Department store beauty counters have earned a bad rap. Their prime real estate, positioned at the front of the first floor, is marred by pushy salespeople, poor lighting and unwarranted spritzes of perfume.
Saks Fifth Avenue wants to change that. The new department, dubbed the “Future of Beauty” by Saks, increased the beauty floor size by 40 percent and added 50 brands, along with treatment rooms and spa services. It also moved the beauty floor from its traditional spot on the ground level to the second floor, marking the first time the Saks beauty department moved from its first-floor post since it opened in 1924.
The goal is to now capitalize on its initial success through the use of events and experiences and keep customers flocking to the floor.
“It was a bold move, but we were able to achieve all our objectives,” Tracy Margolies, chief merchant for Saks Fifth Avenue, said, explaining that the goal was to increase the size of the department and offer more brand choices and experiences to customers. She declined to specify how much sales have increased but said the effect on sales has been positive.
The stakes are high. Department stores, dealing with declining sales and foot traffic, have been largely left out of the beauty retail boom led by Sephora and Ulta. So, they’ve been looking to reinvent. Macy’s is attempting to use technology to lure millennials into its stores, while a few years ago, Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus Group moved their beauty departments to the basement level, and added services and new categories like natural beauty and wellness. Beauty sales increased in both stores after the moves because they were able to devote more space to the departments and add products and services, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The idea is to modernize. In addition to moving the department to the second floor, Saks also underwent a refurbishment to make the space feel sleeker. Designed by architectural firm Gensler, features include white counters, specially designed boutiques for high-end brands like Christian Louboutin and Aesop, and video screens instead of traditional signage.
There are some growing pains. Customers are used to seeing the beauty department on the ground floor, and the department benefited from the automatic funnel of customers coming into the store. There is currently no escalator — it will open in February 2019 — that allows customers to easily travel to the second floor, and they have to walk through the ground floor to the elevators in the back. But the new floor is still an upgrade.
“It’s a different [environment]. It’s more relaxed and not intimidating. It’s supposed to be more inviting,” Candice Bodnick, an assistant manager at the Orveda counter, said, adding that employees were instructed to not “pull” people as they had done before on the ground floor.
The general consensus among other sales representatives is that there has been a positive response from customers, that the environment with its natural lighting and modern approach is more welcoming. There’s still work to be done – like that escalator – but in the meantime, Saks is working hard to make sure people know about the new department location and are motivated to stay. Upon entering Saks, customers are handed pamphlets about the daily offerings on the second floor, including a one-day appearance by celebrity makeup artist Tim Quinn at the Armani boutique or a “festival-style” hair braiding at Kiehl’s. One of the more popular destinations for customers has been Facegym, a Saks-only exclusive boutique gym for facial exercises, Margolies said. The goal is to make sure customers are aware that the move from the first floor to the second isn’t a downgrade.
“We feel we built a destination,” she said. “We think we’ll see a consistent traffic flow. We focused on engaging the customer and spending more time with us.”
Indeed, at 11 a.m. on a Thursday, there was a growing crowd in the beauty department, a stark contrast to the first floor where renovations were taking place; the leather goods and handbag department that shared the ground floor space has remained. One of the challenges for Saks has been educating customers about the changes the floor has undergone and how customers are supposed to engage with it, Margolies said. The department store has launched a campaign called “Summer in the City” with shopping events, entertainment and speakers like eponymous makeup brand founder Trish McAvoy or the founders of Soul Cycle.
“People are very familiar with a very quick transaction, and this is a very different experience. … [Things like] the speaker series have helped customers understand this isn’t just another beauty floor. We’re saying this is the future of beauty,” she said.