Luxury beauty brand Faces was prepared for the storm, which came in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak. Part of Chalhoub Group, Faces was already on a robust digital transformation journey. Even before rebranding to Faces, Wojooh had already started optimising offline retail to modernise, while building its online presence to ensure multichannel retailing, shares Nick Vinckier, head of growth for Faces.
Faces was ready to adapt to the massive changes brought about by COVID-19 during a traditional peak period like Ramadan. “We had rigorously prepared for Ramadan, and that’s when the stores closed temporarily. We were very prompt in our reaction to meeting customer needs through Faces.com during this period. During the lockdown, we launched three more online stores in Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt within four weeks to accommodate sales online. We went from two – with the existing Faces.com in the UAE and Saudi Arabia – to five online sites within a month that would otherwise take up to 18 months.”
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Strengthening online presence
“We had a somewhat unsustainable customer acquisition system online,” Vinckier points out. “Last year, we changed our online advertising approach, making the customer acquisition process efficient. This brought us a significant return on investment through a high retention rate and longer customer lifetime value. We have also set up a new customer service model to become scalable online by hiring an agency to handle the high volumes. This decision helped us to meet the significantly high demand on Faces.com during the lockdown period.”
Within retail, beauty is a segment that demands a personalised experience. While it is possible to curate such experiences in a brick-and-mortar environment, the question is how a similar experience can be delivered online.
“Irrespective of the interface, we aim to offer customers a seamless, personalised experience – be it chatting with our beauty advisors in-store or on WhatsApp through the digital concierge service,” says Vinckier. “We have recently launched a new Faces.com website – in the UAE and KSA – that enables hyper-personalisation to create a perfect shopping journey, based on data insights. We have also invested in customer relationship management (CRM) software, which enables us to collect the right insights anonymously to personalise the shopping experience. We have over 120 brands and more than 10,000 products on Faces.com, and we don’t want our customers to plough through everything. We want to curate the most relevant offer for them through the data insights, further enriched by personal preferences gained through our CRM software.”
Following a hybrid approach to making the customer experience seamless, the Faces stores are highly experiential and digitally enabled. Some highlight features at the Faces stores include the Magic Mirror, Fragrance Finder, Gift Wizard and The Test Bar, among others.
“The next phase of the journey involved improving the online presence to strengthen both channels. Over the past few months, Faces.com has recorded growth up to a 1,000% versus the same period last year,” Vinckier reveals. “We were the first beauty platform to launch the luxury brand Chanel online in the region. We are keen to become the fastest-growing luxury beauty platform online.”
Did Faces.com manage to offset losses incurred by brick-and-mortar?
“It has been an incredibly challenging time for businesses. It is practically impossible for the online channel to offset losses incurred due to temporary store closures, as offline accounts for a massive chunk of the business,” Vinckier responds. “What has happened is a rapid increase in online sales. It is incredibly positive, because when consumers return to their normal shopping habits in the stores – probably sometime next year – we already have another significant channel in online to interact with them.”
“Our end goal is to provide an omnichannel shopping experience within the luxury beauty segment in the Middle East,” he continues. “Be that experiencing the interactive digital tools in the store or ordering via Faces.com and in future on the Faces mobile app. Then customers can choose to collect the orders from the store or avail the option of doorstep delivery – a big reason why we are working to make the in-house last-mile swifter and more efficient.”
Creating a transformation-oriented mindset
After its 900-day transformation journey, Chalhoub Group is now preparing for a future as an agile and innovative hybrid retailer, with an “always-on transformation” mindset. Small wonder, Faces was prepared for the storm.
“The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the need to adapt to changing consumer needs, and we have been fortunate to react swiftly. At a time when digitalisation initiatives are accelerated, our team already has a digital-first approach owing to the company-wide 900-day transformation programme,” Vinckier emphasises. “The crisis has thrown everyone out of their comfort zone, and companies are indeed accelerating digital transformation goals that were already set in motion. In the case of Chalhoub Group, from top-down, the management team already understood the need for digitalisation and, as such, the need to upskill people to understand how the digital business models work. From the bottom-up too, there is an urgency among our workforce to embrace digital.”
Further, Vinckier also feels that it is crucial to create an environment that facilitates scalability. “In doing so, the 3P approach plays a pivotal role – people, process and platform. A shark will grow eight inches in a fish tank, but it can grow up to eight feet or more in the ocean. In business too, if we are stuck around change-averse people, we will not be able to grow. Also, we need to change our environment by creating effective processes to grow. We have to create a collaborative platform to achieve the desired growth.”
This 3P approach has not only fuelled growth for Faces but also helped the brand to deal with an unprecedentedly challenging environment. “We will continue to invest in great people who will help us to clock great results. We will invest heavily to set up robust processes to scale and grow even faster than before and ensure we have the right platform and tools to gain better insights into what customers are seeking,” Vinckier concludes.