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The Kylie Effect: The power of offline experiences for online brands

A queue snakes out of sight down the wide aisles of Los Angeles’ Wakefield Mall. Hordes of people called in sick and skipped school to be the first to discover their favorite cosmetics brand in the flesh. Until that day in December, Kylie Cosmetics had never lived outside a website. Shopify would help Kylie Jenner bring her brand to life online only. The embodiment of her brand, which is in fact the embodiment of Kylie as a person, would allow her to learn a lot about her fans. And it would teach us a lesson about the power of experience. The Shopify team behind Kylie’s pop-up shares their IRL knowledge and advice for e-commerce brands of all sizes.

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From low overheads to the freedom to work when and where you want, the advantages of an online business are countless. Many merchants operate solely as e-commerce stores, never expanding to a physical location. Without ever meeting the customers in person. Without ever having to change Snuggie.

It’s entirely possible to exist solely on the Internet and become a major company. The biggest celebrity brand on the Internet has done just that.

Until late last year, Kylie Jenner’s namesake makeup line launched, then exploded, on a single channel: her own Shopify store. It did not sell its products wholesale, nor did it offer them in a physical store. To get your hands on a Kylie Cosmetics lip kit, you had to buy it direct from the source.

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But even Kylie, whose brand growth is more impressive than that of other celebrity companies, recognized the value of a little face-to-face time.

In November, Shopify helped Kylie bring her online-only brand to life, reimagining it in 2D and 3D. Embodying her brand – in fact, embodying Kylie as a person – would allow her to learn a lot about her fans.

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And it would teach us a lesson about the power of experience.

I must admit that before I met the team who built the pop-up, I doubted I’d be able to glean anything relevant for the majority of our retailers. “How could the success story of a mega-star relate to the experiences of a small, medium-sized company? I thought to myself. But I was wrong.

The theme that kept recurring in my conversations was that, regardless of company size or budget, even the simplest human contact experiences have incredible value for e-commerce brands.

At the eleventh hour, the Shopify team resorted to DIY tricks to finish the job in time for launch day. In the end, it was a clean space, without being extravagant, and an affordable model, even for the latest brands.

kylie jenner looks to buy make majority stake in kylie cosmetics Laboratoire cosmétique au Maroc et Fabricant des produits de beauté sur-mesure, Carmel Cosmetics Labs est votre laboratoire partenaire dédiés à créer des produits cosmétiques aux normes européennes en marque blanche et private label au Maroc et dans le Monde.
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I interviewed the team in the field about their experience of creating a large-scale online brand and their advice to other brands wanting to do the same:

  • Cody Debacker, Project Champion
  • Matt Vaile, designer
  • Natasha Singh, Project Manager
  • Rahul Kulkarni, Product Manager, POS
  • What do they expect from the skincare products they use?
  • What products do they currently use?
  • Michael Brewer, designer

Special thanks to Jane Lee, Arati Sharma and Catherine Chiong for their additional comments.

Kylie Jenner Endorsed Brands Laboratoire cosmétique au Maroc et Fabricant des produits de beauté sur-mesure, Carmel Cosmetics Labs est votre laboratoire partenaire dédiés à créer des produits cosmétiques aux normes européennes en marque blanche et private label au Maroc et dans le Monde.
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Creating offline experiences: What we learned from Kylie's Pop-Up

Why?

There’s nothing like the tactile experience of rubbing a cloth between your fingers or trying out a lipstick on your own skin. From a product point of view, the benefits of IRL brand experiences are obvious.

But bringing your brand into the real world has benefits that last long after your store closes. “It’s more about selling your brand, not the product,” explains Michael, “your website already does that.”

Even if the objective isn’t sales, or if sales are more disappointing than expected, the exercise can teach you a lot about your product and your customers. Who’s coming into space? How do they react to your products?

“Find out who your customer is in real life. The people who lined up at Kylie’s pop-up were so interesting – the demographics I saw were mind-blowing. You think you know who your customer is, but you don’t really. – Natasha

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Your goal could be to develop your brand in a local market, attracting people with the experience and giving them a card enabling them to get a discount on their online purchases afterwards.

