L’Occitane aims for a more immersive, more disruptive flagship

Photo: L'Occitane
Aug 30, 2018
Matthew Stern

French beauty brand L’Occitane is trying to boost its appeal to Millennials and Gen Z with a flagship filled with experiential technology that it hopes visitors will find très chic

The New York City flagship, which opened last week, is reported by DigiDay to feature a VR experience that takes a shopper’s field of vision on a 360 degree hot-air balloon ride over the south of France while, back in real life, a staff masseuse gives them a hand massage. A stationary bike sits in front of a screen depicting Provence to give visitors a chance at their own personal Tour de France.

Other features include:

  • A “rain-shower” sink: customers can test-and-play with products beneath a shower of water from an illuminated canopy above.
  • A curved communal bench set beneath the canopy of an “awe-inspiring” Mediterranean Olive tree.

The store also features a section detailing the brand’s recycling and sustainability initiatives. To keep customer’s engaged, about 60 percent of the store layout — outside of the social and VR experiences — will rotate quarterly.

L'Occitane aims for a more immersive, more disruptive flagship
Photo: L’Occitane

“Customers will be able to explore the L’Occitane brand history and signature products through ever-changing and immersive installations that echo the Provencal art de vivre and rich story-telling moments,” said Christina Polychroni, regional chief marketing and e-commerce officer North America, in a statement. “Each customer’s experience is intended to be unique and we are excited to launch this interactive boutique.”

While L’Occitane has another Manhattan flagship featuring functional technology such as smart mirrors, the new store appears to focus more on the “wow” factor and is geared toward producing user-generated content for social media. A live feed of the brand’s Instagram account is displayed in-store.

While the new flagship is flashy, L’Occitane’s tech approach isn’t all focused about glitz. The brand announced in June that it was leveraging an AI-based personalization platform to analyze customer intent data and provide a more personalized online experience, according to PYMNTS

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is a flashy and “experiential” flagship a worthwhile investment for L’Occitane as it attempts to court a new audience? Is it possible that brands are overdoing it with the amount of “experiential” offerings they’re packing into their stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The grooviest flagship in the world must be backed up by seamless digital execution."
"If I’m choosing between walking into the back rub + VR hot air balloon store vs. the other guy, I’m going to pick back rubs and balloons every time!"
"Because it is a new audience — L’Occitane needs to think out of the box. Yes, the experiential flagship idea is the right approach."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "L’Occitane aims for a more immersive, more disruptive flagship"

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Charles Dimov

Because it is a new audience — L’Occitane needs to think out of the box. Yes, the experiential flagship idea is the right approach. They have to make a splash in a market (U.S.) where they are largely an unknown compared to Sephora, Sally Beauty, Kiehl’s …

Are they overdoing the experiential thing? NO. The omnichannel customer is much more profitable for retailers. So you don’t want shoppers to just rely on e-commerce. It is important to make both work for you. In that regard, making the physical part an adventure, or experience, or just fun … that’s what gets customers to come back for more. That’s what builds loyalty and word of mouth.
What L’Occitane is doing is the right approach. They need the experiential piece to help them get known. They need their customers to talk about the fun time they had with their friends and family. Good luck L’Occitane. Now … how do I book my hand massage?

Anne Howe

Part magic, part digital function, part play and lots of amazing products! Win, win, win.

Bob Amster

It is always possible that L’Occitane is overdoing it. This should be treated as a test and not as a headline. I bet the retailer will re-arrange its mélange of experiences after a few months and either replace or completely remove some of its components. It also appears that this conglomeration of experiences is costly and would not be replicable across all L’Occitane stores. Tag this one for follow-up in six to nine months.

Phil Masiello

I think this will become one of those “must stop and see” spots for shoppers because of the press it will get. Whether it sells more product or reaches another audience is to be determined.

Certainly, brand statement reinforcement is a great use of these stores. Showing what the brand stands for and its environmental efforts. Flying over France, bike rides through the countryside are all nice things, but they need to add to the product and brand somehow. I would think they would be more experiential in their ingredients or product performance.

Too many of these offerings may distract from the greater message that they want the visitor to leave with.

David Weinand

The cosmetics industry and its retailer ecosystem have been the standard bearers in creating a great customer experience. Sephora, Ulta and Blue Mercury are showing the entire retail industry how it should be done. L’Occitane has to follow suit to compete. I love this concept and love what they are trying to do. Now if only Millennials and Generation Z could afford this stuff!

Gene Detroyer

I can’t wait to see this store. This is retailing of the future.

Bring the people in. Make them feel good about you. Encourage them to sample your products. Get their email address. Send them home with samples. Encourage them to buy online and become a loyal customer.

If they don’t SELL one item in the store, it doesn’t matter!

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Pack in those experiences (!) because each one offers actionable insights and a contribution to bottom line.

