The beauty category illuminates how to bring more customers into physical locations.

Much has been written about the revolution underway in retail. The growth of ecommerce continues to explode, legacy brands are closing locations and direct-to-consumer brands are setting up physical shops.

These changes amplify an enduring question: “What drives foot traffic into stores?”

For the beauty category (and many other retail categories for that matter), Archer believes that transforming sales associates into consultants using highly specialized training is a powerful solution.

Target stores train for success in beauty

The evolution of Target’s beauty department is a case study underscoring the effectiveness of this traffic-driving strategy. 

Target, with its high-low sweet spot, started revamping its beauty department in 2017 to better compete with beauty retailers Sephora and Ulta Beauty. Brighter lighting, lower shelves, broader product assortment, wider aisles and “beauty-passionate” staff were added to encourage discovery and inspiration. The department’s staff were selected for their interest in the category. 

While passion for beauty does not equate to the expertise that a highly trained beauty consultant can provide, Target’s approach still proved to be a leap forward. As market researcher Pamela Danziger wrote in Forbes at the time, “Maybe the Target category experts won’t match the level of personalized service at Ulta or Sephora, but having boots on the ground dedicated to beauty will be a big step ahead of the old self-service model common in mass merchandisers.”

But the progression of Target’s beauty department was not complete. In 2020, Target announced its plans to team up with Ulta Beauty. Under this partnership, Ulta Beauty initially built 100 “shop-in-shops” at select Target locations.

Although exact numbers are not available, Target reports that the Ulta-Target beauty destinations are driving increased foot traffic, along with increased awareness and loyalty. The partnership has been so successful to date that there are now plans to build 800 total Ulta “shop-in-shops” at Target locations.

In today’s omnichannel world, Target, Sephora and their customers are benefiting from this partnership in multiple ways, from expanded customer bases to skyrocketing sales and increased selection. 

Undoubtedly, the specialized Ulta Beauty training that Target employees now receive is a core factor driving Target’s higher foot traffic numbers under this partnership.

Why? It stems from expertise. In the beauty category, expertise encompasses both deep knowledge and informed taste. Taste is aesthetic judgment and, in a broader sense, our capacity to select. With training, we can sharpen sensitivity, educate our taste and develop informed taste.

That’s what Ulta Beauty’s specialized training achieves: it trains Target employees not only to be sources of knowledge, but also educates them on taste. It transforms them into beauty consultants who offer both aesthetic and practical expertise. 

Consumers visit a physical location to access informed taste and experience it in person rather than being mediated by a screen. Plenty of digital discovery and trial tools exist to enable experimentation with different looks. But, often, we want the intimacy of an in-person opinion delivered by a human expert with informed taste.

The impact of informed taste extends across the category 

Target isn’t the only case study illustrating the value of informed taste. In 2021, Amazon opened Amazon Salon, a hair care and styling salon, in London. This concept salon trials new technology, including augmented reality assistant apps for haircuts. 

After visiting the Amazon Salon in London, The New Yorker writer Anna Russell came clean to her long-term hairstylist. His response underscores the value of informed taste, “‘I guess the selling point is the technology. But I’ve got eyes. I can suggest colors to clients. When clients come to me, they trust my taste more than what the screen would say.’”

Similarly, Archer client Palm Beach Tan drives new customers and members into its salons with customized tanning and skincare advice that only the brand’s highly-trained Beauty Consultants can offer. Their specialized training is an operational investment, but it pays dividends in the form of new and returning foot traffic.

A partner for the complexity of modern retail

With driving traffic consistently top of mind for retailers, elevating the role of sales associates through specialized training is a strategy worth considering. Archer’s dedicated retail practice, with extensive experience in personal services, beauty and beyond, enables our partners to drive real business results in an ever-evolving landscape.