Is This the End of In-Store Beauty Testing as We Know It?

Is This the End of In-Store Beauty Testing as We Know It? featured image
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As Ulta Beauty began outlining plans for reopening its physical stores this month, the main goal was clear: safety first, everything else second. 

In line with that objective, the company announced that its beloved product testers would no longer be available for use at this time.

“Testers are now for display-only to offer visual cues for colors and textures,” says chief merchandising officer Monica Arnaudo. “Guests will find signage throughout the stores reinforcing all of the new policies, including testers.”

While Arnaudo acknowledges that part of the joy of shopping for beauty is being able to touch and try products, she does see the shift as an opportunity for consumers to test out something more high-tech. 

“We’re encouraging guests to use GLAMlab, our interactive virtual try-on experience within the Ulta Beauty app. GLAMlab is a convenient, safe alternative to product testing or swatching that puts discovery at your fingertips in-store or at home—it makes shade-matching simple and really fun. We’ve added new features to the app recently, so guests can try on makeup products, as well as test hair color and lashes.”

Product Production, Revised
Sara Happ, founder and CEO of the eponymous lip-care brand readily admits that even pre-COVID, she was hearing from customers that they wanted to see a “finger-free” version of her cult-favorite lip pots. 

The “wish list” item was mainly fueled by convenience but, when it was clear new protocols would need to affect production of the brand’s slated summer launch at Ulta, she moved quickly. 

“The feedback overwhelmingly pointed to an on-the-go version of our Lip Scrubs, in a tube, much like our best-selling Lip Slip Gloss,” she explains. “No one knew COVID would hit as it did, but our product offering for Summer and Holiday is now finger-free.”

“Responding quickly to customer feedback and being sensitive to the times we are in is a luxury we as an indie brand have.”

Virtual Testing Takes Off
Even though the beauty experience is not necessarily “self-service driven” at stores like Saks, the company also recognizes the need for virtual options at this time and is making some overall tweaks as well. 

“We expect to double-down on cleaning and sanitizing, while placing an even greater emphasis on associate-driven product sampling and demonstration,” the brand shared in a statement. “For example: Testers on counters will be for display-purposes only; customers will be assisted with sampling by our sales associates; and sales associates will follow strict protocols around sanitizing their hands and area before and after serving a customer.”

The store plans to offer virtual options for trying products, such as mini-tutorials shown on an iPad or sending samples to clients and holding a virtual at-home session. 

Something that won’t be available immediately during reopening: Makeup applications and spa services. Both offerings have been suspended while Saks works with vendor partners to “develop new protocols for delivering these services in a way that helps ensure a safe and healthy experience.”

The Ambassador Advantage
Green beauty retailer The Detox Market is also a big believer in testing products before you buy them and, as director of brand partnerships, Elena Severin, stresses, that belief hasn’t changed—but the method for doing so will. 

“Once we are safely able to open our doors and welcome our customers back into our stores, we are changing how testers are accessed. Instead of having testers out and readily available on the shelves, we will keep all testers in the back room or in drawers ready for our Detox Ambassadors to access and share with our customers.”

According to Severin, only the ambassadors will be allowed to touch the actual testers, but they will be able to share the contents within the testers with customers on a sterilized palette that the customer can see, touch, smell, and then demo on themselves if they choose. “And of course, all testers once demoed by our ambassadors will be cleaned thoroughly before being tucked away again for future use by the next ambassador.”

Jennifer Sabarots, vice president of retail at diptyque Paris, has something similar slated, and adds that the brand is “aware testing is key to the sensorial boutique experience and takes this as an opportunity to continue to innovate.”

“As diptyque boutiques begin to re-open, the safety of our employees and clients is our top priority,” Sabarots says. “Today, with very specific cleaning protocols in full effect, clients do not touch testers and only the diptyque brand ambassador is touching the tester throughout the duration of the client’s in-store experience. As always, candle, fragrance, skin- and body-care testers are regularly and after each use wiped clean with disinfectant.”

Improved Experience
Similarly, Severin sees the new testing processes as an opportunity to up the one-on-one personal experience.

“Safety is at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now, but we acknowledge that there has always been the freedom to play and touch that beauty retailers have invited with our rows of pretty jars and colorful palettes on the sales floor before the pandemic,” she says, adding that she fully recognizes that shopping for beauty is a creative and personal endeavor.

“It’s very tactile. With introducing these new policies for in-store testing and leaning on our ambassadors to provide customers with expert and white-glove service, we aim to facilitate the conversations needed to truly get to the heart of what our customers want and, therefore, provide the playful and tactile experience they had when shopping for beauty pre-COVID.”

“Safety will continue to be at the heart of what we do.”

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