identified," says Eric, whose father happens to be the state’s governor, and whose ancestors include George Draper Dayton, founder of Dayton Dry Goods Co., which eventually morphed into discount giant Target Corp." Eric and Andrew are following in those footsteps with a store of their own, Askov Finlayson, which sells a variety of "utility-chic" goods.
Not all items are local, but those that are include Red Wing boots, originally made for hunters and factory workers, and Duluth Packs, a line of rugged backpacks. Also selling well are Domer Bags, made from the ruins of the collapsed Minneapolis Metrodome. Some of these items are turning up in stores outside Minnesota. Telegraphing the message are wool caps "boldly knitted with the word North," which the brothers Dayton cannot keep in stock. Beyond that, there is no organized marketing campaign. Says Eric: "It’s important that it bubble up."
January 20, 2015
Ron Johnson wasn’t the only JCPenney CEO who lost customers by misunderstanding them, reports Suzanne Kapner in The Wall Street Journal (1/20/15). Former and current JCPenney CEO Mike Ullman admits he made a mistake by pulling the retailer’s print catalog. That was in 2010, and at the time Mike thought "catalog shoppers would migrate online." He was wrong. "We lost a lot of customers," says Mike. It turned out that shoppers "still like browsing through the decidedly low-tech artifacts of page and ink."
This despite research via retail consultancy Kurt Salmon that says about "44 percent of consumers" would like to be mailed fewer catalogs. However, Salmon’s research also finds that "31 percent of shoppers have a catalog with them when they make a purchase." So, Penney will mail a "120-page book" featuring items from its "home department … to select customers in March." Home goods "have historically been among the top-selling items in Penney’s catalogs." "We are trying to get back those lapsed customers," says Mike.
Restoration Hardware is also embracing catalogs — mailing 13 of them, a total of 3,330 pages — to customers, which created some backlash. Bonobos, founded as an online menswear retailer, sees beauty in pages as well. "We found that the catalog allowed us to tell a fuller narrative about the brand and our products in a way that we were struggling to online," says Bonobos marketing chief Craig Elbert. He also says "catalog customers tend to spend more" and that catalog customers who shop in their bricks stores are their "best customers overall."
December 15, 2014
A group of investors hopes to do for nail salons what Starbucks did for coffee shops, reports Sarah Max in The New York Times (1/15/15). John Hamel and his partners at Cue Ball were seeking "a highly fragmented industry" where there was an opportunity to "use a combination of smart design, systems and company culture to create a following." John had to look no further than "the strip malls near his home north of Boston" where he found oodles of nail salons. The supply suggested demand, and a closer look revealed a big opening.
At most nail salons, it’s all "fluorescent lighting, smelly acrylics and questionable hygiene." Scheduling appointments is another weak spot. "Borrowing practices from the medical and dental industries, MiniLuxe uses single-use tools … ultrasonic debris removers and hospital-grade autoclave sterilizers." It also introduced "its own line of toxin-free polish." To reduce wait-times, it hired "a data scientist to predict which factors drove demand" and "24/7 online booking." A soon-to-be introduced app will "buzz users’ phones" when "it’s their turn. "
Most important, MiniLuxe provides employees with "health insurance, paid time off, profit sharing and a company 401K." "You can’t create affinity for consumers if you do not create affinity for employees," says Mats Lederhausen, another Cue Ball partner. To pick locations, John looked for clusters of nail salons near Starbucks shops. Like Starbucks, MiniLuxe also devised "its own language, their own product lines," says Joseph Michelli, a customer experience consultant. Now with eight Boston locations, MiniLuxe plans to expand nationally.
December 11, 2014
Black-leather harnesses and collars are making their way into fashion’s mainstream, reports William Van Meter in The New York Times (12/12/14). Leading the trend is Zana Bayne, a 26-year-old former art student who also worked in "high-fashion retail and became a night-life fixture," where she "discovered her passion for leather." "There is something about the material that says something about the wearer," says Zana, adding that, like abstract artwork, it’s all about perception. Some simply see a nice belt while others see something else again.
"It brings something out not just in the wearer but in those around her," says Zana. Either way, Zana’s black-leather goods have made their way into "the holiday Pop-in@Nordstrom shop," along with the "snowflake sweaters and penguin beanies." Nordstrom creative director Olivia Kim seems to see mostly normality in the concept. "I wear mine with a boring white oxford shirt, but they also look great over dresses," says Olivia. "It’s the perfect example of what an accessory does: accentuates clothing."
