Alex Fisher
Alex Fisher is an Associate Director for Beauty & Personal Care at Mintel. While her focus is the UK market, she searches the globe for consumer and manufacturing trends.

Part of a year-long refurbishment project, Harrods opened the second of its three new beauty halls at the beginning of October 2019. A number of retailers have invested in beauty halls alongside Harrods’ revamp, at a time when UK department stores are struggling. I went along to find out if this kind of experience will win with beauty shoppers.

Mintel data shows that the value of UK department stores dropped by nearly 3% in 2018 to £15.2bn. After House of Fraser fell into administration, and many other chains reported poor performances, it became clear that large changes were needed to save the sector.

British retailers are hoping that the strong performance of the beauty market can change their fortunes. Sainsbury’s trialled an expanded beauty department last October; Boots opened its new concept store this July in London’s Covent Garden; and Harrods has invested heavily in its beauty offer, revealing three glossy Beauty Halls throughout the year. The first hall, dedicated to make-up and fragrances, opened in June; the skincare hall was inaugurated at the beginning of October, while the third hall, entirely focused on experience, is coming in December.

So what’s new about Harrods’ Skincare Hall?

Our research shows that only a quarter of beauty/personal care buyers shopped at department stores in the last year, a long way behind supermarkets, health & beauty specialists, and online e-tailers. While department stores are convenient places to browse a variety of products, price is a big factor that drives shoppers elsewhere. This has no doubt been a big issue for mass-positioned department stores, but luxury department stores have fared better thanks to their in-store experience. Harrods has embraced its luxury image, and used it to further the premium experience that many beauty shoppers will expect from new beauty hall concepts.

Despite arriving at noon on a cold Saturday, The Beauty Halls were not overly crowded, and I had plenty of room to browse. Contrary to the cosmetics hall, with each concession closed off as if it were a mini-store, the skincare hall is light, airy and open-plan. Brands are displayed on large marble plinths and concession staff are not behind a counter, encouraging more interaction around the products.

Exclusive partnerships drive footfall

According to Mintel research about one in five beauty and personal care shoppers who do not buy online say they like to try out new products in-store first, so exclusive partnerships with brands are a great way to drive footfall in beauty retailers. Harrods has obtained a number of exclusive launches for The Beauty Halls, perfectly suited to its luxury image.

Some of these are specifically UK exclusives, taking advantage of the interest in Asian trends like K-beauty and J-beauty. Shiseido-owned Clé de Peau Beauté announced its exclusive deal with Harrods back in March, and so has Japanese luxury brand Decorte – while UK-born Wildsmith was previously only available via the brand’s website. Better-known brands like La Mer and Decorté have also launched new products only available at The Beauty Halls, ensuring shoppers with less interest in these emerging trends still enjoy an elite experience.

Ultimately, while Harrods is less vulnerable to the issues that most high street department stores face, its investment in The Beauty Halls shows a considered path for the future. Once the refurbishment is complete, the space devoted to beauty products will have increased by over 50%, and Harrods will be one of the largest beauty destinations in the world. The popularity of pop-up stores and services show that beauty consumers value the retail experience, but there are many different ways this can be explored. Harrods has leaned into its luxury branding to create a premium experience, but other department stores will need to explore avenues that exploit their own uniqueness and create a point of difference.