Q&A   //   July 7, 2020

‘Stores will continue to be a big focus’: Deciem CEO Nicola Kilner on the future of virtual services

Over the course of the pandemic, the beauty industry has grappled with how to retain and gain customers without offering in-store testing and sample trials. Like many brands in high-touch categories, The Ordinary’s parent company Deciem pivoted with a virtual customer experience that combines the expertise of its store associates with interactive backend technology. 

Launched in April, Deciem at Home connects e-commerce customers to local store associates — currently working from home — for free virtual skincare consultations and product recommendations. Since the program’s debut, the company said more than 200,000 virtual shopping sessions were initiated, averaging 2,500 per day. Powered by e-commerce chatting platform Hero, the interactions also helped increase average basket sizes by 37%, according to Deciem.

Given the uncertain future of in-store try-ons, a hybrid solution may be the answer, Deciem CEO Nicola Kilner told Modern Retail. The company’s chief executive spoke about how she’s approaching virtual services and reopenings. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

After building a direct-to-consumer reputation, you added a substantial retail footprint in recent years. What do you foresee the stores’ roles to be post-pandemic?
There is a human connection element that’s really important in the world of skincare. It’s why stores will continue to be a big focus for us. Right now, the plan is to reopen most of them throughout July, but we’ll be monitoring each location’s local wave before making a decision. As far as commitment to new locations goes, that remains to be seen. For example, Los Angeles was supposed to be our latest market, which is on hold for now. That said, we’ll also continue to look at different options, like pop-ups, which are quicker to turn around.

You have over 10 brands and two upcoming new ones, accounting for a wide spectrum of customers. How do virtual CX features — especially during social distancing protocols — help cater to the umbrella company’s segmented markets?
The Deciem at Home service definitely plays to the strength of our multiple brands, in that it helps customers decipher the differences between them. It also acts as a direct connection alongside third party carriers, like Sephora. I think it’s allowing us to give better service across the board, as evident by the average session’s rating is 4.9 out of 5 stars.

How will Deciem at Home be incorporated into the retail strategy?
The click-and-collect service gives them the convenience of online shopping but they still have the option to go and see the store. It’s also helped in connecting the global audience, even those who don’t have a nearby store, one on one with associates. We also expect it to be an integral part of store reopenings, and foresee the website to be a big tool for regiment-building even beyond coronavirus.

A big challenge physical retailers now face is handling sampling to minimize returns, with some foregoing try-on services for individually-packed products. Do you plan to do the same?
We won’t be doing packaged samples, which have been a big producer of environmental waste by the industry, even pre-pandemic. We’ve always had a 365-day return policy with direct purchases, and customers are allowed to return even half-empty bottles. This approach is intentional. 

With skincare, you need to try the product beyond the first few days of checking for any allergic reaction. And while testing in store is where people like to experience the texture and initial feel, it’s not enough to assess the long term impact and benefits. The reality is that the world has changed, but we do think that standing behind the product’s effectiveness is the best way to go.