Sep 23, 2021


by Meghana Joshi

Beauty Beyond Brick and Mortar

Retail is at a pivot point to rethink and reimagine store design to suit the habits of an environmentally conscious consumer. As witnessed in the demise of J.Crew, Borders, Blockbuster and Pier 1, when shopping trends evolve drastically, customer retention requires innovative approaches to interactions, experiences, architecture and design. Rethinking design will require assessing solutions that work across the spectrum of human and biodiversity with an inclusionary vision.  

Businesses are exploring borderless models for sales and using stores to promote their relevancy through product-based lifestyle experiences. The future of shopping will be a hybrid model where online shopping will provide price and convenience-based results, and physical stores will reinforce brand values. 

AR/ VR Technology in Store Design 

As the global market cap for beauty surpasses $500 billion, integrating technology without removing human interactions and providing experiential design in stores becomes the need of the hour.  

Amazon’s London Hair Salon utilizes technology to virtually “try on” hair colors along with a station to display product information to the conscious consumer. Moving into the brick and mortar beauty industry after a successful foray into grocery stores and pop-ups, this experiment might change the private experience with a hair dresser into an augmented reality experience. Meanwhile, Loreal has launched “Technology Incubator” within their innovation and research teams to develop augmented and enriched experiences for their consumers. Aiming to pioneer the detection and prediction of beauty trends, their beauty tech ambition encompasses emerging technologies such as AI, AR/VR, Robotics and IoT.  

Even as the retailer moves away from the concept of traditional stores and relies on in-store exhibits and seasonal pop-ups, the development of personal experiences through technology might be a beginning of a shift in their priorities.  

Ritualistic Skincare 

Global pandemic anxiety led people to seek refuge in ritualistic selfcare, with intentional repetitive actions creating a sense of normalcy during the quarantine. These rituals boosted positivity in mental health, and provided moments of mindfulness amidst chaos. The journey of self-exploration led to reclaiming bodily autonomy through beauty, defying the generalized stereotypical hair and skin for all races and genders. Self-care activities that created a consciously connected moment in a disrupted universe. 

As ritualistic skincare becomes self-care, a holistic and sensory experience that engages all senses with items you can touch, see, hear, smell and taste will be incorporated in store design. Folian, a beauty store in Boston, incorporates biophilia to encourage relation and support self-care. Buly 1803, a fragrance shop in Paris, integrates architecture with historic design elements with a Japanese bakery and flower shop to appeal to all senses. L’occitane partnered with Peirre Herme to create a boutique for beauty with a bakery. According to interior designer Laura Gonzalez, this creates ‘a welcoming and refined place where objects, scents or tastes express osmosis between the two Maisons’. Miller Harris’ flagship perfume store in London transforms perfume art into “multisensory ambush” with colorful splattered paint and neon blinks. 

Inclusive Design  

As “Skinimalism”, a beauty trend towards minimalist skincare grows, it’s encouraging men to think beyond basic grooming and embrace practical skincare like exfoliating, sun protection and hydration. During the pandemic, TikTok was flooded with men sharing their skincare routines, with the most famous “skinfluencers” being Hyram Yarbro and Young Yuh. Normalizing skincare and beauty rituals for men, Hyram focuses on product review that includes breaking down the chemical composition while Young focuses on building a relatable male role model. This will translate into a gender-inclusive, flexible and fluid approach to beauty store aesthetics. A normalized approach toward beauty by all genders will mean that the physical separation of aisles will disappear, opening the store for all to explore and experience. This new phenomenon will have an impact on the glossy black and white ambience of the stores, an aesthetic focused on attracting women.  

Allied Market Research projects that the men’s personal care market will hit $166 billion by 2022. Changing awareness in consumers about race, gender and intersectionality will reflect in store design as well as branding. Rethinking the design for gender-inclusive stores, retailer “Phluid Project” has opened the first gender-free retail store in Manhattan. Doubling as a community space, their goal is to provide a space for people to embrace their identities. 


