Here’s how Selfies Could Save a Struggling Industry

The key to saving shuttering department stores and other struggling brick-and-mortar retailers? Take a cue from the beauty industry: become more selfie-friendly.

A study by Euromonitor International found that women’s global spending on cosmetics has mostly increased year to year, while apparel sales have steadily declined. As Quartz reports, experts think that beauty’s presence on social media — and the pursuit of the perfect selfie it inspires — may be partly to thank for the beauty boom.

Take vloggers like Bethany Mota, aka Macbarbie07, for example. She has a huge fan base, with more than a million subscribers, and her videos typically receive a minimum of 500,000 views. The guides she and other influencers post make it easy for beauty aficionados to re-create looks and trends — and so they do, and so they spend.

Big beauty retailers aren’t oblivious to this trend. Last week, beauty giant Sephora just opened up its largest store yet on 34th Street in Manhattan. Beyond stocking nearly 13,000 products, the store also flaunts new, tech-y features, such as “Tap and Try”: a tool that allows customers to test beauty products using a digital image of themselves.

Predictably, beauty queens are flocking and ready to spend.

Brands are taking note, too.

“We want to be where our consumers are, and our customers and beauty enthusiasts love Instagram because of its visual and easy-to-consume nature,” Claudia Allwood, director of US digital marketing for Benefit, told Digiday.

Another possible reason the market is experiencing growth is that gender binaries are quickly dissolving. Along with brands like CoverGirl using male ambassadors to push makeup for men, highly respected fashion designers — including Jason Wu and Marc Jacobs — are using Instagram to show their love of cosmetics by way of drag makeup. Using social media to make the beauty products more inclusive of men is not only socially progressive but reaches a relatively untapped market.

It’s not like department stores don’t have beauty sections; of course they do. But they don’t tend to have an accessible vibe — on the contrary, there’s often an air of exclusivity. For example, speaking to someone at a high-end-brand beauty counter, you may feel as though you need the status and means to purchase something on the spot. Many people prefer to freely experiment with products — without having a salesperson breathing down their necks.

Department stores might consider mimicking Sephora’s go-ahead-and-try-it attitude to make shopping less sales-driven and more interactive. And it doesn’t have to stop at the beauty counter: Tech-infused features could be adapted for other products, like shoes and clothing, which in turn would make the shopping experience more easy, more inclusive and, ultimately, more enjoyable.

Remember, the customer is always right — which means selfie stations, as crazy as they sound, may well be coming to department stores in the near future.

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