Zana agrees that her belts and harnesses are essentially "layering pieces." She says that "the physical aspect of having something cinch you in makes you hold yourself higher, and adds: "Wearing a collar can make you feel like the most powerful warrior in the world … I’ve never aimed to shock," she says. "My design comes from a naive place, and I think, ‘Of course someone will wear this,’ and then it comes out … I don’t want to say harder, but maybe not as innocent."
December 1, 2014
LL Bean’s homely duck boots have become "a totem of agrarian-chic trendiness" reports Claire Suddath in Bloomberg Businessweek (12/10/14). The style is 102 years old, and Bean traditionally has sold about 100,000 pair a year, primarily to "loggers and farmers," according to LL Bean spokesman Mac McKeever. However, sales of the "leather and rubber" boots "have quadrupled over the past three years and are on track to hit more than 450,000 in 2014." They are currently "on backorder until at least February."
It’s a trend Bean has seen building for the past two years, "specifically in urban areas filled with college students, who were embracing understated, even bland styles that highlighted their authentic ordinariness," sometimes known as Normcore. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re still handmade. People really value that stuff right now," says Mac. This homespun appeal is exactly what makes it so hard for Bean to keep pace with demand, as duck books are made on "old fashioned stitching machines … still run by hand."
The duck-boot boom recalls the Hush Puppies phenomenon of the 1990s, as documented by Malcolm Gladwell in a New Yorker article called The Coolhunt. At the time, those buying the shoes associated them with their grandparents and the buying spree began in SoHo thrift shops. Birkenstocks, the hippie sandals, made a comeback this year, as well. How long the duck boots bender will last is anybody’s guess, but Mac McKeever says Bean is already noticing the next big thing — "a spike in sales of wool coats."
November 17, 2014
The next omnichannel experience is that between bricks and trucks, suggests a New York Times article by Tamara Best ( 11/27/14). While some bricks retailers are unhappy with the rise of retailers selling goods from trucks, Mike Gatt of the National Retail Federation says such concerns may be misplaced. "For example, a customer might buy something in a truck and then walk into a brick-and-mortar location and find something that complements the purchase. I wouldn’t be surprised if the big brands start doing it themselves," he says.
Mike adds that "it’s a great way to bring what you’ve got in your store to a new neighborhood to test it in a new market." Abby Franklin, owner of the Trunk boutique, a Nashville-based mobile boutique says that there is tension not only with bricks retailers, but also sometimes even with shoppers. "The hardest part was educating the community that it was a local small business, not someone from out of town." Abby also has a brick store, but in a twist she considers it to be her secondary location.
She says that her mobile store required higher start-up costs, but the monthly overhead of the bricks store was more expensive. Together, she says having the two stores "is like the best of both worlds. When the truck can’t go out, we still have a way to sell stuff." Sarah Ellison of Bootleg Airstream is meanwhile bridging the gap during the holiday season with a pop-up shop near where she usually parks her Austin-based mobile shoe store. "The future of mobile retail is going to be very diverse," she says.
November 6, 2014
A new "generation of web services" is bringing e-commerce finesse to mom-and-pop stores, reports Jenna Wortham in The New York Times (11/16/14). These services, with names like Shopify, Storenvy and Big Cartel are capitalizing on the "small, do-it-yourself businesses that have flourished online as social media platforms have exploded in popularity. While web shoppers may rely on behemoths like Amazon or FreshDirect for household staples and groceries," they might also prefer to buy specialty items from "someone who made it."
While "online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy have helped entrepreneurial, work-from-home types sell their goods online for years," these new services help "create the appearance of independent, professional, polished retail establishments, even if they are sometimes just a single person operating a web shop out of a bedroom." Services typically start at "around $10 a month," and sometimes also collect a percentage of sales. The retailers simply pick a name and design, upload images of their wares and are ready for business.
