10 Ways to rewire your spa retail
Smart companies are using new insights into neurological connectivity to market health and beauty products. Luckily, spas have a built-in advantage.
By Vivienne O’Keeffe
When he started his wine store in Ireland some 50 years ago, my dad knew all about neurological connectivity. Of course he never called it that because the term didn’t exist. What he did was greet his customers by name, shake their hand or pat their back, and hold the door open for them upon their departure – with a warm invitation to come and see him again soon. Every Saturday night at The Wine Centre in historic Kilkenny was like a house party, with regular customers gathering to chit-chat, catch up on local gossip and (of course) make their wine purchases.
Dad was instinctively doing what the smart and successful salespeople have always done: build strong customer relationships. He knew how, but today’s leading retailers are finding out why. New discoveries that the brain can almost literally hard-wire itself to harbour good feelings about certain situations or people or brands is changing the future of retail sales.
According to The New Rules of Retail neurological connectivity is achieved “when a retailer, brand or service creates a strong psychological and emotional response that operates on a subconscious level for the consumer in a way that is typically not readily understood nor necessarily recognized by the consumer.”
Traditional sales strategies are going the way of the dodo. One example is Shiseido’s soon-to-be-launched Optune, a new skincare system that pairs digital technology with Shiseido’s cutting-edge skin science and beauty research. Designed mainly for smartphones, the Optune app starts with a self-taken photo of the user’s skin to identify such conditions as pores, texture, and moisture levels, then incorporates environmental data like temperature and humidity along with user data relating to menstrual cycle, mood, and skin condition to determine patterns of necessary skincare in real time.
In another example closer to home, cosmetic giant L’Oréal recently acquired Canadian beauty tech company ModiFace with the aim of creating advanced diagnostic services for 3D virtual makeup, colour, and skin.
Finding ways of applying newfound knowledge of neurological connectivity will only add to an arsenal of marketing weapons that already deploys intelligent system data, algorithms and biometric technology.
So the battle lines are drawn. And gone are the days when we in the spa business can get by simply by displaying beautiful bottles and boxes on our shelves. Almost all spas (96%) – whether a day spa, hotel, resort or medical spa – contain a retail element, with the average customer spending $41 per visit in 2016. Many operations depend on retail sales to subsidize high costs of staffing, real estate (or rent) and general operations.
The good news is that the spa business enjoys a huge built-in advantage.
A home computer can’t match the tactile experience of a spa
At its core, the spa experience is like a communal antidote to the isolation of our digital culture, giving us the primal warm feelings of belonging to a tribe, and generating a level of connection that occurs in very few other retail venues. Most industries would kill for the depth of intimacy and engagement that we in the spa business enjoy with our customers. As I discussed in a previous article (March 2017), the skin-on-skin applications alone of a typical spa experience activate portions of the brain involved in socially meaningful sights, sounds and even smells, and trigger a hormone (oxytocin) that is directly linked to human bonding, increasing trust and loyalty.
The tactile nature and close personal connections created in a typical spa give its operator a giant advantage over the typical over-the-counter retailer – and an even bigger one over companies that are visible only on a computer screen.
So why do we for the most part drop the ball by underserving our customer and short-changing the vital retail aspect of our business? We know retail home care products sustain a memorable experience for a spa consumer – anchoring the memory and reigniting the sensual experience of a session every time they’re used. Why don’t we do a better job of selling them? Is it because of the digitally addicted and distracted client’s lower attention span at checkout? Are our spas not as engaging mentally physically and emotionally as (for example) Sephora?
If you have any doubt that today’s consumer is looking for emotional experiences, just look at the music industry. Since the demise of LPs and CDs, it has been transitioning to a revenue model that increasingly depends on live concert sales rather than recordings. Music fans have responded by flocking in droves to the sights, sounds, smells and excitement of live concerts.
Today’s wellness consumer – whether Generation X, Z, Millennial, Boomer or Mature – is demanding even more engagement, education and involvement in her or his spa wellness experience – sometimes unconsciously. Too many spas are missing the boat by failing to understand and benefit from the touch-trust-bond connections that you simply can’t get from a computer screen or even a retail clerk.
1. Use the retail purchase to prolong the benefits of the treatment
The beneficial experience created by personal touch can and should be anchored and extended with the use of professional retail home care products used during the treatment. Too often, instead of the therapist explaining what products were used and why, there is little or no communication at all about products used. Building a more focused and seamless flow of communication across all aspects of your clients’ visits will help you build the connection.
How else can you use neurological connectivity to deepen the ties between your service offerings and retail lines?
2. The power of touch
Understand how the power of the brain-skin connection can boost hormones like serotonin and oxytocin – while reducing others like cortisol – to create trust and bonding between your business and your clients.
3. Music, maestro!
The right music is a powerful subconscious stimulant, causing a dopamine release similar to eating delicious chocolate.
4. Have great surroundings
Architecturally beautiful spas can kindle neuroesthetic processes in the brain. Note that today’s wellness consumer is not looking for ostentation, but warm, welcoming, intentionally planned, peaceful spaces. Images of nature including blue sky and water embrace and calm.
5. Smell great
Aromas can have positive and lasting effects on cognition, mood and social behavior – while evoking wonderful feelings and memories.
6. Lighten up (or down)
The great architect Antoni Gaudí used light inspired by nature to endow his buildings with expressivity and grandeur. The right lighting can make the difference between a so-so atmosphere and one that puts them on Cloud 9.
7. Surprise and delight your clients
Spa goers expect your facility to curate a unique, personalized experience complete with a line of professional and unique products. Surprise them pleasantly by exceeding their expectations.
8. Create certainty and empowerment
Experiences that make clients confident about the benefits of the wellness experience you provide can prevent the survival part of their brains from the fight-or-flight response triggered by threats, uncertainty and self-doubt.
9. Be empathetic
Some spa goers expect social interactions to improve their sense of connection and well-being, whereas stressed-out introverts may prefer the inward journey of silence. Be prepared to deliver both.
10. Use digital merchandizing
Although non-tactile, on-site videos can introduce or replay your products and treatments to educate and engage your consumer.
More than ever, today’s clients are looking for connection and belonging. Rather than an afterthought, your retail product selection needs to be an important part of the experience that brought them to your spa in the first place – to make them feel welcome and cherished, to remind them of you when they’re using them at home, and to keep them coming back.
 Lewis, Dart
 ISPA 2017 US Spa Industry Study
Published as “Rewiring your retail” in Spa Canada May/June 2018
Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA, European-trained therapist and spa development consultant, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc. Active professionally in the spa industry from 1986, she specializes in turning wellness concepts into new spa developments and excels at creating authentic guest experiences within a sustainable, successful framework of quality operations. Vivienne also develops product lines, treatment plans and training programs. She is a member of ISPA, International Management Consultants Inc. and Spa Industry Association of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Achievement Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012).