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‘Attracting a new generation of beauty lovers’: inside L’Oréal’s experiential China store

One of the biggest challenges AKQA faced was designing a space that communicated the ‘Because you’re worth it’ message

There has been a huge growth of e-commerce due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the weak demand for offline shopping as people stay at home because of lockdown restrictions. So why is L’Oréal bucking the trend with a new concept store in China?

As the role of offline retail destinations is shifting from a traditional point of purchase to spaces that prioritize delivering unique experiences and customer interactions, French cosmetics giant L’Oréal wants to become a leader in this new form of retail.

It recently opened its first-ever concept store in China in May, located in the heart of Shanghai’s busiest shopping district. The store functions as a gateway to a unique space that is a fusion of all the best things Shanghai and Paris have to offer.

Visitors can take an immersive bike ride along some of the most beautiful streets of Paris, while collecting L’Oréal discount points. They can also watch and interact with beauty Key Opinion Leaders who are livestreamed from the in-store set.

Each visit is linked to the user’s WeChat account via the L’Oréal mini-program, enabling the brand to provide visitors with a personalized experience and continue the relationship after they’ve left the store.

Xylia Chen, associate merchandising director at L’Oreal, explains the brand worked with AQKA to understand the Chinese consumer journey and co-create the L’Oréal Paris flagship store. The goal was to explore a new retail model that seamlessly integrates the flagship store with its WeChat mini-program.

“The flagship store lets customers experience the elegance of our French heritage, sophisticated beauty technology and women’s empowerment. These are all pivotal values for L’Oréal Paris, and customers can now experience it first-hand in our flagship store on Nanjing West Road,” she says.

“We aim to do so by consolidating offline retail channels, strengthening our connection with offline consumers, and attracting a new generation of beauty product lovers.”

Joshua Lim, the creative director at AKQA, says as soon as L’Oréal asked the WPP-owned agency to design their first ever omnichannel and experiential flagship store in Shanghai, his team began to ask themselves several foundational questions. This process of inquiry ensured that the agency considered its prospective customers’ needs.

The leading question AKQA asked, which consequently led to the idea behind the store, was ‘what if L’Oréal Paris was not a brand, but a person?’ It was this thought experiment that led to crafting a human-centered experience, rather than a technology-led approach.

“Having aligned on the approach, the team and I now were challenged with discovering what a 110-year-old proud Parisian lady, who has pioneered some of the most prominent advancements in beauty science, would do to empower others to recognize their own true self-worth,” he explains.

“Our answer to this question was developing a store that was built around Parisian elegance and Shanghainese exquisiteness. The store is a celebration of the brand’s famous ‘Because you’re worth it’ sentiment for today’s generation of young women.”

One of the biggest challenges AKQA faced was designing a space that communicated the ‘Because you’re worth it’ message to a younger, mobile-first audience that also appealed to local tastes.

Lim says the team took the opportunity to design an omnichannel and physical experience revolving around the audience’s natural mobile social behavior.

This landed them on the idea of creating a store that takes visitors on a mobile-empowered journey across all the best that Shanghai and Paris have to offer, submerging them in a feeling of worthiness.

For example, visitors can use face-scanning technology to receive a printed skin analysis report and personally-coded key to unlock their beauty throughout the store. Visitors can also use this key to explore their recommendations in-store, and learn how the recommended products help with improving the quality of their skin.

Recommended products can be directly picked up in-store, delivered to any address in China, or added to their digital shopping basket – linked to their account on the L’Oréal mini-program – to be purchased at a later moment.

“Throughout their journey, we trigger all the visitors’ senses to create a very tangible, memorable experience that stays with them long after their visit. Another challenge we dealt with was testing to ensure the in-store interactions we designed were as human-centered as we intended them to be,” adds Lim.

“This is something we needed to test and prove before building the store itself. We solved this challenge by creating an entire VR model of the store, allowing us to walk through and test it before we actually built it.”

Lim claims that on walking through the store several times after it opened, he noticed that visitors really seemed to appreciate interacting with and learning about certain products before they bought them.

“Having a deep understanding of how the products help with their daily skincare routine, what their ingredients are and how they solve their needs, either via a screen or through an in-store beauty consultant, really made a difference for them when considering a purchase,” he says.