Jordan Roschwalb uses Shopify to launch his online store, Pintrill. "I wanted to be taken seriously as a brand from the beginning," he says. "And if we want to be in Barneys one day, it’s not going to happen because we’re on Instagram or Etsy." Others have found that while these ready-made storefronts can provide a great launching pad, they have limits as the business grows, and can’t necessarily handle relatively large sales volumes. That’s okay with Dan Christofferson of Big Cartel, who sees losing such customers as "a bittersweet day, like when the kids go off to college." Except in this case, it’s mom and pop leaving the nest.
November 6, 2014
When it comes to watches, some women like them with complications, reports Kathleen Beckett in The New York Times (11/5/14). Complications, in this context, means "mechanisms that increase a watch’s accuracy or capabilities.” For Andrea Seifert, that means a "flip-over watch with back-to-back dials that can show the time in two zones." It’s not just about the functionality, as Andrea is also impressed with the technology. "What’s unusual is that the two dials are controlled by the same movement," she says.
Women seem to gravitate toward moon-phase watches, in particular. "I love the look of it, and the movement of the moon," says Eva Malmstrom Shivdasani, a creative director. "It’s a stunning watch, so beautiful. I don’t use it for function, I just like the beauty of it. " Marina Lunkina, a publicist, meanwhile appreciates the functionality. She uses her moon-phase watch to time her salon appointments. "Hair will grow faster if you cut it on a growing moon," she says." A waning moon is preferable "if you would like to keep the hairstyle unchanged."
What women look for in a watch, says Beatrice Rouhier of Chaumet, is poetry. "For women, the point is, yes, it is a technical watch — but it is a watch that tells a story. Van Cleef & Arpels is on the same track, having "trademarked ‘Poetry of Time’ and ‘Poetic Complications’ to describe a collection of jeweled watches with complications." Karen Giberson of the Accessories Council, thinks the trend is linked to increasing female comfort with technology. "Things that used to seem geeky or intimidating are now common," she says.
November 4, 2014
Taxidermy holds perhaps surprising appeal among women, reports Kate Murphy in The New York Times (10/30/14). Some taxidermy classes are said to attract "women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Men take the classes as well … but usually with a girlfriend or spouse." Lessons include "skinning, disemboweling, wiring the animal and making a mold … followed by lots of grooming and preening using tweezers and blow dryers, to get the animal looking as fresh and lifelike as possible."
"It’s kind of like sculpture, kind of like painting, almost like hairdressing, almost like sewing," says Nina Masuda, a graphic designer who has "stuffed a starling, a quail and a squirrel." "I thought it would be all scienc-y, and I’m, like, fluffing up this bird’s hair, trying to give it volume." Adding to the intrigue, some classes are held in tattoo parlors and restaurants, and include "how to prepare the meat for eating," although some students reportedly are vegans.
Art supplies sometimes are sourced from services that raise and euthanize animals "as food for reptiles and large cats." Taxidermist Allis Markham objects to using animals raised "in an industrial way" and sources from "pest control operators" or game breeders after the animals have died naturally. Female interest in taxidermy actually dates back to Victorian times, and taxidermist Margot Magpie thinks the appeal may be "the illusion of cheating death." "Making something that’s dead look alive again helps some people come to terms with death," she says.
October 24, 2014
Macy’s Herald Square "now encompasses nearly an entire city block," reports Natasha Singer in The New York Times (11/3/14). This means the store "occupies a singular place in American retailing," and the intent is to offer "a vast array of goods at prices so varied that everyone can afford to buy something." Tourists, especially: "Because of its location a block from the Empire State Building, the store attracts roughly six million tourists a year, several million of them from outside the United States."
Tourists from "Brazil, China and other emerging-market nations with growing middle and upper classes" are "hungry for luxury logos." This factored heavily into the four-year, $400 million overhaul of Macy’s flagship, spearheaded by CEO Terry Lundgren. Once completed, next year, the renovation will add "100,000 square feet of selling space" and will be poised to set a new standard relative to Selfridges in London, Isetan in Tokyo, Galeries Lafayette in Paris and El Corte Ingles in Madrid, for example.
In part this involves installing luxury boutiques from Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry, as well as a new upscale cafe serving Starbucks Reserve coffee. "It’s more of a European style for you to relax during the day," says Terry. The store will also be easier to navigate — the original layout actually was designed to cause people to lose their way, in hopes they would spend more time and money. Macy’s has also streamlined its logistics for timely merchandising, and armed associates with iPads to improve internal communications and customer service.
