Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops BeautyBoutique (Shoppers Drug Mart)

New brands, new store design, herald a new format BeautyBoutique.

Location: BeautyBoutique (Shoppers Drug Mart), Toronto Eaton Centre (220 Yonge St., Toronto, ON)

When I was a child, every Christmas my father and I would go down to the Eaton's fragrance department and purchase a bottle of perfume for my mother. Back then it would never have occurred to us to visit a drug store for that purchase. However, in today's much changed retail landscape, drugstores are increasingly becoming the destination for customers seeking high end fragrances and cosmetics.

Leading this retail revolution has been Shoppers Drug Mart, who launched their BeautyBoutique format over ten years ago. Now found in hundreds of locations across the country, BeautyBoutiques are dedicated cosmetics departments within selected Shoppers Drug Mart stores that feature many of the same brands once exclusive to department and specialty stores. The boutiques are partially separated from the rest of the store and feature modern fixtures, soft lighting, and self serve units.

Last year Shoppers opened the first of what it is calling an "enhanced" BeautyBoutique, at Bayview Village. This concept brings in new brands like Chanel cosmetics while providing a larger store footprint and a more refined shopping environment. A week ago a second location opened at the Toronto Eaton Centre.

"Our goal was to design a unique and inspiring experience leveraging our customer insights in beauty while also integrating emerging customer trends," said Domenic Pilla, President and CEO, Shoppers Drug Mart in a press release. "Shoppers Drug Mart has always pushed the envelope when it comes to the beauty category and as a result we have become the market leader in mass and prestige cosmetics, fragrances and skin care products and the beauty destination of choice for Canadian women."

Toronto Shopkeeper visited the Toronto Eaton Centre location to discover Shoppers Drug Mart's new experiment in beauty.

Design: Those who have visited a BeautyBoutique in the past will notice a distinct stylistic difference here. The finishes look sleeker, brands are presented on mini walls throughout the store rather than chiefly along the walls, and the lighting is more ambient and hung from staggered beams in the ceiling.

The general feel of the boutique is almost that of a Sephora store, which is not surprising considering that Sephora has been aggressively opening Canadian store locations. After initially opening in the country's top tier malls, Sephora has been spreading to secondary and regional malls. If Shoppers wants to compete in malls then this new modern format is its best weapon.

Front and centre is a cash wrap and welcome station with make-up artist brand Smashbox featured near the front window. Products are merchandised by brand with a dedicated men's wall of products. At the back of the store a fragrance corner features self service units as well as a unique testing table. Nearby is a brightly light, spa-like, "derm" area featuring brands like Vichy, Clairsonic, and La Roche-Posay.

Merchandise: It has to be acknowledged how far Shoppers has come with its merchandise assortment. Gone are the days when a high end brand wouldn't dream of selling to Shoppers, indeed many now routinely launch new products at the retailer. Where once a drugstore featured a few tired old brands behind lock and key, now shelves of top selling brands invite customers to test, touch, and buy.

Shoppers Drug Mart's now decade long evolution of its BeautyBoutique concept convinced vendors that their image was in safe hands. However, stigma did still remain and in 2008 Shoppers launched their Murale chain, a beauty only destination that managed to lure brands such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Bobbi Brown. Two Murale stores have since closed, and I wonder about the fate of the remaining six locations now that Shoppers has proved it can handle high end beauty.

Unique to this enhanced BeautyBoutique format are brands such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, who have comprehensive offerings here.

Service: On an early weekend morning, three associates were working in the boutique space. They moved from area to area, cross selling across brands, unlike in traditional department stores where a consultant is often responsible for one brand.

"We introduced this new concept all while holding true to our principles of knowledgeable and unbiased service in an enjoyable and convenient shopping experience," said Cathy Masson, Vice-President Category Management. Shoppers has prided itself on training its beauty consultants to be independent brand ambassadors, and to sell objectively and without bias (another Sephora signature here).

Not surprisingly a big draw for customers is the Shoppers Optimum program, which allows customers to earn and redeem on almost anything in the store. The program has over 10 million members (that's almost one in three Canadians) and now e-mails customers personalized offers.

Online: Shoppers recently launched a dedicated BeautyBoutique page which features selected product information and a brand finder. While it does not currently offer e-commerce, its Murale sister does (and also accepts the Optimum program). I can't help thinking that Shoppers could be an online powerhouse if it married its online Murale beauty platform with a site selling both its private label and mass market products. Comparable UK drug store Boots has just such a site where you can buy everything from Gucci fragrances to diapers.

Grade: 85%

Lost marks for: Lacking an e-commerce platform as it's such a wasted golden opportunity. Also while being on the mall's lower level near a subway entrance is no doubt good for traffic, I wonder if there might not have been a better location in such a large mall.

Gained marks for: Doing what it does best. Featuring great brands in an inviting store environment with good staffing.