June 7, 2021 /Industry

What’s next for department store design and the beauty industry in 2021?

As retail designers, we have developed countless projects for the beauty industry that include department store design concepts. One of our most recent examples was the design of Douglas, a German based beauty retailer. Our strategy-driven design work alongside the Douglas team placed consumer experience at the forefront of the layout, embodying the new era for the purpose of the department store. However, throughout the pandemic, department stores have received a lot of bad press. At the start of the year, Debenhams announced it was closing its retail chain, with the final closure taking place on May 15. Over in the US, Macy’s announced plans to close over 30 stores of Macy’s and Bloomingdales department stores throughout 2021. Last year, Lord & Taylor, which opened in New York in 1826, defaulted. Looking ahead to 2022, House of Fraser will close its Victoria location in London after 150 years of trading on its site. Whilst the news looks bleak, the closures clearly illustrate a changed retail landscape.

A brief history of department store design and where we are today

Most famous department stores we know today opened doors in the 1800s. Harrods and Liberty’s in London; Au Bon Marché and Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Macy’s in New York all started in the 19th century. Yet it was Selfridges who opened in 1909 on London’s Oxford Street that was the first to use their marketing and advertising budget to showcase that retail is something that can be done for fun. The department store used exhibitions, relaxation spaces, restaurants and entertainment to encourage people to enjoy leisure time. Yet if we fast forward to the 21st century and where we are today, we are in a completely different era. We have endured a pandemic and online shopping, widespread connectivity and social media have been our norm for the best part of 20 years. However, it would be false to say that online shopping and digital has taken the place of physical retail.

The closures of department stores today are examples of brands that have not only been unable to keep up with the times, they have failed to mark a departure point from online shopping and create a USP from a digitalised world by utilising their department store design.  Department store design in some cases became home to tired environments. This is often due to lack of investment, yet the look and feel and experiential design of a store today is of the utmost importance. 

What does this mean for the beauty industry?

Department stores have long been homes for beauty brands. Often there is an entire floor dedicated to the beauty industry, with brands all showcasing their own products across skincare, makeup, fragrance and haircare. In some ways, beauty brands stand as an entry point into luxury brands. Perhaps a client cannot initially afford a Chanel handbag, but they have the means to buy the foundation of fragrance. Their role within department stores remains to be critical. But the most important question remains, how do brands get their department store design right in 2021? 


The answer lies within creating community, fostering human connection, empathetic selling and delivering unique experiences that customers cannot find online. People want to belong and this is a fundamental human need. Many brands in the beauty industry stepped up in 2020 and 2021 when it came to their digital marketing and providing support for customers to not only learn about products through live streams and social media, but also acting as a beacon of community and guardian of self care and mental wellbeing. Covid19 showed that behind brands, there are people and these people are humans connecting with other humans over shared interests, beliefs and concerns. Department store design must facilitate this through a considered approach to customer experience and store staff should be empowered and cared for so they can deliver on this. Department stores have not changed in the sense that they invite people to come into a retail environment to have a conversation and enjoy human interaction. However, department store design cannot afford to be static when it comes to this process. It must be meaningful and driven on values such as empathy and listening to truly understand before helping a customer. 


When it comes to delivering experiences, brands must offer USP services that cannot be found online, which in turn reward the customer for coming into the store. We are greatly impacted by our surroundings on a social, emotional, physiological and psychological level. These drivers are critical when it comes to department store design. If we are able to cater to these needs, the future of department stores remains to be bright and the beauty industry will always find a home here.


Get in touch with our team to discuss strategic retail design of your department store, or of your brand within a department store.