Light, Sound and Interactivity. Increasingly the manufacturing industry's ability to provide practical, usable technology is meeting retail's need to attract, romance and persuade shoppers in the store.
On the following pages are some ways retailers have found to appeal to shoppers'senses of sight, sound and touch, making the shopping environment more exciting and inviting.
The "aura" is human individuality and the "science" is the technology that relates to that individuality.
aura science, the joint venture between Limited Brands (Columbus, Ohio) and Shiseido Co. Ltd. (Tokyo), combines the Japanese penchant for research and product development and an American retailer's mastery of creating a shopping environment.
The store - offering both color cosmetics and skincare - is designed to be the ultimate in beauty retailing: a gleaming, spa-like environment in which the lotions and ointments are magical, the atmosphere is tranquil and the technology is interactive.
The effort began six years ago with a conversation between Les Wexner, Limited Brands'founder, chairman and ceo, and Shiseido's Yoshiharu Fukuhara, honorary chairman of the leading cosmetics company in Japan. The two companies formally united in the joint venture in 2000 and the seed they had planted flowered in April 2002 with a 2000-square-foot store in Easton Town Center (Columbus) - Wexner's retail-development laboratory less than a mile from Limited Brands'headquarters.
The two companies were adamant that this not be just another cosmetics store. Unlike that of many other prestige brands, the aura science approach aims to be individually tailored to a woman's skin at all stages of her life, focusing on the actual condition of the skin rather than on age. "We first identify each woman individually and deliver products precision-fit to her needs as they evolve over time," says Lynn Emmolo, aura science's executive vp and general manager. "A woman wants a brand to meet her total beauty needs and provide options and advice to help express her evolving self."
London architect David Collins designed the store together with Limited Brands'internal team, working to reinforce the concept that aura science is a merger of beauty and science. "My goal was to reflect the modernity of the brand, its solid background of science and research," says Collins, "but at the same time, it had to be human and communicate its product in simple fashion."
The science appears the moment the shopper walks in the door. A specialist standing behind a demo station greets the customer with a warm hand towel and explains the brand to her. "We wanted to reach out with a warm and personal experience," says Emmolo, "so right away she knows she's in for something different."
The specialist then helps each customer identify which skincare program she needs through a special SkinPhase ID technology, designed exclusively for aura science. The modern-looking touchscreen tool takes a woman through seven questions to determine the condition of her skin and then recommends her "phase" of products. The system is personalized in four distinct SkinPhases - based on a woman's skin during every phase of life - each serving three skin types. "The tool makes it easy for the customer, whether she is specialist-assisted or alone, to expertly and quickly diagnose her SkinPhase and type, and builds credibility by involving her in the diagnostic process," says Emmolo.
While designers wanted to create a white box, they also wanted to avoid anything appearing too clinical. The objective instead was to be stimulating, both visually and emotionally. "It was important to create a white box that was 'owned'by aura science," says Collins. "We achieved this through the use of striking images and beautiful product packaging."
Since skincare is the primary focus at aura science, it is positioned at the entrance, alongside the touchscreen tool, and along the rim of the store. Each of the four skincare phases is color-coded, making navigation easy and adding a strong and colorful visual element.
In addition to its skincare line, aura science offers an assortment of color cosmetics and accessories presented in a variety of stations. The first, directly behind the demo station, is a colorful arrangement of nailpolishes and lipsticks displayed in a step-like presentation. The other two makeup walls - under the "aura color" banner - fall directly before the skincare offerings. Distinctive white product packaging remains consistent with the store's color theme. "Any beauty business must have a counterbalance, and for aura science, this is the bold, modern color wall," says Collins, "which needed to be as convincing as the skincare categories. The flow of the store is a natural progression from the various phases of skincare, over to the color wall, with gifts and accessories adjacent."
Fixturing is simple and stylish, detailed in white lacquer. Designers used a combination of higher tables at the entry for educational purposes, lower display tables stacked with products in the middle and accessible wall displays for product and testers. Because the aura science skincare product is packaged in vibrant, saturated colors, the fixturing acts as an uncluttered setting for the brand. Warm fluorescent tubes illuminate the individual pods on the skincare wall, while dichromatic spotlights in the ceiling focus attention on the testers and products.
In addition to the Easton location, aura science plans to open nine stores by year-end. Feedback has been encouraging, and the company says it will continue its attempt to build meaningful customer relationships and to make its brand a household name. "We give a free four-day supply of our aura3system skincare collection to every customer who has been phased," says Emmolo. "American women love sampling, so we give them the option of trying our products first, knowing they'll be back to buy and look for more."
Because the brand provides lifelong skincare, the store will be constantly evolving to meet customers'needs. "This brand was created from scratch," says Collins, "a brand that is all about experience, and lets the customer feel as if she had a mini-beauty treatment when she leaves."
Client Team: Limited Brands, Columbus, Ohio - Robin Burns, president and ceo, Intimate Beauty Corp., aura science; Lynn Emmolo, executive vp and general manager, aura science; Gene Torchia, president, design and construction, Limited Brands; Scott Taylor, vp design and construction, Limited Brands
Design and Architect: David Collins Inc., London - David Collins, president
Outside Consultants: Fred Olivieri Construction, N. Canton, Ohio (general contractor); Gensler, San Francisco (production architect)
Suppliers: Network Entertainment Systems, Columbus, Ohio (video projection); Frog Design Group, Sunnyvale, Calif. (touchscreen technology); PlayNetwork, Redmond, Wash. (audio); Sajo, Montreal (custom fixtures); Innovative Marble & Tile, Hauppauge, N.Y. (angelicus conglomerate tile); Gruppo Italia, Udine, Italy (cosmetic stools); Capitol Light, Hartford, Conn., Juno, Des Plaines, Ill. (lighting); Ruggles, Versailles, Ky. (signage); Ledan, Mineola, N.Y. (acrylic risers); DSA Phototech, Los Angeles (lightboxes)
Peter Aaron/Esto Photographics, Mamaroneck, N.Y.