Ali Wortley discovers that if the future of retailing is about creating experiences, this is one which will surely help keep the high street alive:
For some time now the media and some retailers have been talking about ‘death on the high street’, blaming everything from politics to local rents and rates to the ever increasing use of online shopping for this steady decline. It’s not just talking either; it’s evident in some places that footfalls are down and retailers are struggling and that’s not just the little guys.
To try and buck this trend some businesses are adapting to offer a more compelling reason to shop in-store. They see a different future for retail, one that is more focused around experiences rather than simply picking up a product and heading to the till.
I am far from a natural shopper. In fact, the thought of having to traipse around store after store often fills me with dread. I’m not the girliest of girls either, but I have always been up for trying most things once and with a charity ball on the horizon, I thought I’d take a leap and try out a couple of the services on offer at John Lewis in Victoria Gate.
The makeup counters in the department stores are a total mystery to me; I find them alienating, a complete no-go area. Even if I was to approach, I wouldn’t have a clue what to say or request and for a novice, it’s all very intimidating. I have never been taught anything about makeup, as neither my mother nor my friends growing up were particularly into it and I am a very natural person in the way I present myself, so have never particularly bothered with beautification during my forty (plus) years. On this occasion, however, I decided I wanted to do something different to distinguish myself and dress up on a rare glam night out.
Out for one of my usual theatre trips, I had been cutting through John Lewis one evening and noticed a beauty studio which didn’t appear to be affiliated with any particular cosmetic brand. Upon investigation, I found that there was something on the website called Beauty Confidential which seemed to be exactly what I needed. This offering is currently on trial in two John Lewis stores. Leeds, of course, is one of these, Cambridge being the other. Because it isn’t universally available it turned out to be very difficult to book, but I persevered and booked it for an hour.
It was perfect, exactly what I wanted: Becky was extremely knowledgable and patient with me. She explained everything she was doing and why, and because it crossed all brands, I could get the best product from each company and I left still looking my natural self but better, which was important to me. I also left with something I’ve never had previously – the skills to forge ahead and do it myself in future.
At last, I can be a proper grown up and attempt makeup without feeling like a child raiding her mother’s dressing table and coming away looking like a circus clown.
After my time at Beauty Confidential, I headed upstairs, having previously arranged an appointment with Emily, a personal stylist, to hunt for the elusive ‘charity ball’ outfit.
This is my way to shop; it was so easy and relaxing, quite unlike any previous attempts at self-service shopping. Ultimately, I know myself – or at least I think I do and that could be the problem, as I tend to head straight for the safe and trusted option that I know just works, and shopping for anything else would ordinarily fill me with anxiety. I would have walked around like a zombie with a sulk on my face, tried on multiple dresses. I’d have included a dose of self-loathing in the mirror and come away with an OK, not particularly spectacular and no doubt, incomplete outfit.
Emily brought in a lot of dresses I wouldn’t have picked but this is mainly the reason why these experiences work. They push you out of your comfort zone and open your eyes to options you would have never considered when left to your own devices. Incredibly, I ended up with a full outfit, totally ready to go, from underwear to jewellery. These are items I wouldn’t have picked in a million years but they look really lovely and I feel extremely comfortable with my new look.
I’d like to thank Becky and Emily for the time they spent with me. I’d also like to thank John Lewis for thinking about the problem faced by women like me and introducing such services in your stores. This particular woman will go to the ball happier and more confident, because of you!
Feature photograph by Stan Graham.