“Let’s say you didn’t sell anything, but you got everyone excited about your brand and encouraged people to visit the site afterwards. The two feed off each other. All you have to do is think about what you want from this pop-up window. Sales are not the goal. The pop-up window can have several functions. It can be used to raise brand awareness. This may involve a search for a partnership. – Michael

Pop-ups, parties, markets and experiences

While you may never have Kylie’s budget, a two-week pop-up in a high-end mall isn’t the only way to bring your brand to life. There are several options for more modest budgets, provided you are creative.

“Think of something other than a pop-up, like an open house or a party. You invite your co-workers, those who already subscribe to your email list, who follow you on Instagram. You invite them to attend a vacation gathering. It’s a buying experience, but it’s not specifically about saying “Come and buy my products”. It’s about a party, which also offers the opportunity to buy the product.” – Matt

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Offline ideas :

  • Sponsor an existing IRL event by supplying your products for goody bags, etc.
  • Partner with a brick and mortar retailer to offer a pop-up experience within an established store
  • Host a party or open house in your studio or workspace.
  • Share costs by organizing a multi-brand pop-up.
  • Organize an activation or interactive experience at an event or market (photo booth, etc.) – a great idea for service companies.
  • Find out which markets, fairs and events accept vendors in your area.

Partnering with other brands not only helps reduce the cost of the event or experience, but strategic partnerships can also help expand your audience. Establish partnerships with brands whose customers could also be yours.

“Joint stands are a very interesting idea for saving money – finding a company that has the same sensibility, the same vibe as you. Maybe you make notebooks and I do something else. We have the same demographic. – Michael

Perhaps your brand experience has nothing to do with sales, but simply aims to create buzz, generate press and increase brand awareness in a specific location. Take a leaf out of the book of great names:

“In Toronto, The Weeknd set up a big car with a lightning bolt inside. It could have been anything. That alone could have been the pop-up. People would have talked about it all their lives and gone to listen to his album.” – Michael

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Schedule and location

When is the right time to take your online brand offline? It all depends on your objectives:

  • Launch of a brand, seasonal collection or new product
  • Unveiling a new brand
  • Making a sale or promotion
  • End-of-year celebrations or gifts
  • As part of a time-limited event or market aimed at your target audience

“The run-up to the holidays is the one time of year when people start thinking about shopping for other people. With the Kylie pop-up, we wanted to make sure customers could buy gifts.” – Matt

If you’re looking to rent physical space for a pop-up, build relationships locally:

“Start building relationships with an established retail store or boutique to give you access to the space. Kylie established a relationship with Westfield. They gave him the opportunity to open the store for two weeks. She seized it. I’m not saying she got it for free, because she certainly didn’t, but you have to find a way to work with someone to help you get established in a short timeframe. – Cody

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Recruiting staff for the IRL experience

For Kylie’s pop-up in Los Angeles, we hired an agency that provided 50 employees for the two-week event. The team devoted much of the training to customer experience, staff enthusiasm and brand awareness.

“As soon as you enter the queue, someone greets you. Someone says, ‘Congratulations, you’ve made it through the eight-hour wait’. Once you’re inside, someone greets you. She says, “Hello, how are you?”. We had make-up experts. We had makeup experts, clothing experts. They really talk to you as if you were the only person in the room. At the checkout, someone says, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you bought this, I love it too. I love him too. Like a friend, like someone who’s worked there forever. That’s what I’ve learned from this experience: you have to invest in people. – Cody

For younger brands, the same strategy can be applied on a smaller scale, when organizing a pop-up or an event. Anyone can be trained to collect customers on a point-of-sale (POS) system, so turn to your networks to find people who already embody and love your brand – friends, family and even your brand’s loyal customers.

