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How to win at the retail beauty game

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When it comes to online retail, the beauty sector brings with it an extra degree of difficulty.

As we’ve said before, the industry moves quickly, requires nimble minds and an impulse to embrace innovation to push an enterprise forward. Beauty consumers are savvy and they are no longer willing to be marketed to and sold to as if they are all the same. Signifyd covered some of these sector characteristics in its recent industry study, “Risk & Reward: The Beauty Industry’s Digital Transformation.”

The report laid some of the groundwork for understanding how the industry was changing and how some retailers were taking advantage of those changes. Now comes the graduate class.

We were fortunate enough at this year’s Shoptalk to spend some time with Cathy Halligan, an independent board director for Ulta Beauty.

Ulta, which is No. 91 on the Internet Retailer 1000, is frequently held up as a retail success story — adding stores, increasing revenue, winning at the customer experience game.  And company CEO Mary Dillon is frequently held up as a retail mastermind, a characterization that Halligan wouldn’t quibble with.

In the brief video interview below, Halligan talks about the elements that have propelled Ulta’s success.

We hope others can apply some of the lessons that Ulta has learned. But that’s sort of the good news and bad news, isn’t it?

The good news is that the secret to Ulta’s success appears to be simple — build a great team headed by a great leader, start with a sound business proposition and listen closely to what your customers are telling you they want.

Yes, the answer is simple. Executing on the answer is what’s hard.

If it’s any help, Halligan went on to say that customers will definitely guide you in terms of what you should be offering them. Ulta shoppers want a diverse assortment; and so the store is constantly working to add relevant brands. She pointed to Ulta’s recent addition of MAC Cosmetics.

Halligan acknowledged that many retailers and retail-watchers talk about “experience” without getting into exactly what they mean by that. Halligan expounded on the key elements of a good customer experience from her perspective.

“Part of the experience is what you offer,” she said. “Is it easy to shop? Are there people there — people who can help? And is there technology that can help you shop in the way you want to shop? Is it fast? Long checkout lines are a buzzkill. Multiple clicks to get through your checkout online: Total buzzkill.”

Again, it sounds simple, but actually getting it done is hard.

Then again, no one ever said getting retail right was easy. And if it were, what fun would that be?

Photo by Mike Mozart published under Creative Commons license

Contact Mike Cassidy at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.


Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].