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The Qatari-owned retail giant has just opened its first standalone beauty concept known as H beauty, expanding beyond London for the first time.
H beauty at Intu Lakeside, Essex is the first step in Harrods’ mission to upgrade bricks-and-mortar beauty, with a second location in Milton Keynes set to follow in early 2021.
Described by the retailer as “the ultimate beauty playground”, the Lakeside store brings cult brands, Insta-worthy action and interactive experiences to the Essex shopper.
Annalise Fard, director of beauty, fine jewellery and watches and home at Harrods said it will be a “game-changing, destinational, beauty emporium”.
“I see beauty as the entry point into luxury and it’s very exciting to be able to take the excitement and engagement for beauty and really deliver it to a customer on a wider platform,” she said of the launch.
Fard said young, revolutionary, and digitally-led brands, such as Beauty Bio and Erborian, are the key focus in targeting this “responsive community of existing beauty lovers” who are already well versed on the latest trends.
A make-up play table invites customers to experiment with cosmetics and dry hair styling, a skincare station offers mini facials and skin consultations, while a sampling station boasts a selection of free gifts when customers spend over £50 in-store. There’s even a Champagne bar for shoppers to kick back in after all the fun.
Beauty in the time of Covid
But with the Covid-19 pandemic stripping out testers and samples from beauty counters around the globe, creating an interactive beauty experience is a bold move and one that won’t be easy to execute.
That’s where technology comes in, with big name brands including Chanel, Armani, Estée Lauder and YSL offering magic mirrors for virtual make-up try-ons.
Face coverings are mandatory in the store, which operates in a one-way system with social distancing markers and sanitation stations in place.
Mia Collins, head of beauty at Harrods said in-store services have been shaped with social distancing in mind and created to provide “an unmatched, elevated beauty retail experience”.
“Our extensive health and safety measures in-store can give customers the peace of mind that they can shop beauty to their hearts content in a safe and secure environment, without compromising on experience,” Collins said.
The beauty concept is also complemented by an online shopping experience to allow customers to purchase H beauty exclusives at home should they choose not to attend the store in person.
But is the Insta-appeal enough to draw a new generation of consumers to this 171-year-old retailer?
“Harrods is obviously trying to attract a younger demographic,” Steven Altman, managing director at boutique market research consultancy Inspiring-i, told Inside Retail. “They are doing this by creating more interactive experiences and introducing pioneering new brands, and in hoping to create a destination that has a younger, more modern ‘feel’.”
“They also wish to create a stand-alone, sub-brand, which makes total sense and in order to help differentiate themselves from the more traditional, department store model.”
But Altman said Harrods will need to retain the key brand values for H beauty to be a success.
“Previously, shopping at Harrods Beauty was a luxurious experience and very enveloping, from the surroundings to the service. [It was] more ‘traditional’, but exclusive and very personalised. It oozed glamour,” Altman said.
“In attracting a younger demographic, I believe that the same brand values and ‘positioning’ need to be applied, but executed differently.”
By introducing a host of new brands at Intu Lakeside that may not match the level of luxury typically seen at Harrods, Altman said this has the potential to cause a “negative ‘halo’ effect” on the umbrella brand.
“This could create problems relative to perceived positioning and may be too distant from the aspirational qualities that Harrods has built up over many years,” he said.
The changing face of beauty
Supporting the launch of H beauty is a new marketing campaign centring on inclusivity. ‘My Beauty’ features seven new faces, from trans and non-binary activist Jules to Muslim beauty influencer Zainab Najafi, all of whom share a different interpretation of beauty.
Inclusivity and diversity has never been more important for beauty brands and retailers, as those out-of-touch risk being “cancelled” at a moment’s notice. With many of Harrods young consumers already familiar with some of these diverse faces, they have given the launch an extra boost of credibility across social media.
Fard said inclusivity and self-expression is at the heart of H beauty’s ethos and the carefully curated range will deliver “for every customer’s desire”.