As the definition of luxury continues to evolve, I look at the often quiet Clé de Peau Beauté.
Though Covid-19 put all beauty players on notice, luxury companies had considerable new obstacles to contend with.
Between reshaping business models to translate their high-touch in-person service online and coming to grips with the consolidation of luxury retail, brands had to execute plans that would not only keep their affluent clientele but also attract a swath of shoppers that had converted to online-only purchasing. But, by and large, brands like Biologique Recherche, La Prairie and Chanel chose to stick with their premiere retail partners throughout the pandemic.
For Shiseido’s Clé de Peau Beauté, abandoning brick-and-mortar wasn’t an option. Thus, ensuring a mix of digital and physical acceleration, as well as a robust product pipeline, have been top of mind. For all of its brands, Shiseido is hoping for 35% e-commerce penetration by 2023. In the first quarter of 2021, the group’s global e-commerce sales grew by 40%, with 6% overall sales growth compared to 2020. All regions returned to growth, except for Japan.
On the online front, Clé de Peau, specifically, launched on Amazon Luxury in October 2020, arguably making it the most high-end brand in the marketplace’s beauty assortment. It is also revved up shoppable livestreams with influencers like Chriselle Lim on its own site. New retailers were also paramount on the physical retail front: In March, Clé de Peau debuted at Bloomingdale’s 59th street flagship, and it launched its second Macy’s location in August.
“We’re growing into a multi-million [dollar] giant and rank in the top-15 brands globally, but we like to think of ourselves as the best-kept secret in the industry. We have had a unique opportunity to rethink our market and work toward a more diverse, more inclusive clientele,” said Alessio Rossi, evp of U.S. Shiseido, Clé de Peau Beauté and head of digital transformation for the Americas.
In first-half fiscal 2021 results, Clé de Peau saw 33% year-over-year net sales growth. In both the EMEA and Americas region, the brand experienced net sales growth of 26% for the time period. This has been a win for Rossi, as the typical Clé de Peau customer has come from Asia.
“The brand was born in Asia and everyone knows it as a Japanese brand, but we have a primary need to tell that story in the U.S.,” he said. Our touchpoint here has been a lot of wealthy Asian customers who are lovers of the brand, and came to college here or moved here as a young adult.”
Clé de Peau, alongside the namesake Shiseido brand, grew in China, as well. In the earnings statement, the China business was called out as a high point thanks to sales of the aforementioned skin-care brands: “Both offline and online sales grew strongly, accelerating even in comparison with the fiscal year 2019.”
But thus far, Clé de Peau has been bucking the trend of launching with millennial and Gen-Z beauty retailers, like Sephora and Ulta Beauty, for growth in the U.S. Despite prestige assortments, both retailers have made moves to become more accessible and even mass via Kohl’s and Target, respectively.
“This keeps us awake at night, to be honest with you,” said Rossi, of the consolidation occurring in luxury. “As a matter of fact, the traditional luxury distribution in the U.S. is something that needs to be rethought. It is undergoing such a crisis, that something must be done. It hasn’t worked. I do think that there is a different type of definition for luxury.”
In Rossi’s mind, that definition extends to convenience, personalization and values. While many were surprised about Clé de Peau’s move onto Amazon, he said, “Amazon is running a very tight ship; it’s definitely under control. There is an environment that is appropriate for us.” Moreover, Clé de Peau is not trying to sell shoppers its whole assortment on Amazon; that’s better left to its hero site.
“We aren’t necessarily trying to sell you 20 products; it’s about something special, maybe two products [for example],” he said. In July, Clé de Peau partnered with Oscar de la Renta, another Amazon Luxury partner, on one such personalized offering: a limited-edition floral pouch with Clé de Peau’s Enhancing Eye Contour Cream Supreme and Lip Glorifier, plus samples of its Volumizing Cream Supreme, The Serum, Protective Fortifying Emulsion SPF22 and Vitality-Enhancing Eye Mask Supreme. The products were selected in collaboration with Oscar de la Renta creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia.
“Skin care has always been an essential part of my daily routine, and I have been an avid user of Clé de Peau products for years,” said Kim. “The custom Oscar de la Renta pouch also features one of my beloved prints from the Fall 2021 collection.”
Rossi would not share Amazon sales figures, but did say that the business is growing. “We see a response from our customer that they are there, so we are responding to that. American consumers appreciate the ease of shopping multiple categories at once. We do not fear experimentation,” said Rossi.
For its own handle on the U.S., a shift toward education and visual assets has allowed Clé de Peau’s dot-com business to grow. “We try to understand what type of communication our consumer needs: What is the type of product? What are the types of experiences that may be entertaining to her?” Rossi said. At the onset of Covid-19, the brand leveraged its in-store salesforce via its CRM platform to connect with shoppers in a one-on-one way.
Livestreams, which have been a conglomerate-wide priority, have been focused on talent. Lim’s recent shopping event was centered around what is on her vanity. Shiseido Global CDO Angelica Munson recently told my colleague Liz Flora, “The interesting thing about livestreaming is that it does tie very closely to video consultations. You can collect information, and you can get people who have intent. And then when things start opening up again, you can use CRM to reach out to them,” said Munson.
But Rossi stressed that content has to remain relevant, no matter the point of sale. “We found out in the pandemic that sometimes talking a little less goes a long way,” said Rossi. “We really ask ourselves, ‘Do we [want] to bombard these people with as many emails as we wish, until everybody has unsubscribed?’ What if we actually went the other way and spent the time to curate beautiful communications that make sense for them, so that when they receive them, they really pay attention? It’s counterintuitive for many brands, but it’s paying off for us.”
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