There’s no doubt that independent beauty startups often rely heavily on influencers to increase their visibility. But once brands have won coveted space on beauty retail shelves, they may be overlooking an important “influencer”: the store associate.
Currently in beta, Landing International’s new BeautyFluent app launched at Ulta Beauty’s Field Leadership Conference last month. Its goal is to provide brands with the ability to train store employees in product use while avoiding the cost of sending representatives to work with them onsite. Featuring brands such as CosRX and BeautyStat, which sell at Ulta Beauty, the platform particularly targets independent beauty brands that are striving to make the most of their store footprint.
Store associates are “those who interact with customers every day,” said Sarah Chung, founder and CEO of Landing International. “Brands wouldn’t even hesitate to spend $10,000 for a micro-influencer to maybe post a grid [post] and a story about their brand. [But] they’re actually rather reluctant to spend the same amount on beauty consultants who deal with their customers every day and are truly brand ambassadors at the point of sale.
At $12,000 a year for brands to join and showcase their products, the new mobile app allows store associates to enter their individual store location and create an account to scan product barcodes and read about each product. In its second phase from 2023, associates will be able to earn points by taking product training and quizzes. By 2024, the platform plans to integrate a content element offering live events with the founders of the brand. The points can then be redeemed for free products that will be sent directly to their home. The app also allows associates to review products, providing brands with expert feedback working with products on the sales floor. Brands will have access to data on quiz scores and top participating store locations, as well as information on which store associates are most engaged with the brand. The app is not tied to retailer sales data or employee commissions.
While online shopping has certainly boomed during the pandemic, consumers have returned to stores. According to December 2021 Data from McKinsey & Company, 60-70% of consumers across all categories prefer to shop online and in-store. While in-store associates can be key recommenders on the path to purchase, reaching them can be a challenge for smaller brands with rapidly growing retail footprints.
Major beauty brands have budgets to invest heavily in training store associates, sometimes spending as much as 10% of their retail sales to send reps to stores on a weekly basis. Smaller brands with less labor often choose to simply send free samples to stores, providing no indication of the products and receiving no guarantee that all staff members will receive them.
In a survey of store associates, Chung found that “they don’t feel equipped when customers walk into the store to ask about a specific product or brand, or a random question for a concern or a need”.
“They absolutely believe that better training would allow them to make more improved recommendations,” she said.
This is a challenge even for fashionable brands that initially succeeded with an inline DTC model. Chung said she had seen “a lot of DTC brands that were getting a lot of traction online, but once they moved to retail, they were pretty surprised, [wondering]”Why don’t we sell?”
Seeing the store associate as a “true influencer is the secret weapon of marketing. [When customers] getting into the showcase is really the key [time]. With its saturation, many beauty brands are losing sight of what will help them succeed in brick and mortar,” said Adriana Lipsztein, vice president of agency and marketing at Landing International.