Clarins doubled its online growth in 2020 with the help of virtual consultations and promoting gifts with purchase on social media.

As a skin care brand, Clarins worked hard to bring the store experience online during the pandemic. To bridge the online and offline experience, Clarins added live consultations, tutorials and skin care and cosmetics classes from experts on Facebook Live and Instagram Live

Consumers shifted to shopping online quickly when many of the retailers that sell its products—including merchants such as Macy’s Inc., Sephora and Nordstrom Inc.—temporarily closed stores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic affected us massively,” says Deborah Holloway, digital media manager for Clarins.

In 2019, Clarins’ sales were done predominantly through its wholesale channels and its ecommerce business was just 10% of its total revenue. In 2020, its wholesale business generated some revenue but everything shifted to ecommerce. Clarins does not operate its own stores.

“Ecommerce is ‘the cake’ now. And anything from a retail store is just a bonus,” Holloway says.

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Clarins doubled its online growth on Clarins.com in 2020.  While that was beneficial to the brand, the business itself broke even and profit wasn’t as fruitful, she says. Still, it is on track to continue its online growth and rebuild its store growth as stores are open again and pandemic restrictions ease, Holloway says.

A major way it plans to continue its growth is through social media. Before the pandemic, much of its social media content was based on brand awareness, but it had to rethink its strategy.

“We usually make posts around storytelling,” Holloway says. “We shifted more to promoting gift-with-purchase products. If you were to make a purchase, we would give you a value-added gift like a sample product or a trial size version of a product. We changed the tactic to promote those gifts with purchase and drive traffic and conversion to the site.”

It was very “topsy turvy” at first, but its conversion rate increased by the end of 2020, Holloway says, without revealing specifics. The retailer also saw a boost in sales from the spring to the summer, which incrementally went up week over week for a few months’ time, Holloway says without revealing specifics.

After refocusing its social media, Clarins also added one-on-one consultations called Clarins & Me. It started as customers on the phone with a Clarins expert and morphed in the summer into a virtual boutique with virtual consultations and live events on its site. It offered virtual try-on of cosmetics products like lipstick and foundation ahead of the pandemic for shoppers in the U.K. but accelerated the rollout when the pandemic struck. Virtual try-on is now available globally.

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“We’ve seen a growth in terms of conversion rate in those services as well,” Holloway says without sharing figures. She says the retailer also doubled its average order value as a result of adding these services.

“There’s a huge piece of recruiting the offline customer into the online experience,” Holloway says. “A lot of that requires building on the virtual experience.”

In addition, Clarins plans to roll out a new website next month with a cleaner aesthetic and more user-friendly features, she says. It also added Apple Pay and Clear Pay as payment options, as well as the ability to split payments. Clarins also this year plans to improve the mobile web experience as the skin care retailer has seen an uptick in mobile use but its customers are still largely coming from desktop.

“We’ve taken a lot of learnings from 2020,” Holloway says. “We wanted to see what customers were talking about on social. We will continue using the foundation of that and give it more polish moving forward.”

Macy’s Inc. is No. 14 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000. Nordstrom Inc. is No. 18.

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