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Five retail technology tips from WAH Nails

Sharmadean Reid is the founder of London nail salon, WAH Nails, and as company director - with an MBE to boot - she now spends her time driving the retail and salon experience forward using technology. 

"I had a team of four people and no money," she tells delegates at the Millennial 2020 event in London earlier this month, "But this is what we've done."

1. Use your stores to testbed technology

"The salon is an interesting space – you get the holy grail 1:1 time with a customer for at least 20 minutes," Reid explains. "Imagine what you could do if you sat in front of your customer for at least 20 minutes – that's incredibly valuable."

Reid uses her salons as a testing ground for innovations she is interested in, so far she has deployed a nail art printer and VR headset connected to iPads. She also rents out the salon space to brands on Thursday evenings. 

"Retail should be a facilitator for experience rather than just selling a product," she said. "And our team are the same as our customer – they're the living embodiment of a WAH Girl's mentality – they're on their phones all the time."

2. Build for your customer 

A fierce feminist, Reid only stocks beauty products in her salon that are founded by female entrepreneurs. 

She also says she prefers to work with female developers when building consumer-facing technologies, saying the people who build the technologies need to understand the customer and what they want.

"I'm not going to have a man build a nail [app] – they're not going to know what it looks like."

3. Solve a problem with technology – and make it fun 

"Technology should be about solving problems and being fun – not gimicky," says Reid. 

One such problem was the thousands of nail designs customers have to choose from before sitting down with a technician. 

"'Should I have cupcakes, leopards or anchors?' Customers stand there and I think tick-tock that's money going away – how can I speed up this process?"

While VR wasn't the first technology she thought of to solve this problem, a small agency, DVTK, came up with a virtual reality solution to help customers choose what design they want. 

"I wanted it to feel as Minority Report as possible," says Reid. "Customers use the headset to track their hands and make selections and you can bring it really close and see the detail.

She also explains how VR has so much more potential: "You can send the design to the 3D printer or the nail technician’s phone downstairs."

4. Talk to your customer 

Six months ago, Reid was taking bookings manually using Whatsapp. Now WAH London has partnered with a New York start-up called Bowtie.ai to create a booking bot which launches this month.

"Everyone texts and is obsessed with text conversational messaging. And girls are completely used to communicating like this from flow charts in girls magazines."

The WAH London booking bot is triggered by missed calls to the salon so it never loses a potential booking. It chats to customers asking what type of appointment they want to book and if they want to share any inspirational photos ahead of time with their technician.

"We're always connecting to her phone and we ask them to save the phone number so any time she wants to talk to us she can – and she doesn't need to download an app."

5. Use your customer in marketing 

Reid says she never uses models for promotional marketing. "You have so many fans of brands you can tap into and you don't need to spend money on models," she explains. "We cast our models from Instagram and they came for free and were splashed all over Soho – they loved it."

WAH London also used Instagram's Stories functionality to create mini vlogs of life at the salon. Reid describes how Rita Ora once came into the salon unexpectedly and they did a quick interview with her for social media.