Last month, future retail and global innovation agency Outform partnered with celebrity Selena Gomez’s cosmetics brand Rare Beauty to launch an interactive popup activation in Sephora’s Times Square location showcasing the brand’s latest product release. As detailed on the company’s website, Outform activation experience was designed to “seamlessly connect the brand, product and retailer to the shopper,” and “offered visitors an experience that broke through the noise and disruption of an area known area for its sensory overload and constant flux of activity.”
The Rare Beauty popup is just one example of the ways brands are partnering with innovation agencies like Outform, who has also recently worked with brands like HAUS LABS and r.e.m. beauty, to better connect with customers to enrich their in-person shopping experience for cosmetics and personal care products. Following the surge in online shopping driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies in these industry spaces have turned to increasingly creative means of encouraging brand expansion through consumer engagement.
To learn more about how activations and popup events are impacting the cosmetic and personal beauty care product industries, the role AI and technology play in designing and executing in-person consumer engagement, and Outform’s plans for expansion in the cosmetic and personal care product industries, CosmeticsDesign interviewed Simon Hathaway, Outform Group’s Managing Director, EMEA for his insights.
CDU: Can you share some background information about Outform and its role in the cosmetic and personal beauty care product industries?
Simon Hathaway (SH): Outform merged with Rapid Displays in North America in 2021. That brought scale and a huge legacy in delivering for beauty in retail.
We’ve worked with most of the mega brands and have become particularly adept in supporting the growth of new entrants including Haus Labs, r.e.m., and Rare to build innovative launches that win with shoppers and the key retailers.
But we’re equally well-positioned to support beauty brands outside of the States too, and after acquiring retail specialist Alrec late last year, we are delivering for beauty brands across Europe. The addition of in-house manufacturing capabilities in Poland, now coming online with our facilities in the US and China means we are one of the only businesses that can roll out globally to a single brand standard through localized production, a big win for beauty brands wanting to decentralize production to improve the sustainability of their in-store experiences.
CDU: How does Outform plan and execute cosmetic and personal care product launches in-store, and what role do activations play in those launches? What are the challenges?
SH: Beauty is wrapped in the magic of the brand. We must tell a visual story and ensure that is consistent across every retail environment - spanning in-store fixtures, imagery, color, and how hero products are amplified - is usually part of the brief when it comes to launching a brand’s new product.
Then there is the challenge of retailer guidelines, particularly the bigger retail conglomerates such as Sephora, Douglas, Boots and Ulta. We must ensure that the brands ambition to tell their story is aligned with the vision of the retailer and through the years we’ve fostered trusted partnerships with retailers to ensure we find that balance and deliver an experience that drives sales.
Because of Outform’s capabilities in building in-store technology, we’ve been able to develop concepts that really stretch the art of the possible in a retail setting, delivering elevated experiences that give beauty brands a competitive advantage. One example being our work with Ariana Grande’s r.e.m.. This went from a standard podium in Ulta to an extended reality podium, bringing AR on the shopfloor to help shoppers learn about the brand.
When you also bear in mind that our recent study into beauty shoppers’ behaviors found 67% of them find digital interactive experiences appealing, the case for integrating exciting technology plays becomes ever more crucial for new-to-market brands wanting to wow shoppers.
CDU: What role do technology and AI play in in-store brand launches for cosmetics and personal care products?
SH: It’s not enough to buy a shiny piece of tech and say job done. Beauty brands first need to understand what their shoppers’ expectations are.
For example, Outform’s recent global study found that 60% of beauty shoppers are using smartphones in-store, so it makes business sense for any beauty brand to use technology that allows shoppers to lead with their smartphones, such as QR codes, that connect them to information about a product as and when they need it.
But in such competitive retail spaces, brands also must find the sweet spot between stopping a shopper in their tracks, and what’s genuinely useful for both the brand and shopper. Our PodDrop tool, for example, allows shoppers to test samples by scanning a QR code, which then leaves a data trail for retailers to get a better understanding of who is testing their products.
This gives shoppers a twist on an age-old retail tactic but also has significant benefits for the brand.
The digital handshake instore is key, connecting the shopper to a wider single customer view platform. That will give us insight into behavior in-store and will be a foundation for the next generation of personalized beauty that will be driven by AI.
CDU: What are Outform’s plans for further expansion in supporting cosmetics and personal beauty care product brand launches?
SH: The ‘Fenty Effect’ has generated a wave of musicians and TikTokers-turned-MUAs launching their own brands in recent years. Outform has helped many of them move from online to in-store with the big retailers, and this isn’t showing any sign of slowing down.
We know from our work with Haus Labs, r.e.m. and Rare Beauty that there’s real appetite for these types of brands in-store. But they’ve got to both surprise shoppers and meet in-store expectations - and this is where Outform comes in.
At the same time, we continue to work with well-established brands, reinventing their instore experience to ensure they stay relevant with shoppers whose expectations of retail are reset with every visit and every click.