October 20, 2014
Raw vanilla beans smell of "castoreum, a secretion from a beaver," reports Ellen Byron in The Wall Street Journal (10/22/14). Vanilla’s "animalistic" note became apparent to Ann Gottlieb, a fragrance developer, while touring "the tiny, rudimentary farms where vanilla is usually grown," after "handling beans before and after processing … The discovery is influencing fragrance projects now under way, including a number of men’s fragrances that will combine animalistic vanilla notes with its warm and creamy ones."
This is but one example of vanilla’s many possibilities now under development — testament to the aroma’s enduring popularity. "Vanilla will never die," says Ann. "It’s probably the most acceptable note of anything there is in a fragrance … Everyone has a vanilla memory whether you realize it or not." Experts say such memory begins "before birth, helped by mothers using and eating so many things that contain it … Vanilla can be found in amniotic fluid and in breast milk … Babies often recognize, or orient their faces toward, a vanilla flavor or scent."
No question but that vanilla is big business: "Since its opening in 1990, Bath & Body Works has sold $1.1 billion worth of vanilla-scented products, including body lotion, shower gel and perfume." The retailer’s latest vanilla fragrance "comes from a bean in Madagascar that takes three years to grow and must be pollinated by hand within 24 hours of a blossom appearing." It is being marketed as "vanilla like you’ve never experienced." Camille McDonald of Bath & Body Works says the claim even intrigues "vanilla skeptics who think they’ve smelled it all."
September 17, 2014
Cosmetics counters are getting a Google-inspired facelift in the e-commerce age, reports Bee Shapiro in The New York Times (10/9/14). At Bloomingdale’s, the "latest counter program" employs Google Glass to help customers learn how to use the products they buy. "A YSL makeup artist wears the gadget while applying the client’s makeup. The video, which also includes shots of the products used, is emailed to the customer." This appeals to shoppers like Carol Koehli, who says she’s "hopeless with makeup."
Carol says she might even post her makeup session on social media. "I’m on Twitter and I have Instagram," she says. "My friends are on Facebook. We send each other pictures already. I might well do this video, too." YSL’s Google Glass initiative underscores how "the lines between department store beauty shopping and e-commerce are blurring." "A customer might notice something on a website first and then go to a store," says YSL’s Alexandra Papazian. "Or they’ll go to counter and then go home and do more research online."
Other department stores are banking on more in the way of high-touch. At Bergdorf Goodman, for instance Clif de Raita, is a star attraction at the Tom Ford counter, where he "has developed something of a cultish following. Clients report that his gentle guidance (more instructive than old-fashioned hard sell) is worth the trip to the store." Arriana Marion says Clif gives her advice on things she’s too busy to research herself. According to Tom Ford Beauty, "the company sells double the items per transaction at the beauty counter as it does online."
September 11, 2014
The purpose of a $50 bottle of nail polish, says Christian Louboutin, is "to bring beauty to the side of fine arts," reports Ruth La Ferla in The New York Times (9/11/14). This manifests itself as "a collection of 31 violently colorful nail lacquers, housed in a jewel-like glass bottle, with a conical cap as spiky and tall as a steeple." (link) Christian admits that the design "is not practical," but explains that "just as a high heel may slow your walk, this long cap obliges you to take some time to paint your nails."
For this, Christian is pricing his polish at fifty bucks, "a nervy move conceived to elevate nail polish to an unprecedented lofty terrain." The previous record high for polish was $32, set by Tom Ford. "I couldn’t think about price," says Christian. "There was no reason to add an ordinary product to the beauty category." Bernard Bonneau of Fiabila USA, another polish-maker, agrees: "You are selling what the customer is dreaming about," he says, while admitting that the cost of the raw materials don’t amount to very much.
However, as Christian notes, other costs include "development, the designer of the bottle, the marketing and the cost of meeting industry regulations for purity." Bernard adds: "We are creating a product that’s almost at pharmaceutical levels." And James Slowey of Baralan USA, a manufacturer of polish bottles and packaging, says: "You are selling in some instances, 25 years of a designer’s history." In any case, NPD Research finds that "those shoppers inclined to do the math tend to shrug off markups," and just go with "prestige brands."