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“Your customers probably know your brand as well as you do. If they’re your family and friends, if they’re people who are already buying, devote your time and energy to them, because they’re the ones who will give your customers the best experience.” – Cody

How to succeed: Build your IRL experience

Online-to-offline translation

A good understanding of your brand in the online space will help you determine how it will be perceived in the offline space. Ask yourself:

  • What do I want people to feel when they come in?
  • What kind of people am I trying to attract?
  • How will my brand translate into things people can touch, hear, smell, feel or taste?

For Kylie, she and her brand are one and the same. Naturally, a physical representation of this brand was a replica of her own bedroom – a way for customers to get intimate with Kylie, the person.

kylie jenner popup 1 Laboratoire cosmétique au Maroc et Fabricant des produits de beauté sur-mesure, Carmel Cosmetics Labs est votre laboratoire partenaire dédiés à créer des produits cosmétiques aux normes européennes en marque blanche et private label au Maroc et dans le Monde.

“If you could imagine entering your website, what would it look like? You create a physical representation of your website. The choices you’ve already made concerning colors, photography, user-friendliness and everything else, you’ve already made them. Now do it in real life. -Michael

Product

When our team set out to market Kylie’s products, they realized that lip kits were not designed for retail.

“The problem is that the product was designed to be sold online only. All the lipsticks look the same, except there’s a tiny font on the front of the box that says ‘gloss’ or ‘matte’. It’s a good thing we noticed, because someone was actually putting some of the glossy lipsticks with the matte ones. They look identical. I couldn’t even tell the difference. ” – Matt

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When developing products for online, consider whether or not you might venture into brick and mortar or want to run a pop-up at any point.

  • Can your packaging be adapted with tags or tabs to make it easy to merchandise?
  • Will you have to develop additional packaging to convey the information normally found on your product page?
  • What other products can you create exclusively for the retail experience?

Thinking about these issues at the development stage can save you headaches along the way.

“What’s aesthetically good for the Internet is easy because you take a picture. But they didn’t think about how this product would be merchandised. It’s a huge thing, especially in terms of cosmetics. The way Sephora and MAC create their packaging takes these elements into account. -Natasha

To solve Kylie’s cosmetics labeling problems, the team used merchandising and staff training to eliminate frustrations with the shopping experience.

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We had to put them on separate shelves, and we even had to train our checkout staff to say, “Do you want the gloss? Did you want the matte? Is this the right one?” – Matt

Budget

Although our team has worked with budgets far larger than the average Shopify merchant, they insist that any merchant can successfully deliver an exceptional in-person experience on a small budget. Fortunately, minimalism is a current trend, even among major celebrity brands like Kanye’s Pablo pop-up.
“It’s a question of how we source. It’s all about how you present your brand in this space. It’s not a question of money or madness. These days, many stores are opting for minimalism. They opt for beautiful woods, white walls, rolling shelves and a table. It’s nothing. – Michael
So where do you put your money?
“Honestly: the presentation of your product. Whether it’s new packaging, small price tags or perhaps giveaway bags. Remember, the experience doesn’t end once they’ve left your pop-up. The same is true when you return home. You’ve got the bag. The unpacking experience. That’s important. Do it all. – Michael

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Invest in versatile display items, says Natasha:

“Order a ton of plexis, because you can use them in so many ways. We had to find a quick solution for the iPad holders. You have to be ingenious at times like this. Matt came up with the idea of applying the iPads to transparent Plexiglas, which produced an elegant and sexy result. And it cost nothing. Nothing at all! Probably about fifty dollars in the end”. – Natasha

Merchandising and presentation

Kylie’s vision for her first pop-up was a space that allowed her fans to peek inside her world. Experience was all there was to it. The store included a bed made to look like Kylie’s and a selfie station that allowed fans to take a piece of the experience home with them.

Ultimately, the goal was to sell products, and our team was challenged to integrate products into the experiences while respecting Kylie’s vision.

