The power of omnichannel experiences comes to the fore for Mecca

Online beauty brand founder shares how the brand's ongoing commitment to customer and employee experience has driven a path through COVID and beyond

Putting the emphasis on customer and employee experience has not only been Mecca’s most powerful marketing lever to date, it’s led the brand to open its biggest physical store yet in Sydney.

Speaking at today’s AANA Reset event in Sydney, Mecca founder and co-CEO, Jo Horgan, shared how an unwavering brand commitment to improving the beauty experience through great service and employee empowerment has fuelled the 23-year old retailer’s growth and go-to-market approach. More recently and in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s driven a rapid acceleration of digital and personalisation capability alongside physical retail expansion.

Mecca distributes 180 brands and operates more than 100 stores with 4000 staff, attracting 80 million visits per annum. According to Horgan, it has a 25 per cent share of the prestige beauty market in A/NZ, and continued to grow at double-digits even during the COVID-19 crisis, when the overall prestige market dropped 12 per cent year-on-year.  

“The most powerful marketing lever we have is our customer service and services,” Horgan told AANA Reset attendees. She noted Mecca spends double the market norm on in-store team members and three times the market norm on education and engagement.

In complement, Mecca has built out a loyalty program based on value-add that avoids discounting. “We have built a community of passionate, engaged beauty customers who share reams of data with us, enabling us to personalise the experience and adding to this lovely virtuous circle,” Horgan said.  

This value-add focus has increasingly informed Mecca’s growing events offering including Mecca Land, the world’s first beauty party for 15,000 people in Melbourne.

“This is a great example of not asking the customer what they want – let’s face it, who would say they want indoor ferris wheel or paparazzi circling them, or hotpants rider giving out Brazilian Bum Bum cream?” Horgan asked. “It was our job to dream that up to surprise and delight our customers in a way they couldn’t imagine themselves.

“As a result, we have created a community and sales without pulling the usual levers such as advertising, discounting or sales incentives for team members.”

Mecca’s latest commitment to experience is a fresh flagship store in Sydney in the iconic Gowings building. Three times bigger than the brand’s largest existing store and 20 times the size of the first store it opened over 20 years ago, Horgan said it houses 200 innovations to the customer experience, with 30 per cent of floor space dedicated to customer services. The list stretches from beauty and skin labs to artistry studios, fragrance consultation space, bridal and events services, injectable medical services and even a champagne bar.

Horgan agreed at first glance, many could be forgiven for thinking open a physical store off the back of the biggest global crisis in 100 years is questionable. Yet she again stressed the emphasis on customer experience and a long-term commitment to brand purpose.

“Mecca’s new flagship is the physical embodiment of Mecca trying to absorb every curve ball COVID has thrown our way – pivoting while sticking to our vision and long-term goals,” Horgan continued.  

Operationally, challenges included having to hand over 152-year-old building via Zoom, changing factories in Italy because of the COVID-19 shutdown, rerouting container loads of store fits and stock to Brisbane and Melbourne, and reforecasting based on the smaller footfalls allowed in-store.

“Why did we do it? Put simply, we chose to continue on our path of building this store despite the global pandemic because we know the in-store experience is at the heart of our success,” Horgan said. “We believe customers really are hungry for experientially retail. We have our eye on the 19-year arc of time, not the next six cold and lonely months.”

Yet it’s equally clear rapid adoption of digital during COVID has shown the path forward must also include a firm commitment to digital engagement, Horgan said.

“We went from having 500,000 people each week through the doors, offering 4000 services weekly and hosting massive events through to intimate evenings, to no one,” Horgan continued. Operationally, the retailer had to rely 100 per cent on its distribution centre and quadruple our output overnight. During peak of lockdown, Horgan noted volume was 10 times the norm.

Then there was the engagement and services to shift virtually. Within 24 hours, Mecca’s first beta offering was live, allowing customers to book FaceTime consultations with employees instore who’d go through products, samples, share techniques and complete order processing. The next step was adding these virtual hosting service to the site. Customers could click a speech bubble icon and be connected to instore host in seconds.

“From there it mushroomed,” Horgan said. “We took the beating heart of instore – our beauty lab – which is about demystifying all things beauty and has themed classes every hour – and livestreamed into people’s homes. We transferred to a platform allowing customers to not only watch these tips and tricks but also buy products in the program without having to come out of the livestream.

“We asked all brand founders to come onboard, do masterclasses, which customers could sign up to and access with a code. This access to the global best hadn’t happened for our customers in a pre-COVID world.”

Mecca Chitchat was also created on Facebook, allowing its customer community to talk to each other. Six months on, the group has 20,000 members.

“We love it as it gives insight into our community. Yes we do research, segmenting, but this is so immediate – it’s a lightning rod into the brains of our most engaged customers.  It’s invaluable,” Horgan commented.  

This has all rolled up into Mecca Live. Horgan said the focus is on keeping customer close, feeding the brand connection through optimism, humour and “celebrating the joy of life with them at a time that hasn’t been particularly joyful”.

“The key takeout has been how engaged our customer is. Not only were we able to maintain business, but we also built our business over these months of shutdown,” Horgan said. “As soon as we reopened doors, customers flocked back in. It puts paid to the declaration that bricks-and-mortar is dead. But it’s also because we maintained that incredible digital connection with customer. Instore and online are working together.

“Warp speeding of digital has been the real COVID silver lining for us.” 

Read more: How Aussie brands are bringing personalisation into CX

Alongside the customer connection, Mecca invested in digitising employee engagement and built an online Mecca University. Staff have since completed 140,000 hours of education.

“When everything was stripped away, Mecca’s purpose informed everything we did,” Horgan concluded. “It really was our North Star. Everyone knows our purpose – to help people look and feel and be their best. Informing and educating people is at centre of this.”

Looking to 2021 and beyond, Horgan said the business will continue to ensure it nails CX in-store. “But like everyone else in the world, we’re going to have to focus on digital in a massive way,” she said.

“We will totally overhaul CX starting with site, bring out our long overdue app, quadruple down on personalisation, and leverage all learnings during COVID on how to connect with customers through digital channels and amplify it.

“We are going to have to work out how to put Mecca team members at the epicentre of the new, imagined digital experience as they are the beating heart of Mecca. This human connection online is what will differentiate us from every digital offer around the world.

“2021 is a big reset for us.”

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