September 11, 2014
Growing male demand for fancy shoes is changing the face of shopping in New York City, reports Jane L. Levere in The New York Times (9/10/14). "A lot of people in the market say men are shopping for shoes more like women, who want a lot of variety in their shoe wardrobe," says Mimi Fukuyoshi of Bergdorf Goodman. Fashion consultant Robert Burke concurs: "There’s a pattern with men: They want to enjoy luxury watches, Scotch, good shoes and tailored clothing." He adds that they don’t care much what it costs.
NPD Group, the market research firm, supports such assertions, reporting that "dollar sales of men’s footwear in the United States grew eight percent in the last two years, twice the growth rate of dollar sales of women’s footwear in the same period." Such opportunity is a boon to the "John Lobb store on Madison Avenue," where men "order bespoke shoes and boots, made from leather and exotic skins like lizard and crocodile." Shoes start at "$8,000 and can climb to $25,000."
Following in those footsteps, Louis Leeman, "based in Florence, plans to open its first store in December at 793 Madison Avenue," which "will resemble a Parisian apartment, with a fireplace, and a cobbler will take orders." The store is also a departure in that most men’s retailers used to be located "near shoppers’ Midtown offices." Kelli Duggan of John Lobb says the arrival of her store and others will change the game for male shoppers. "It creates a kind of centralized luxury men’s shopping experience," she says.
August 18, 2014
A museum exhibit of high-heeled shoes takes aim at clearing "the footwear’s bad rap," reports Jessica Dawson in The Wall Street Journal (9/10/14). "We all know the overarching vision of high heels and what the perception of them is," says Lisa Small, curator of the Brooklyn Museum, host of the exhibit, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe. The charges, of course, include "among other things, objectifying and hobbling its wearers." The exhibit "includes contemporary and historic footwear."
Shoes were selected, says Lisa, "from an aesthetic, design and material culture standpoint." This can cut both ways, she says. "A lot of the shoes in the show are … difficult aesthetically or meant to be making different kinds of statements." The shoes are exhibited "alongside a selection of paintings and design objects that resonate" with them. The show will also "debut six short films by artists invited to riff on the heel," including work by Zach Gold, who compares fashion to music videos.
"Instead of looking at a 12-inch album cover to get the visual communication for that record, you’re looking at a 3-½ minute film," says Zach. "It changed everything." Zach created a 5-minute video called Spike for the exhibit. Another video, by artist Marilyn Minter, features a 210-pound, tattooed dancer, "traversing molasses-like puddles of silver paint." "It’s the anti-glamour video," she says. "I would never make something to glorify the heel." She does, however, plan to wear heels to the exhibition’s opening.
August 15, 2014
The magic of the emerging shopping experience — online or off — "comes from the data," reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (8/15/14). For e-commerce enterprises, the data enables a level of personal service that approximates — or potentially improves upon — that which can occur naturally in a store. "In traditional retail, they have the benefit in that they have real people who in theory could offer a very personalized experience," says Katrina Lake, founder of Stitch Fix, an online women’s clothing retailer.
Stitch Fix "sends its customers boxes of clothes picked by a combination of personal stylists and big data." The advantage over, say a mall or a traditional e-commerce play, says Katrina, is that it eliminates the often overwhelming array of choices. Bill Gurley, a Stitch Fix investor, says the data science involved in making this happen is significant. "There’s a 15-page profile, there are over 66 characteristics tracked and there’s a predictive heat score for every single item against every single user."
Birchbox uses a similar approach with beauty products. "We use curation and personalization as a way to make the internet have some of those fun and satisfying elements of shopping," says Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp. "There is still this desire to work with somebody that you trust." Birchbox takes a similar approach at its sole physical store, where Birchbox’s online customers can provide their email address to an employee, who then directs them to relevant items, based on their profile.
August 15, 2014
Rebecca van Bergen is connecting small-village artisans to the great American marketplace, reports Rachel Felder in The New York Times (8/14/14). Rebecca is founder of Nest — not to be confused with Nest — which "acts as a matchmaker between artisans and companies in the fashion and home furnishings fields." It has now "created what it dubbed its Artisan Summit," designed to help "indigenous craft artists" market their wares as well as teach big-market retailers how to work with them.
"Nest brought together these artisans because they share the same challenges," says Nest founder Rebecca van Bergen. "One of the largest is how to take largely home workers who have produced for local markets with different standards of quality, and translate that to a fashion industry, particularly a luxury fashion industry, that has very stringent requirements in terms of quality and replicability." It’s an equally interesting challenge for major retailers "as the appeal of such products grows."