Almost 60 years after Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was released, beauty consumers and retailers are finally shifting the needle towards vegan and sustainable products with ethically sourced ingredients. Studies indicate that millennials and Gen Z tend to shop for sustainable and clean products more than other generations. Increasing awareness about the side effects of disruptive chemicals in beauty products is leading to the clean beauty boom. Although ingredients in conventional beauty products are minimally regulated in the US, several clean beauty brands have self-banned the toxic ingredients.  

Beauty retailer Credo attracts life-cycle conscious consumers by providing recycling opportunities for “beauty empties”. Their “clean swap” consultations help consumers switch their current make-up to one with clean beauty standards. Organic and ayurvedic brands like Soultree are thinking beyond products with an environmentally conscious solar powered store, which is built with reclaimed wood and biodegradable materials.  

With the global cosmetic market projected to be $90 billion in 2025, blue beauty will be the way forward. Clean beauty without “marine litter”, blue beauty respects biodiversity in the ocean and waterways, and reduces single use plastic in their products and packaging. Project Blue Beauty by Shiseido builds philanthropic values with campaigns such as “We are one ocean” geared towards education and awareness about ocean protection.  

So what do we see in the future of beauty? 

The future of beauty will be a gender-inclusive, ritual based store design focused on sensory satisfaction and mindful experiences that are both educational and experimental. These experiences will create brand loyalty that the retailer can augment with technology and social media presence. While major trends such as technology and ritualistic and inclusive products will direct store design, micro trends such as sustainable packaging and refillable products will also contribute to the layout. Architecture cannot be limited to brick and mortar when brands rely on store design and visual merchandising to tell their story. Indie brands and influencers are shifting the balance with virtual marketing, but store experiences will continue to evolve, working seamlessly between in-person interactions and virtual platforms.  

The massive shift in retail experiences calls for a significant shift in design thinking. As beauty stores transform into experiential centers, our primary goal as architects and designers is to simplify these experiences for the customer contextually. Beauty retailers are using technology to seamlessly connect in-store and online shopping journeys, but the responsibility rests on architecture and design to visually bridge the gap between technology and humans without overwhelming stimuli. 

We have the perfect opportunity to elevate a beauty store’s performance through design, with simple steps such as introducing enhanced HVAC filtration for better air quality, optimal lighting for visual comfort and sounds of nature and biophilia. A strategically placed bottle filler will extend the message of hydration for better skin into an action item for wellness, and a Red List free building construction materials will complement the store’s clean beauty standards. Beauty retailers can also explore certifications such as LEED, WELL or Living Building Challenge to help ensure the most advanced measure of sustainability within their stores, optimizing both human and building performance.  

The shift in consumer preferences requires personalized innovative and interactive responses not limited to brand strategies. Long term holistic and adaptable solutions that emphasize sustainable design and wellness principles in the interior environment will enhance retail experiences and elevate beauty retail beyond brick and mortar. 

Credo is determining how we translate our learnings from being solely digital since March into our physical stores and reinventing a more modern beauty shopping experience.  We think beauty was due for a reboot and we are excited to try different things in store to allow customers to experience brands and products without the use of testers.  The COVID crisis has forced us to reimagine the store format and how we can bring AI and other tools into a physical retail store and have it work, be approachable and aid in conversion. 

  • Annie Jackson, COO and Co-Founder, Credo Beauty

Some of the viewpoints in this article are based on a report generated by Trend Hunter exclusively for Little. We will be happy to (virtually) sit down for a conversation about the future of beauty retail if you’d like to know more. 


Meghana Joshi

Meghana Joshi is a Senior Project Manager in Little's Retail Studio. She serves on the AIA Orange County board as a Director for EDI and she is a licensing advisor for NCARB. During quarantine, she discovered her expertise at bad haircuts, non-starters for sourdough and botched up dog grooming.

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