Amazon threatens our industry? This is a hard news week with the guilty as hell outcome in the trial of Derek Chauvin for murdering George Flloyd, and the emotionally-charged, fan-led rejection of the European Super League proposal. So maybe you’ve not yet seen the story about Amazon opening its first hairdressing salon in central London? Yikes! For some hairdressers venting their worries on social media, this also is an outrage. While we’re wrestling with the problems of reopening the UK’s salons post-Lockdown, and facing challenges of rebuilding client confidence and tattered finances, out comes Amazon with this unexpected news. But should we be so wary, and upset?
The Amazon proposal
The giant tech and retail group is turning its attention to creating a 2-floor, 1,500sq ft salon in Spitalfields, East London. Here customers will enjoy what Amazon calls an experiential venue. The concept is this: While running as a normal salon offering haircuts/colours, clients can also browse a large beauty retail area, and their behaviour will be recorded for Amazon’s research purposes. For example, what do they pick up, what attracts interest; what info-mercials on screen catch their eye; what prompts a purchase. It’s a type of research and development exercise. There will be entertainment with Amazon Fire tablets placed at each station (a Prime viewing and shopping opportunity obviously!), a spot to photograph hair services in progress, and AR (augmented reality) offered to try out new looks before committing.
It’s important to note that professional hair services are to be run by Elena Lavagni, for 20 years now the owner of Neville Hair & Beauty, a reputable 6-floor salon in swish Belgravia, London. Elena is not new to hairdressing with salons also around the world. While we’ve yet to learn the cost of visiting this new Amazon enterprise, at least we can have confidence there is industry professionalism at work here. So, what is it that Amazon actually threatens?
The new reality
Amazon says: “We have designed this salon for customers to come and experience some of the best technology, hair care products and stylists in the industry.” And this is the point. Pre-Covid, the luxury and joy of a salon visit experience was arguably in the level of customer service offered, the refreshments, the décor and flowers as much as the standard of hairdressing. Currently, the measure of a good salon visit is perhaps in the degree of hygiene and security offered. Safety is the new luxury. But where to go next?
As the Pandemic eases and we return to a busier, more relaxed high street, how will a hairdressing salon be judged? By standards of cut, colour and styling of course, but we believe the new consumer is looking for more in the way of mindfulness and modern-thinking. Finally after two decades, a 21st Century way of thinking kicks in and the consumer is looking for brands with a purpose that reflect their values in sustainability and environmental issues. This isn’t just about touchy-feely paper-not-plastic accessories and drinking tap water. The consumer is expecting more by way of technology; low-energy, if not carbon neutral salon services [yes, they are possible]; more time-efficient processes and multi-tasking from booking online to no-fuss, no-wait payment systems; the use of programmes that record their individual preferences and direct them quickly to experience and purchase relevant products. You need to think technology.
The future is techno
It’s unlikely Amazon threatens much or will make a larger foray into the hairdressing industry beyond using the upcoming London salon as a laboratory/research exercise. Our take is that this is more about making better retail offerings and analysing shopping behaviours. Whether film channels, retail, food outlets in the portfolio, Amazon is not about personal, customer-facing service. And we know from the Pandemic experience for sure, you can’t automate a hair service. But do take note. When it’s time to remove the masks and screens in the salon, don’t just reach for the magazines, fluffy towels and Nespresso coffee. Take on board now that the future of luxury hairdressing lies in the technology being developed now. Don’t be short-sighted; see what’s really happening.
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