Rebecca launched Nest in 2006 by "lending artisans money to produce goods, then selling the products to recoup those loans — but eventually eliminated sales to become a non-profit." Nest has helped produce items such as "Trina Turk glass-beaded necklaces in Tiruchirappalli, India … and handwoven Ikat Feed tote bags in Guatemala City." Rebecca says that bridging developing economies and urban fashion is "strange and surreal," adding: "To see the process from design to rack, I mean, it’s art."
August 5, 2014
Where Toms Shoes hopes "to improve lives," BucketFeet is "about building a community," reports Lizette Chapman in The Wall Street Journal (8/14/14). Toms is famous for donating "a pair of its shoes to a person in need every time a customer buys a pair." The BucketFeet idea, meanwhile, is to connect "people around the globe through art. Its flip-flops and sneakers for men, women and children feature designs by more than 5,000 artists worldwide." (images)
"By doubling down on our artist community and the stories they tell, we’re building our brand," says co-founder Raaja Nemani, 32. "Yes, we sell shoes, but we are really about building a community." Launched in 2011 by Raaja and business partner Aaron Firestein with $100,000 in personal savings, BucketFeet today "has 16 full-time employees and has raised nearly $6 million in venture capital." Its footwear is sold nationwide in Nordstrom’s and will soon be available "at select Bloomingdale’s stores" and its website.
Prices range from "$30 for flip-flops to $68 or more for sneakers." Raaja says BucketFeet’s success happened because "we had zero pride in how we did it and focused 100% on how to get in front of people at street fairs, trunk shows and every party we could. We talked about it shamelessly everywhere and messaged every person we knew on Facebook and said, ‘please buy our shoes as a favor to us’." Currently, BucketFeet offers two styles, but plans to have "six or seven by spring of next year."
August 5, 2014
Patagonia’s "unusual commitment to sustainability" sometimes comes "at the expense of its bottom line," reports Diane Cardwell in The New York Times (7/31/14). "Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive," says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. Rose adds that company founder Yvon Chouinard has "said that every time he made a decision that was right for the environment, it made the company money, though sometimes not for a while."
One of Patagonia’s newest products, a wetsuit that "is made not from conventional petroleum-based neoprene but from a natural rubber derived from a desert shrub," is a case in point. "Instead of holding the manufacturer of the rubber, Yulex, to a yearslong exclusive contract, Patagonia is encouraging its competitors to use the product, hoping to see its use grow and drive down the price." This is in the tradition of Patagonia’s introduction of "organically grown cotton products in the 1990s," which lost both customers and money.
However, the suit, "priced at $529 – $549 … will earn the company money and bolster its green credentials, an important part of how it tried to appeal to customers." Mitch Taylor, a surfer, is sold: "I was really stoked on it," he said. Another surfer, Walter Valesky, was less enthusiastic, noting that he could get a good used surfboard for that money. Yvon’s son, Fletcher Chouinard, remains optimistic: "People are starting to put their money where their mouth is, but it’s slow," he says.
Sephora is using visual data to achieve an in-store experience that couldn’t happen online, reports Issie Lapowsky in Wired (8/1/04). Sephora’s "new flagship location in New York City … is filled with digital accents designed to bring the brick-and-mortar experience closer to the world of online retail, including everything from a touchscreen quiz for finding the best perfume to a skincare product finder that culls e-commerce data and serves up online reviews."
However, Sephora is also using technology in its stores that can "unlock some interesting data that brands could never collect online. The most obvious example of that … is a program called ColorIQ, which attempts to match shoppers’ skin tone with the appropriate shade of foundation. To do that, Sephora partnered with Pantone to identify every possible skin tone in the world. They then created a piece of hardware that filters out external light to photograph a shopper’s exact skin tone and match it to makeup that’s in stock."
Using ColorIQ revealed "that some of the 121 skin tones identified were more popular than others" but Sephora didn’t have products "for several of the most popular tones." The retailer has since "worked with brands to build out a more diverse range of shades." "Brands had never been able to see that data before says Sephora marketing chief Julie Bornstein, who adds: "I feel strongly that physical retail will never go away … It’s been a pastime since the beginning of mankind.”