Carol Spieckerman

As much attention as small formats have received, flagship stores aren’t going away and in fact are more important to some retailers’ strategies than ever before. They check a few boxes that go beyond literal sales generated from a particular location. Flagships are the ultimate expression of a brand’s point of view and possibilities, they encourage brand engagement through experiential retail, they serve as innovation laboratories, and also drive brand awareness that can translate into digital sales as shoppers seek to continue the relationship. This is where L’Occitane may be going too far too fast. I love L’Occitane products but two holiday seasons in a row, I’ve had horrible experiences on the L’Occitane website. Availability, navigability, and frustratingly clunky ordering processes had me wailing, and ultimately, bailing. One of my top retail trajectories is “let your flagship fly,” but the grooviest flagship in the world must be backed up by seamless digital execution — it must be baked into the plan for retailers to realize all the benefits.

Ryan Mathews

Flagship stores exist to make a statement and that’s good for attracting consumers in droves — until the novelty wears off. The issue here is whether L’Occitane can keep getting incrementally better quarter-to-quarter. There are only so many VR balloon rides the novelty set will go on after all. Is it worth it? We’ll see. As to the issue of overdoing, “experiential,” marketing I think it really depends on what you are trying to drive. If it’s media and brand awareness, bring on the in-store rain forest. If it’s sustainable sales, you might have to work on other things like service. Like everything else in retail, the devil is in the details. In the short term, this is a clear win. After all, we are all writing about it. Long term? It’s hard to build a better circus four times a year, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Joanna Rutter
2 years 1 month ago

Aren’t we on here every day scolding other ho-hum legacy brands for their unbearable sameness and resistance to risk? I dunno, folks. It’s 2018. If I’m choosing between walking into the back rub + VR hot air balloon store vs. the other guy, I’m going to pick the back rubs and balloons every time! Now is no longer the hour for hemming and hawing over whether a brand is “too” experiential. We’re far past this modesty-shaming here. Sometimes we can just enjoy watching a retailer experiment, say “bien fait” and let their in-store and remarketing conversion rates (which is to say, allow the strength of their team) measure whether the investment is worth it. And enjoy a back rub.

Neil Saunders

L’Occitane has some great products, but it suffers from a lack of brand awareness. This kind of move should help them remedy that weakness. They have also been refurbishing other stores, though without the technology upgrade, which is helping to attract more shoppers.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

What made me the most excited about this announcement is that they will consistently refresh “60 percent of the store layout — outside of the social and VR experience” – so there are (hopefully) new and irresistible products. This means repeat visitors and sales.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
2 years 1 month ago

Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, love the theater of shopping just as their parents and grandparents did. These consumers grew up with technology and digital experiences and infusing immersive digital experiences into stores is a great way to inspire these consumers to visit your stores.

L’Occitane is also elevating the experiences with high class interactive themes that will elevate consumers’ perception of the brand. Once customers are identified, L’Occitane is personalizing the experience based on customer context — another great retail practice. Understanding what products I buy, who I may buy for and price points I prefer plays well with both Millennials and Gen Z. L’Occitane needs to roll with this concept.

Dona Peters
After having read about L’Occitane’s new store, I decided to go take a look myself, wanting to see how they translated VR and other experiential efforts. Happy to report that the visit did not disappoint. Being just a few blocks from Times Square, and in a busy mid-town Manhattan location, L’Occitane hit the nail squarely on the head with the photo opportunity with bicycles and other props in the form of hats and straw tote bags — enticing patrons to post snapshots on social media. In the hour I was there, I witnessed non-stop customer engagement (many tourists) in this area of the store. By the way, customers could witness their posts real time on a digital board — perfect for instant gratification. The VR experience was memorable. A hot air balloon ride over lavender fields in Provence at sunset — remarkable. A hand massage with their signature lavender hand creme while experiencing it — priceless (and yes I did). There was a line for this. And I witnessed more than a few customers (including… Read more »
Seth Nagle

GO BIG or go home! Love the concepts and trying something new to break through the clutter. Hopefully they can learn from the success and failures of the flagship store and be able to package up some of these unique experiences and deliver them to their stores across the states so shoppers outside of New York City can also enjoy.

Doug Garnett

The fact that L’Occitane uses the words “more disruptive” in their press release is enough for me to predict this will end up a failure (probably with a few learnings along the way).

Companies don’t “set out to disrupt” unless their message is purely for the stock market. They find important things that will create excellent business and pursue them. Those things sometimes disrupt markets.

Here’s my recent blog post criticizing Christensen for suggests it’s “disruption or nothing!” in his writing. “Disruption Fear Distracts from Innovation: The Innovator’s Dilemma Revisited

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

How many Millennials live in the area? How many Millennials visit the area? Since they are now the largest population group, one or even two experiential stores in one market is not going to have much impact. However, there is also social media, so those who do visit can share with all their friends. This helps recognition and interest helping to make the store a must see when in the area. How did that work for the M & M store in Las Vegas? If the main attraction is experience, that will not translate well across social media. One or two experiential stores is not sufficient.

"The grooviest flagship in the world must be backed up by seamless digital execution."
"If I’m choosing between walking into the back rub + VR hot air balloon store vs. the other guy, I’m going to pick back rubs and balloons every time!"
"Because it is a new audience — L’Occitane needs to think out of the box. Yes, the experiential flagship idea is the right approach."

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