Secret Shopper: Glossier’s new London flagship
As part of TheIndustry.fashion's Secret Shopper series, we visited Glossier’s new permanent Covent Garden store last month to see if the location matched expectations.
The beauty and skincare brand was founded by Emily Weiss in 2014, and has become a poster child for the direct-to-consumer business model, having enjoyed huge growth and acquiring a loyal following.
Just five years after launching, Glossier secured a £877 million ($1.2 billion) valuation. In 2021 it raised another £588 million ($805 m) to scale its online and offline channels globally.
While it was launched as a digital-first brand, Glossier pivoted to embrace physical retail after listening to customer feedback, and it paid off with more than one million people visiting its permanent and temporary stores in 2019.
The brand launched digitally in the UK market in 2017 and opened its first pop-up shop in an 18th Century townhouse in the capital’s Marylebone district the same year. A second pop-up in Covent Garden - a stone’s throw away from its now permanent location - followed in 2019 to raging success.
As Weiss put it in a blog post last year, her ambition is a “future where digital and offline experiences exist in harmony, all in the service of helping people connect more deeply with themselves and others.”
We went to the London's Covent Garden flagship at 43 King Street, to examine how far her ambitions have been translated into reality here.
The Street View
Glossier’s choice of location couldn’t be more apt, as it is situated in close vicinity to a number of premium beauty shops including Bobby Brown, Guerlain and Chanel Beauty. It is also not far from trendy direct-to-consumer labels such as travel brand Away and a host of new fashion additions including Reformation and Ganni. Over 300 years old and made of solid brick, its façade is painted in a dark pink shade that perfectly matches Glossier’s signature colour palette - it is unmistakably Glossier.
The Windows & Entrance
Large glass windows allow passers-by to take a peek inside the uncompromisingly modern, minimalist space, with many curious to see what all the fuss was about whilst I stood in the queue outside. After a few minutes I was greeted by a friendly sales associate who explained the store concept and COVID safety guidelines (everything can be tried on but no skin-to-skin contact).
Walking up the stairs you were greeted by a plush pink seating area positioned in the middle of a large entrance hall. Visitors of all ages sat here and took pictures with their Glossier bags in large mirrors strategically placed around the room. Doorways led you into the adjoining rooms where the product was displayed. Sitting and watching what went on around me felt like I was truly "experiencing" the store, not just shopping and I wonder if others around me felt the same.
It should also be noted that to the right of the entrance sat a glass container full of dog treats. A stroke of genius as 90% of Glossier’s target customers reportedly had gotten themselves a dog over lockdown.
The Store-fit & Displays
The entrance area as well as the rest of the store is extremely generously laid out. Because of the towering ceilings the rooms feel airy but the space is also decorated in a way that doesn't make it feel lifeless. There is ample space for customers to inspect products, take photos and catch the attention of a sales assistant without it feeling crowded - you could well stand in the middle of the room and simply turn in a circle, mesmerised and no one around you would feel disturbed.
The brand’s signature colour can be found in different shades and textures across the space – a wall decorated in a brown-pink stone, pink roses sitting in a vase on a display table, a photograph of lacquered lips hang on a wall, and of course the product itself is packaged in in either white or Millennial pink as well. Every product category – lips, skincare, make-up - has its own grey display tables where samples are neatly arranged and ready for customers to try. Tester equipment (q-tips, cotton pads, a sink) are all located on the side.
The Try-On Experience
Something that I believe to be truly unique to Glossier is that the try-on experience is so central to the retail concept. On the shop floor products are all free of the outer packaging and ready for you to smell, feel the texture of and apply to your face or body. It's very easy and straight-forward to test products and a friendly face was always nearby and happy to help with any questions. It was refreshing because the whole process was the opposite of intimidating.
Testing is encouraged which is very unlike other beauty stores I have been at before. Product descriptions and prices were clearly visible and the availability of multiple testers on the table meant there was always a product available for you to pick up and inspect.
When you've made your selection a sales assistant checks out the product on an iPad and someone in another part of the store assembles your order. Customers are invited to wait in a dedicated little area while this happens. Finally you can watch your new products being lifted up from a lower level on a conveyor belt. A somewhat unnecessary flourish but very fun to watch.
The staff were wonderful. Before even entering the building you were greeted by a sales assistant who was ready to explain the store concept and put you at ease. Inside it was very easy to approach someone and as I stood slightly lost in front of the lipstick counter a very empathetic "editor" (as the store assistants are called) was at the ready to help.
Glossier’s 39-piece product range is limited to staples that promise a “no make-up, make-up look” and glowing skin. Priced between about £9 to £44 the products feel accessible but elevated. Because the range is so limited and the packaging is kept simple it never feels like you are overwhelmed by choice or duped by miracle promises. It also smells good!
Unsurprisingly the flagship features the brand's entire core product range, but it also featured special Glossier-themed merchandise such as a London passport holder (£25), sweaters (£38) and water bottles (£14). I also noticed a sign that said the brand’s signature pink bubble packaging is now recyclable – you can simply drop it off in store; a smart move considering its green-conscious consumer base.
The atmosphere was upbeat with a familiar-sounding pop song playing whilst the natural light came in through the large windows, with the bustle of chatting teenagers, mothers, shoppers and their spouses creating a calming background noise.
In Conclusion, the store concept expertly combines elements of Glossier’s digital-first promise with that of a traditional beauty counter. The customer clearly comes first and it’s the small details that really make the store stand out - the dog treats, the accessibility of testers, the possibility to recycle the packaging.
Whilst Glossier may have lost some of its novelty, it still feels like beauty catnip. The delicious pink colour palette that permeates everything, the simplicity of the product range and the lovely customer service – it’s something truly unique to the brand. The only hiccup was that you have to sit and wait for your purchase.