Body Shop seeks Web rejuvenation

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it may be playing catch-up, but the Body Shop's new Web site is a bid to regain the ground it lost as the leading toiletries retailer.

The skin- and hair-care retailer launched a revamped site in a bid to become a "genuinely multi-channel business in the U.S.," according to Kim Burrs, director-marketing. If done right-and there are steep challenges ahead-analysts say the site could help revive flat sales and rejuvenate a marketer that was once a leader in the beauty sector and now struggles to keep up.

The iconoclastic British chain-a pioneer retailer of crunchy products such as banana shampoo and peppermint foot lotion in environmentally-conscious recyclable packaging-had a weak Web presence that matched its waning share of the U.S. market. The company, which opened its first U.S. stores in 1988, has been retrenching to around 300 stores and has closed several stores in recent years.

exploding sector

Comparable store sales in the Americas region (the U.S., Canada and Mexico) were down 1% and worldwide retail sales were flat for the year ended February 2004, according to company financials. By contrast, competitor Bath & Body Works' comparable store sales grew 9% in 2003, and it has 1,700 stores in the U.S.

Offline, the personal-care sector has exploded with natural vendors, drugstores and mass-market retailers joining the fray, said Jim Lucas, director-planning and research at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Draft.

The 28-year-old company is arriving late to the e-commerce party, admitted Mariam Naficy, VP of e-commerce. "We believe the rest of the industry has proven that e-commerce is a very viable channel," she said. "The Body Shop name and brand will be a great draw-it stands for quality."

The revamped site,, sells the 750 products available in the stores. Designed by interactive agency AKQA, it replaces the low-watt marketing of 40 or so body butters and other items the site peddled before. A blueprint for online advertising, which will concentrate on search and affiliate marketing, along with banner ads and e-mail, hasn't been finalized yet.

Coming late to e-commerce is not necessarily a bad thing, because online transactions only represent 2% of overall skin- and hair-care retail sales, said Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst at Jupiter Research. Plus, the multi-channel shopper is worth up to seven times what the one-channel shopper is worth. "They have a chance to gain significant market share from their customers."

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