20 November 2019

Will Harrods' bet on a new beauty brand pay off?

As the luxury department store prepares to branch out to Essex with it's first standalone beauty concept - H Beauty - is this new identity a step too far for an icon of British retail?

From the high street to department stores and shopping centres, beauty is proving to be a fruitful battleground for brands.

Worth £22bn in 2018, the UK health and beauty market is forecast to grow by 16.6% between now and 2023, according to GlobalData statistics. Spend on skincare alone is expected to rise by 22.8% over the next five years, fuelled by demand for ingredient transparency and innovative new brands. 

With 10% of beauty and personal care products being sold online in 2018, according to Euromonitor data, demand remains high for buying beauty products in the 'real' world. The frenzy building around the forthcoming London pop-up from direct-to-consumer brand Glossier (mysteriously set to arrive at some point this autumn), shows that even among Gen Z 'in real life' is still relevant in beauty.

In fact, mintel data suggestd that one in five beauty and personal care shoppers who do not buy online like to try out new products in-store first.

A brand hoping to capitalise on this growing market is luxury department store Harrods, which earlier this year unveiled its 90,000 sq ft experiential beauty emporium, more than double the size of its previous space.

Part of a year-long refurbishment, the first hall focusing on make-up and fragrances opened in June. The 9,000 sq ft skincare hall was revealed in October and dedicated "experience-focused space" is set to open its doors next month.

The beauty hall features a concierge, 13 private treatment rooms and a table of AI-powered 'Magic Mirrors' that map the user's face, enabling them to virtually match products to their skin tone and hair colour. As well as an area devoted to "boutique" beauty brands, Harrods has made a concious effort to secure exclusive partnerships with the likes of Gucci Makeup and the forthcoming Hermès makeup collection.

However, not content with double it's beauty offering in central London, Harrods is branching out with a standalone beauty brand that hopes to take its Knightsbridge-luxe aesthetic to Essex.

Launching in sprnig 2020, the 23,000 sq ft store, known as H Beauty, will open at the Intu Lakeside shopping center in Essex, with a second location planned for Milton Keynes.

Aiming to "disrupt the current UK beauty retail landscape", H Beauty will combine beauty experiences such as blow-dries and facials, with a diverse portfolio of premium and luxury brands. All rose gold and gleaming marble, the H Beauty store will serve light refreshments at its "coffee-to-cocktail" bar.

Harrods director of beauty, Annalise Fard, describes H Beauty as an opportunity to bring the retailer's mission to more beauty lovers across the UK, adding that the investment demonstrates its belief in the strength of Harrods' "beauty authority and the opportunities within the beauty industry".


Initial releases promoting the store's launch suggest Harrods has moved away from its signature bottle green and gold branding, opting instead for a blush pink shade. It has also chosen not to overtly leverage its perceived authority in beauty by ditching the master brand.

If this is to be the permanent identity going forward, Brandon Consultants managing partner Richard Taylor thinks the H Beauty branding has lost the equity that comes with the association to Harrods.

He argues that even among a younger generation, which is the demographic H Beauty appears to be aimed at, the Harrods brand still has equity and therefore this design appears to miss the mark.

"You either call it Harrods and be proud of it, and say this is the younger generation Harrods, or you create something new and this is a halfway house between neither," says Taylor.

"There isn't enough equity in the typography of the word 'H' for people to understand that's Harrods, so that's a lost opportunity. If they'd have just used the full word block Harrods, you'd have got that it's Harrods. If you use the Harrods logotype it's quite difficult to read, it's quite small and it's not very beautifully crafted, so the designer has decided to retain the 'H' as equity, but I don't think there's enough there."

The equity in the harrods brand around measures of quality remains high. Among the general population, the department store ranks forth on YouGov BrandIndex for quality in high street retail, with a score of 37.8.

Read the rest of the article and discussion on the Marketing Week website here