Reporter's Notebook: Is Glossier's flagship the Oz of beauty?
Overwhelming in more ways than one, the flagship toes the line between wondrous and somewhat ridiculous — and everyone wants to Instagram it.
Glossier doesn't trust anyone to make it through its new flagship in SoHo alone. As someone who avoids store associates by habit, I found myself thwarted at every turn by a different woman in a pink jumpsuit, asking me if I needed something or making casual conversation as I tried to walk through the store.
The first post was the front door, the second a kiosk on the bottom floor where customers could pick up online orders, the third at the top of the stairs leading to the store and the fourth at a rotating mechanical pickup area in the lobby on the second floor. That's all before reaching the actual merchandise.
Inside the slightly crowded top floor, I counted something like 10 employees meandering around, some with iPads, pouncing on any customer with a pulse. I was perhaps approached more than most as I lapped the store, since I kept turning down any help, but it was nevertheless a testament to the type of high-touch customer service Glossier is going for. To a Glossier customer, however, it must feel like a room full of friendly and helpful associates, ready to help anyone find the right shade of lip gloss.
To me, it felt a little bit like I'd walked in the front door of a sorority I wasn't a part of — and they really wanted me to join. Everyone wanted to talk to me, everyone wanted to know what I was looking for, and everything was pink.
Instagrammer in paradise
There are many things that the flagship does well, but nothing is done as deliberately or completely as making the space Instagram-friendly. From the moment the front doors open, the store concept is practically screaming for customers to not only take photos, but also show them off to the doubtless hundreds of followers the average person has on a personal social media account.
A grand staircase in a dark shade of pink, framed by light pink walls, leads shoppers up to the merchandise floor, which featured about as many customers taking photos at a given time as there were shopping. To be fair, there was a lot to be photographed: flower displays, mirrored walls, larger-than-life Boy Brow containers and the general splendor of a flagship constructed entirely in shades of pink.
"I feel like we should take a selfie," a mom said to her daughter as they made their first walk through the store. "Don't you?"
The answer was evidently yes because I was forced to take a side-step to avoid showing up in the background of a photo I was certainly not wanted in.
While there's something almost silly about discussing how social media-friendly a store is, it's a topic that has become increasingly relevant as both social media and social commerce take a larger place in the retail landscape. Social platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and even Facebook have been used as inspiration by shoppers and as purchase platforms by retailers.
A study from last year showed that 72% of users made purchase decisions after seeing something on Instagram, and another that an almost equally large number of brands were tapping influencers on the platform. While social commerce hasn't fully matured yet as a purchase platform, it's a top priority for many retailers; findings from Bazaarvoice show that integrating social media and online shopping is a priority for 81% of brands.
Perhaps more importantly, brands and retailers are turning to social media more and more as a medium through which to connect with shoppers (looking at you, Gen Z), with startups ranging from Outdoor Voices to BarkBox using social media as a key part of their strategy.
If that was the aim, Glossier's first flagship nailed it. In my short time in the store, I saw two teenage girls stand in front of the mirrored wall with a cellphone for over ten minutes, trying to capture the best photo of themselves standing by the decorative Boy Brow containers (I know because I kept circling back to try and grab a photo without people in it).
The Instagram effect could be found everywhere: a pink jumpsuit set into one of the walls, a bust surrounded by flowers, a curvy bench that was blessedly red instead of pink. Even the air seemed to encourage shoppers to Instagram it — the scent of flowers, maybe roses (hard to say, but it was definitely flowery) seemed to pervade every corner of the store, an olfactory personification of the store itself.
Beauty is still blushing brightly
Aesthetic choices aside, the flagship was one big, flashing reminder that beauty remains a killer category with a serious number of retailers dedicated to upping the ante. Glossier's showroom, the precursor to its flagship, was already hailed as an experiential playground in its own right and the flagship was, in many ways, a chip off the block.
While the flagship wasn't as tech-heavy as the Beauty TIP workshops that rival Sephora has thrived off of, nor as service-oriented as Ulta's stores, there was still a playful vibe throughout, encouraging customers to touch makeup, try it on and ask associates for advice. There were four fully-functional sinks in the store that customers could use to try out products as well, and countless mirrors to check one's makeup in.
Walking through the pink-walled palace, bustling with customers, it seemed immediately clear why so many other retailers were investing in their own beauty offerings. Department stores like Macy's and Saks, along with drug stores like Walgreens and CVS, have put serious efforts into improving the in-store experience around their beauty departments, whether it be adding tech, forming partnerships with up-and-coming brands or changing the way that customers and associates interact.
Meanwhile, Glossier was not only creating an interactive experience for shoppers, but also giving them a very personal intro to the brand. The flagship, with its instagrammable features, pink-wearing store associates and touch-and-feel atmosphere was nothing if not a statement. A statement of many things, but most of all an acknowledgment that this experience was not going to be like the tired beauty model Sephora and Ulta rooted out.
The bold amount of personality — pinks layered on pinks layered on pinks — said anything but "traditional retail." It said: This is who we are — and it's not a department store kiosk.
Follow Cara Salpini on Twitter