The boom directly to consumers among large retailers has boutique and independent retailers working overtime to differentiate themselves in a competitive and ever-changing market. To better understand how boutique cosmetics retailers are thriving today, I sat down with Dara Kennedy, CEO and founder of Ayla; indie beauty store with a loyal cult company for over 10 years. In my conversation with Dara, I discover the keys to staying competitive and retaining long-term customers in the indie beauty industry.
Gary Drenik: Thinking about the transition to online shopping in the last decade, what are the key factors that have allowed your real-life storefront to thrive and stay in business over the last decade? What is “secret sauce”?
Dane Kennedy: I think one of our advantages is that we started as an online business and then expanded to offline due to customer demand; this gave us a very clear vision of what we have to offer in this experience in the store and a real desire to make the most of it. When you shop with us, whether online or offline, you really feel that you matter. Our team of guides is amazing in their ability to connect with everyone, and that extends throughout the experience, whether you’re shopping with us – whether you’re doing a video consultation, doing a facial, getting a personalized Bach flower product. or open your shipment to find a handwritten note from someone you’ve talked to before.
Drenik: How do you envision staying competitive as an independent retailer amid growing competition from other online retailers as well as the brand’s own DTC efforts?
Kennedy: I think what we offer is significantly different in the world of beauty. The way we select products is very specific; the way we support each client in their personal journey is distinctive; the relationships we have with our partners are unique; the way we take care of the environment is intentional. We also know from a recent study by Prosper Insights & Analytics that in the last 6 months, women have focused on being more environmentally conscious in their daily lives; this includes how we shop and our customers know they can trust our environmental ethos. And I think all of these things have a lasting appeal to a certain type of buyer. In a crowded market, finding what you are good at and really achieving is extremely important.
Drenik: Do you predict that retailers may be “here to stay”? Why?
Kennedy: I’m doing it! In a world full of more choices than ever, I think we all appreciate curators we can trust – and if that curation is combined with great shopping that meets your needs, it makes your life so much more. -Easy. When you think about all the time, we otherwise spend shopping, cross-referencing and reading reviews … that’s a lot of time. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics study, we know that women of all ages are changing the way they shop to focus more on local shopping; according to this study, in the last six months, about 10% of Millennials and Gen-X women have focused more on local shopping than ever before. These insights show us that retailers are here to stay!
Drenik: What can boutique retailers do as a dividing line between online and real life to encourage in-store purchases?
Kennedy: More than ever, boutique retailers need to give customers a reason to come in – and this will vary depending on the specific offerings of each retailer. I think it’s about focusing on the basics: make personal shopping easier, emphasize what sets you apart and why it matters, and make sure every experience is great.
Drenik: If you could give three tips to boutique retailers, what would you share?
Kennedy: I would advise them to do the following:
- Listen to your customers, because your ability to do this in person is golden. Every time I talk to a client in person or on the phone, I learn something interesting; you can find nuances in these interactions that you could never in a survey. And I think real insights often come from these nuances.
- After these interactions, continue. Everyone wants to feel seen and heard, and showing that you’ve thought about what your customers have said shows how much you care.
- If the customer seems excited about further engagement, don’t let the relationship end here. Boutique retailers have the unique ability to build real relationships, and our community is what our team loves most about Ayla. We learn so much from our longtime clients and we love to grow with them.
Drenik: Thank you Dara for your insights into the competitive beauty retail space, what it takes to differentiate the retail experience for customers, and your tips for long-term successful boutique retail.