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Beauty's future on the high street

Posted on 12 February 2021

With high streets and shopping centres across the UK being closed for much of 2020 and into 2021, shoppers have turned online more than ever before. However, whilst we might be used to buying our gym wear and jeans online, when it comes to beauty products, even in this digital age, there is still nothing quite like the ground floor of a department store: being able to visit the various counters and try out new products. This in turn gives retailers the chance to engage with their consumers.

Experiential retail

Even before COVID-19, retailers were having to be more innovative. Whether this was being offered a glass of prosecco in-store or having a beauty expert on hand to help pick out the perfect highlighter, shoppers wanted an "experience". This is especially true for the beauty industry. Charlotte Tilbury stores are a prime example of experiential shopping with their plush furnishings, expert staff and revolutionary 'magic mirrors', a fully interactive touchscreen where a shopper can virtually experience signature looks. Lush's Liverpool store features three floors of smells and more bath bombs that you can count. It also houses Lush's first hair salon, the HairLab, the Lush Spa and even a florist. More traditional stores like Boots and Next are now experimenting with this same method of engagement where customer experience is the top priority.


For early-stage brands or brands launching into the UK, pop-up stores are a great way to test the waters before committing to anything longer term, whilst also benefitting landlords with vacant units. Pop-ups have been hailed as a low-cost, effective and quick way to build a high-street presence. As we emerge from COVID-19 closures, we are likely to see more pop-ups as retailers look to re-engage with consumers.

Proptech platforms like Appear Here and Sook can help to facilitate the relationship between high street landlord and pop-up retailer, allowing newer brands and digital-first brands to enter the market alongside more established brands. Pop-ups opening in 2021 may also find it easier than more traditional stores to be flexible in terms of social distancing requirements and the ability to adapt to changing consumer habits.

For landlords with multiple units or in department stores, increased footfall from a pop-up can encourage shoppers into neighbouring shops and units, breathing life back into the surrounding area.

Make-up artist Dame Pat McGrath DBE launched her brand Pat McGrath Labs as a digital-first beauty brand. In 2019, the brand started a three-month pop-up in Oxford Street's Selfridges, before becoming a permanent fixture. The initial pop-up resulted in product sales every 40 seconds and advertising in 24 of 27 of Selfridges' famous window display. One can assume that it wasn’t only her pop-up that saw increased sales.


The current difficulties for retailers on the high street may require landlords to be more proactive and flexible in their approach. For example, some may consider offering shorter term leases or negotiating a turnover rent where the amount of rent paid by the tenant is in whole or part based on a percentage of the tenant's annual turnover. Whilst obviously this is a commercial decision for any landlord, it enables the landlord to share some of the risk of opening and operating a store with the tenant.

It is fair to say that there is nothing like bricks and mortar when it comes to the beauty industry and as restrictions (hopefully) begin to ease, 2021 stands to be an exciting year for beauty retailers and landlords alike in this sphere.

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