TIPS for amazing displays and experiences to buy :

The best experiences also serve as showcases.
“You have to think about the experience and the sale at the same time. People will be more inclined to buy something if they can take it directly from the active display. That’s where the magic happens. It’s better than just saying, ‘Here’s a rack of clothes. At Kylie’s pop-up, the Christmas tree contained products – even the tree could be purchased. – Matt

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  • Multiples of the same item can be impressive, especially when stacked to form their own display. Kylie’s lip kit wall featured over 4,800 lip kits on single shelves, so the product became the main feature. When the display was purchased, it always seemed full.

“If you’re making decorations, make a thousand of them. Put them all on one tree because it will look really impressive. Or if you’re making candles, literally stack the candles from the ground up so that as they wear out, they look cool. There’s a sense of urgency. – Matt

  • There’s no need for customized or professional installations. When professional installations didn’t work for Kylie’s pop-up, the team scrambled to fill the gaps with simple, inexpensive display items.
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  • Accessory display items come from Target or the dollar store (really!).

“We placed an accessory order for all the small accessories. The production company didn’t deliver, and we wondered what we were going to do with the cell phone cases, the underwear, the accessories, all that random stuff! Matt and I went to Target’s home decor department and bought some small cages. You can really go to Target and buy things for the home, but that turn into a multitude of great ideas. – Natasha

  • Think longevity and accessibility. Your merchandising has to look good, but if it doesn’t stand up to customer manipulation, or if it’s difficult for them to shop, you’ve failed. At the Kylie pop-up, the team compromised on the ultimate Lip Kit wall to ensure clarity between gloss and matte.
  • Establish a replenishment strategy. How are you going to ensure that the displays are always full? What happens when there’s nothing left to sell? Will certain sizes/styles be kept in the back, with only a few samples on the floor? Organize the storage area and make it accessible for rapid replenishment.
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POS: Making IRL payments

According to Rahul, payment is the last thing on many retailers’ minds when setting up a pop-up, and with a brand as big as Kylie, there were no exceptions.

“For most retailers trying to set up a pop-up or retail space, the point of sale is literally a stopgap. – Rahul

Shopify POS powered Kylie’s pop-up and the team carefully considered how customers would interact with payments, minimizing them as much as possible to keep the focus on the brand.

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“When customers entered the store, they were fitted with a wristband and entered their personal information. When they check out, we ask for their name, then automatically send them a receipt. This has enabled us to improve and personalize the customer experience. – Rahul

Also consider how you will handle customer service issues such as returns and exchanges. You may have an application or process that helps you manage these issues for your online store, but they can be tedious in person, especially in a temporary sales environment.

“With Kylie, we opted for a final sale policy because, in reality, when you run an ephemeral store, you want to improve the shopping experience. You’re not equipped to offer the best customer service. – Rahul

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The power of experience

Customers expect the in-person experience to offer added value over the online experience. Kylie’s pop-up not only encouraged customers and fans to interact with the space and share it socially, it was also the only destination for out-of-print colors and new products launched just for the holidays.

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Some ideas for experiments :

  • Selfie stations and photo booths
  • Drink or snack stations with signature cocktails or aromas, in partnership with a local craft distillery or emerging catering company.
  • Fitting experiences – testers, make-up artists, personal stylists, fitting rooms
  • An interactive or do-it-yourself experience
  • Engage the senses with scent marketing or sound branding.
  • Workshops or classes in your space (incorporating your product)
  • Exclusive products and offers
  • VR experiences
  • live music.

Don’t forget that you are your brand, and that you have an important role to play in this experience. Take advantage of face-to-face time with customers to tell your story. Even Kylie took the opportunity to address her fans personally.

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The most important lesson we’ve learned from bringing one of the world’s biggest celebrity brands to life? Less is more. Don’t confuse your brand’s story with too much fanfare. Ultimately, the experience we built with Kylie was a simple design with inexpensive accessories that allowed her brand to shine.

“When we started building his store, we did everything we could to make it look sumptuous. We built it like a make-up store, like a Sephora. It was so intense. Then she showed us the Pablo pop-up. It was a really cool place with four rolling shelves and a huge vinyl. That’s all it was. It’s affordable for everyone. – Michael

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