Christopher Skinner, founder of beauty creative agency School House, outlines the behavioural and emotional mindsets that will define the sector as it emerges from the events of 2020. 

We've seen countless articles hypothesizing the future of retail over recent years, each coining a new set of buzzwords upon which the future store was to be built: omnichannel, experiential, shareable and so on. As the end of Q1 2020 approached, however, it became clear that retail was headed for a true renaissance. 

Living in New York at the height of the pandemic, the ever-important resurfacing of the Black Lives Matter movement, its initial riots and the 2020 election, I would often stay indoors throughout the day, only venturing out for groceries and essentials. My one moment of respite would be a daily, late-night jog through the Village. In the spring, it felt like being on a movie set: empty streets, empty stores, boarded bars and more. I could feel the city crying as we lost, and continue to lose, the local haunts and shopfronts that have created the fabric of our communities and streets for so long.

School House joined forces with skincare brand La Mer for its Edge of the Sea campaign in Shanghai, creating an experiential, multisensory consumer journey.

As the world felt its axis shift, so too did retail. With growing e-commerce and social opportunities, brick-and-mortar was beginning to feel more like a warehouse that could facilitate quicker product fulfilment. At best, it looked like a showroom in which nothing but your final purchase could be touched. As we continued to lose our communal fabric and human-to-human connection, retail destinations felt as if they were being reimagined to keep consumers estranged from one another. As the founder of an agency focused on beauty, one of the most community-centric and experientially reliant industries, I couldn't help thinking about what was to come for our brand destinations.

The first standalone boutique of cosmetics brand Eve Lom, in Hong Kong's luxury shopping centre Harbour City.

I have always believed a brand's draw is connected to why the brand does what it does, not purely what. From that, a distinct point-of-view outwardly projects – a view reflecting the spirit of the time and the way consumers are living in that moment. Our current situation, framed by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, social division, civil unrest and a decline of trust in our public institutions, has naturally created high levels of anxiety and distrust amongst consumers. Understanding how consumer mindsets are reacting to this age of uncertainty is vital for beauty brands as they seek to redefine their why. We’ve spent that last few months tracking and distilling these changes: 

2020 American Beauty Consumer Emotional Mindset

– uncertainty

– vulnerability

– value in individuality

– image-conscious 

– lack of comfort

– anticipation and fatigue 

– shifts in behaviours and attitudes 

– impatience and apprehension 

2020 American Beauty Consumer Behavioural Mindset

– reflection 

– social divide 

– the pursuit of liberation and freedom 

– resource-agnostic 

– broken systems 

– limited information 

– financial distress 

– over-saturation

In turn, these mindset maps can help us reorient as a sector. What’s clear to us is that beauty retail must now go beyond current short-term strategies based around physical safety. It’s time for us to start engineering positive pathways for consumers by offering them a vision embedded with hope and advocacy for change.

Positive Emotional Pathways for the 2020 American Beauty Consumer

– confidence and healing

– value in relationships and the collective

– community-conscious 

– luxury in wellness

– re-engagement and stimulation 

– creating unique and relevant values 

– convenience 

Positive Behavioural Pathways for the 2020 American Beauty Consumer

– social action and justice

– the pursuit of security and equality

– resource-conscious

– agility and adaptation

– return to expertise

– quality and value

– community-centric

The creative agency was tasked with designing L'Occitane's Melbourne flagship in 2018.

The team at School House has extrapolated the above positive shifts into four future beauty retail archetypes that we believe outline where the sector should be headed in 2021. Over the course of two articles we’ll introduce you to retail concepts that address four thematic pillars: Collective Community, Escape, Flex and Service Hub. 

Each archetype meets what we believe to be the baseline requirements of digitally native and hygiene-centric retail design; more importantly, these four archetypes will ground design in consumer behaviour. Through this approach, beauty retail can evolve from offering destinations that consumers use because they merely reflect what they want, to a resource that they choose because it helps them get to where they want to go.

To learn more about School House and how they’re transforming the future of beauty retail, sign up for our #FrameLive interview with founder Christopher Skinner here.