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When Marla Beck founded Bluemercury in 1999, she was looking to build an anti–department store beauty and skin-care shopping experience: one that didn’t force customers to ask for products that sat behind glass and have brand representatives pushing specific products on them.
Nearly 20 years later, Bluemercury has joined Macy’s to offer its democratizing shopping and spa services to department store customers. With Macy’s, which bought the company in 2015 for $210 million, Bluemercury is expanding: Macy’s announced plans last week to open 55 more Bluemercury stores and shop-in-shops this year, with more coming in 2019.
“When we started in 1999, you could only buy cosmetics in department stores or drug stores, and you could only buy behind glass counters. I hated that,” said Beck. “When we opened our first location, where everything was out in the open to be tested and employees weren’t brand-loyal, people would walk in and scream.”
The multibrand approach to beauty retail has since taken over the industry, and Bluemercury has evolved with it. Beck joined the Glossy Podcast to discuss how beauty has evolved in the Instagram era, who wins when customers are in charge and how product innovation is changing the industry. Edited highlights, below.
On the role of the retailer in the direct-to-consumer age
Far off from needing to visit the department store, customers don’t need to visit any retailer anymore to learn about or shop new brands. The barrier-to-entry in the industry is lower than ever, and more brands are selling direct-to-consumer in order to properly tell their brand story and get in front of customer data. For a company like Bluemercury, surviving means positioning the store as a discovery and education center.
“The direct-to-consumer push is really a substitute for old media in some ways. You used to get info about new products from TV or magazines, then you went in and tried the product. Now it’s coming from Instagram, podcasts, friends, from everywhere,” said Beck. “DTC is a new media play, but it’s also a purchasing play. Brands are much more connected to consumers. For retail, at the end of the day, you still want to try these products. You want to touch and feel them. That experience of wanting to try and learn application is still relevant.”
On the Instagram effect
According to Beck, brands today are built on Instagram. It’s where customers learn about new products, brands and trends, and what can propel a brand to success. It’s even driving product innovation.
“Instagram is so prominent. You’ll always have the next guy coming in with low cost of entry, but few businesses will hit the scale to go global,” said Beck. “What Instagram has done is driven a visual beauty experience. What’s influencing beauty categories is the Instagram effect and that visual, because it’s a huge brand equity driver.”
On brand loyalty
There are more brands than ever before, and more products than ever before. Cutting through the noise means resonating with customers on an item-by-item level, on their terms.
“What people forget is you have to focus on a client niche. There’s a tendency to say, ‘How do I use Amazon? How do I use Instagram? What do I do?’ and they forget about the old fashioned, ‘Know your customer,’” said Beck. “The most successful brands and entrepreneurs start with a problem they want to solve for, and then they can expand from there. Customers today are loyal to items. Brand loyalty is lower than it used to be.”