#TOTPU: Glossier adding shine to London's Covent Garden

New York-headquartered skincare, make-up, and beauty products brand, Glossier, is extending what was supposed to be a near three-month stint in central London – and it’s fair to say the business has caused a buzz.

Its pop-up store in Covent Garden, which opened in November 2019, has sparked queues out the door of its Floral Street premises – especially at the weekends. The space has given UK fans of the US brand a chance to get up close and personal with a predominately online company which only has a small bricks and mortar presence.

And instead of closing the space on 9 February, Glossier announced last week that it will now be open until the end of 2020 after breaking footfall and sales records for a Glossier temporary store.

And when Essential Retail visited on an overcast Thursday in January, staff – or ‘offline editors’ as they are called internally in a nod to the blog and vlog-led nature of the brand – were busy serving a whole host of starry-eyed shoppers. Each room was packed out with people testing the products on display, or taking selfies against a backdrop of a particularly colourful, floral-wallpapered traditional social club/English townhouse-style interior.

What, where, when?

Unveiled on Wednesday 20 November 2019, the pop-up store at 13 Floral Street in London’s Covent Garden is open Monday-Saturday 10:00-19:00, and Sunday 11:00-18:00. The last day of trading was supposed to be 9 February 2020, but following a successful stint to date it's now going to be around until "the end of the year".

Glossier is using the space to showcase its narrow but sought-after range of beauty products in four, Instagram-friendly rooms.

Standout features

The design stands out. Each room has a distinct floral pattern on the walls, while the lighting, flower pot displays, and seating areas are effectively a call to action to visitors to get out their camera and take a snap or selfie.

Hidden in the back is the "Glossier Rooftop", a full-scale installation that, in the words of Glossier, “pays homage to the iconic London skyline”. This follows a trend set in the brand’s two permanent stores, in New York City and Los Angeles, where a dedicated photo-friendly space is installed to encourage picture taking.

From a technology perspective, the offline editors all carry tablet devices which facilitate payments and orders. Messages are sent via the device to the basement ‘warehouse’, prompting items to be prepared and taken to a pick-up hatch, where a friendly (and very smiley, on the occasion of our visit) attendant hands over the goods to customers.

The store is selling a limited-edition Glossier London umbrella, which is available exclusively at the pop-up. For each umbrella sold, Glossier is donating £5 to the Young Women’s Trust, a charity that fights for gender equality.

What the retailer says…

Glossier takes a unique approach to each of its pop-ups, drawing inspiration from the local community and looking at each city through "Glossier-coloured glasses", the company says, adding that more than 100,000 people have visited the space in London – with sales and footfall higher than any temporary Glossier store opened to date.

"With classical architectural details and a customised Glossier floral pattern covering every surface, the space takes visitors through secret doors and hallways to discover Glossier in real life," a spokesperson notes.

The Essential Retail verdict

This writer is not the target market for Glossier. But that is what makes it so interesting to visit the space – to mingle with those who are, and try to understand what makes this a cult brand.

The brand is not just popular in terms of the products sold. It does sell a lot of products (not that anyone at the business was willing to share any turnover figures from the London project, with me) but this is a brand that has developed a fanatical following thanks to its unique product, social media videos, and hype marketing – exemplified by limited edition ranges released every few months.

Glossier has customer waiting lists, too, and all of this combines to evoke a sense of drama, community, and a fear of missing out. For those in the market for it, the minimal range of SKUs can engender a Pokemon ‘gotta catch em all’ mentality.

Peer-to-peer marketing platform Zyper’s Community Index 2020, released at the World Economic Forum in January, ranked Glossier second in a list of 40 global brands.

The standings were based not just on the size of brands’ online communities and number of social media followers, but on online customer engagement, the sentiment of that engagement, and follower reach. Glossier faring well aligns with the views of other retailers I talk to, who often describe the brand as a standout social media player.

Everything about the London store – from its double fronted glass doors and compact visual merchandising displays, to its messages of encouragement on mirrors throughout the space, reminding me “You look good” – is a potential Instagram moment.

Glossier has not said it will open a permanent store in London, but this is the second pop-up it has operated in the city and the fact it has extended its stay there suggests a significant demand for it to lay down roots. It is also due to open two additional temporary spaces in the US over the next two months, adding to others it has run in major US commercial hubs.

Whether senior management ever opt to do something more permanent outside America – like fellow direct-to-consumer brands AllBirds and Untuckit have done in London – remains to be seen, but it’s clear this online-first business sees the value of physical retail. This three months in Covent Garden is being viewed as useful marketing exercise, and the campaign now continues until the end of 2020.

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