You don’t have to go to the mall anymore to get your ears pierced.
While teenagers in the past may have gotten theirs pierced at the mall, the service seems to be one that a number of big-box retailers think holds promise. Claire’s continues to offer the service with its certified piercing specialists. Although, unlike the ’80s, this time around you can book your appointment online.
Yet, other retailers are beginning to capitalize on the service. Whether it is stores that have household name recognition, or up-and-coming brands, more companies are providing piercing not only as a way to cater to young and multigenerational audiences, but as a way to draw customers to stores through a personalized service.
The notion of providing a milestone experience is frequently discussed when it comes to retail and ear piercing.
“I think it is a rite of passage,” Jen Cullen Williams, jewelry industry consultant and founder of Jen Cullen Williams Communications and Consulting, said in an interview. “I think that each individual, and each family, may have a different version of what that means. In some cultures it’s very customary that a young infant gets pierced. And then there’s other cultures that want to wait for other milestones, like entering your teen years,” she said.
In March, Five Below announced an ear piercing pilot program, wherein the service will be introduced to 150 stores this year.
That’s because Five Below has identified ways it wants to celebrate the “rituals of life and milestones of growing up.” During its first investor day, the discount retailer said it is focused on strategic moments in a young person’s life identified by products, including balloons for celebrating events, room products to decorate personal spaces, merchandise that will personalize a first car, items for pets, and, of course, ear piercing.
The concept, Five Below explained, is that celebrating milestones is core to its strategy. “We celebrate those rituals of life and milestones of growing up every day,” Michael Romanko, Five Below’s chief merchandising officer, said at the company’s investor day, right before introducing its ear piercing program.
Five Below joins a number of other large retailers that are also offering the service. CVS began “pro-level piercing” services through a partnership with piercing manufacturer Studex following a successful pilot program with four stores in 2018. By 2019, the retailer began expanding, and ear piercing can now be found at 400 locations.
Target in Mach discussed its own ear piercing ambitions. The retailer began testing the service at a number of stores in Minneapolis, because the company’s research “found that guests were looking for a reliable, safe and convenient place to get their families’ ears pierced,” Target Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington said on a call with analysts.
Target says it is the first and only national retainer to offer piercings performed by a licensed nurse, and has partnered with ear piercing company Rowan.
“This service helps us connect and celebrate a major milestone with often younger guests, creating lasting affinity for our brand,” Hennington said. Target recently expanded the program to nearly 200 stores, with plans to “meaningfully increase” that number by the end of the year.
“This is a fantastic example of what happens when we listen to our guests, deeply research the market opportunities and create a differentiated solution,” Hennington said.
Piercing and repeat retail traffic
Ear piercing is also an opportunity to drive shoppers into physical stores, according to Cullen Williams. “If they’re really trying to get and drive consumers into the store, this is a way to do it. You can’t do a piercing through any type of virtual medium. It has to be an in-person touch and feel type of thing.”
Technology is being incorporated into virtual piercing experiences, but as a means to experiment with products. Perfect Corp. this April introduced an extension to its 3D augmented reality tech for earrings, which allows brands to help customers virtually try on items. Shoppers can try on ear jewelry in 13 positions across the ear and mix and match accessories and placements on the ear lobe.
"If they’re really trying to get and drive consumers into the store, this is a way to do it."
Jen Cullen Williams
Founder of Jen Cullen Williams Communications and Consulting
But, to get the piercings themselves, customers still need to go into a store for the service, which is also a moment to create an experience — and encourage repeat traffic. “It’s not just a one-time experience, because you go back and you can get multiple piercings,” Cullen Williams said.
Trends in piercing are also opening up ways retailers can respond with a variety of products, and create loyal customers. The “curated ear” trend incorporates multiple piercings and different types of jewelry, thereby creating a unique look for the individual wearer. That means a stud can be worn with a style that dangles, or an ear cuff can be on the same ear as a hoop.
It also opens up space for retailers to continually offer collections for new seasons, or highlight products that can only be obtained in stores versus online. That way shoppers continually can get an updated, personalized look by mixing and matching — without retailers having to offer highly customized products.
The new way to party
Big retailers aren’t the only ones furthering their ear piercing ambitions. Smaller, boutique companies are growing as well. Ear piercing studio and earrings brand Studs opened physical locations during the pandemic, and this April opened a store in Nashville, Tennessee, and the other at Hudson Yards in New York City. The company plans to launch more locations later in the year.
Studs also has a team of “earscape artists” which help customers decide on what piercing and jewelry works best for their individual look. With over 250 earrings, it says customers can mix and match its products “to create a look that is uniquely you.”
Studs also offers group piercings at some of its Studio locations. It is one of a number of retailers that are injecting a social interaction into piercing, where small groups can come together and get pierced at the same time. It has the added benefit of creating a moment that can be posted on social media. The hashtag #earpiercing currently has over 1 million posts on Instagram.
Earrings are also still seeing the impact of how people dressed during the pandemic, which pushed many office workers to select accessories that could easily be seen on video meetings. Dubbed “Zoom dressing,” the trend focused on the top part of a person’s outfit, or the section that could only be seen on camera.
Earrings that wouldn’t become caught in face masks became a point of discussion, and the subject matter of a number of articles, with Vogue in September 2020 pointing to them as “more visible than a bold lip when you have a face covering on.”
That energy, combined with an increased fashion point of jewelry personalization, and people once again engaging in events have combined to open up additional retail possibilities when it comes to piercing, Cullen Williams said. Piercing as an experience was happening prior to COVID, she said, but now retailers are seeing it as way to bring a fresh and meaningful experience into a store.
“I think that the shift is now more of an elevated experience,” she said. “The new, elevated experience of going into these bigger box stores is that it can feel really welcoming to a wide audience.”