Lessons from an Indie Beauty Brand Using Tech to Stand Out
This month, we spent two days in London at the Millennial 20/20 conference, hearing from brands big and small, who all shared what they know about communicating with and understanding the next generation of consumers—and we’re sharing what we learned with you. From insights on influencer marketing to the dos and don’ts of branded videos and how social media can power sales, we took away our share of insights from the speakers we saw. But one speaker in particular stood out. Sharmandean Reid, Founder of Wah Nails London, pointed out herself that she was probably representing one of the smaller brands at the conference. But her indie beauty company has become a lifestyle brand, embracing technology and experimenting with innovation to make their customer experience unique and, currently, one-of-a-kind. At her “Booking The Beauty Queens Online + Excelling In Store” session, Reid schooled the audience on creating a “digital-first” brand—here are just a few of the lessons that we learned:
1. “Retail should be a facilitator for experience, rather than just selling product.”
Reid started Wah as “a feminist femzine for women in hip hop in 2006”—but in 2009 she had an idea for “new type of beauty space”: energetic, serving “Downtown Girls Worldwide,” and merging beauty and tech. Seeing the salon visit as “concentrated time with the consumer,” Reid wanted to make the in-store journey more than a quick visit to the nail salon. Making sure that visitors feel a connection to the store is key. According to Reid, “all of the staff are an embodiment of the customer,” and to stay true to their femzine roots, they only stock brands by female-founded beauty companies. To create a brand experience that stands out even more, she works to “drive the experience forward with tech,” and aims to be “known as the leading digital-first salon.” With this goal in mind, Wah is experimenting with innovation at a rate that would put many large brands to shame, offering nail tutorials and printers, in-store VR experiences, chatbot booking, and more
2. “Technology should be about solving problems or having fun.”
Reid has a specific vision about technology and its role in the customer experience—if it’s not about solving problems or having fun, it’s not worth doing. Wah Nails’ virtual reality salon does a little bit of both. Visitors can put on a headset and choose a nail design in the virtual world, actually placing it on their hand to see what it will look like. The program, created specifically for Wah, includes every polish and design available to the consumer—solving the problem of wondering what look they should choose and being unsure how it will turn out. Reid wanted the VR experience to “feel as Minority Report as possible”—the fun part. When demonstrating the program, Reid hinted that this was only the beginning of their VR experiments: “when you’re thinking about virtual reality, there is so much possibility – imagine if you could send that design to the printer, or you insert a collab with a celebrity.” Clearly they’ve only just scratched the surface of marrying next-gen tech and beauty.
3. “You shouldn’t be building technology if it’s not being built by someone like the consumer.”
Reid’s belief that each employee is a reflection of the consumer extends to those creating the technology those consumers are going to use. The indie beauty founder declared, “I’m not going to have a man design a nail previewer!” To that end, the VR nail design program used in stores was created—by women—at DVTK. Reid explained that she intentionally teams with smaller brands when creating new tech “because they have the most experimental passion for new technologies – it’s really difficult to work with a big agency and get them to test new things quickly.”
4. “Our consumers don’t want to download apps.”
Booking an appointment at a salon can be an annoying experience for a generation that doesn’t want to make a phone call—so Wah Nails has digitized the process. But they intentionally skipped a standalone app when they partnered with bowtie.ai to create their fulltime booking system. According to Reid, “not a lot of our customers want to download apps—they’re always taking pictures, so they have full phones.” Instead, Wah nails created a booking bot within WhatsApp, allowing them to “be connected to their phones and she doesn’t have to download an app for it.” The brand exported WhatsApp exchanges to train the bot in the types of inquiries made, and Reid reports that young consumers are already in tune with the process: “actually girls are completely used to making decisions via bots – it’s a conversational decision tree like the teen flow chart quizzes they are used to.” She says that thanks to their booking bot, “we never miss a customer now,” and the brand experience has been improved as well: customers can attach photos to their booking so their artist knows what design they want and be prepared for them.