With our E-boutique, Kiehl’s aims to grow at 2x basis every year: Shikhee Agrawal

Kiehl’s journey – from humble beginnings in 1851 as an old apothecary in New York’s East Village neighbourhood to 250 stores around the world today – is interesting and inspiring. Its unique, extensive background represents a blend of cosmetic, pharmaceutical, herbal, and medicinal knowledge developed and advanced through the generations. The driving force of Kiehl’s vision is the ‘try before you buy’ initiative. Allowing clients to try products before they purchase, this 92-year old initiative has won hearts and has led to loyal patronage over the years.

It’s been 10 years since Kiehl’s entered the Indian market and today has 14 flagship stores across the country. During the pandemic this year, Kiehl’s launched its first-ever e-commerce website in India, kiehls.in, in June. The new E-Boutique is intuitive, user-friendly and aspires to replicate the Kiehl’s experience digitally. With a sophisticated user-interface designed to make shopping online a fulfilling experience, the website is optimised for mobile phones and desktops. Some of the key features of the newly launched website include Kiehl’s Koncierge and Healthy Routine Finder along with the exciting Always on Offers functionality.

Speaking on the launch of the website, Shikhee Agrawal, AVP, Kiehl’s India, had said, “We are ecstatic to bring finest apothecary skincare right at the doorstep as it is no surprise that skincare is self-care, that’s why we bring you the opportunity to experience luxury skincare from the comfort of your house. India being a diverse country, we aim to cater to different skin types in varied weather conditions and skin concerns by providing efficacious solutions and customised regimes. As Kiehl’s recapitulates to connect generations through memories, tradition and skincare with its time-proven formula, we are indeed grateful to embark on this journey with you, digitally. Nothing says, ‘I care’, more than good skincare itself.”

In conversation with Adgully, Shikhee Agarwal speaks about Kiehl’s decade-long journey in India, the shift to digital, increase in the demand for natural products, the road ahead and more.

How has the decade long journey been? How have you maintained the niche element?

Kiehl’s opened their first store at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj in Delhi as the finest apothecary boutique in India in 2010. Since then it has been an upward growth to further expand and introduce the #1 effective skincare to each Indian. India a diverse country with a wide colour spectrum and each comes with its own set of skin concerns like under eye, pigmentation, etc., depending on the geographical location, hence it was crucial to cater to each of them with an efficacious skin solution and this been the brand philosophy since 1851. We are now 14 stores strong pan India with 5 stores in Delhi, 2 in mumbai, 1 in Kolkata and so on in all major metropolitan cities. This year, however, was remarkably significant as we launched our e-boutique to cater to each consumer who craves for a better yet effective skincare routine. This year has been an unprecedented one and thus, it made it even more evident that we should be focusing more on our health and skincare and religiously invest in it. Also, these 10 years have been quite a journey with retail expansion to our first E-boutique, kiehls.in.

Also, the brand has supported various philanthropy projects and now is the official partner of CRY to provide a better future to children. We maintained our niche by staying true to our philosophy and generosity by seamlessly executing and delivering a key message to our customers about ‘TRY before your BUY’. This made our consumers believe in us over the years and stay loyal.

How do you maintain your market in India? What challenges did you face for maintaining the brand proposition?

We have 14 retail boutiques, kiehls.in being our official e-boutique, along with Nykaa as our exclusive e-commerce partner catering to thousands of loyalists across the country. Thus, we maintain our market by still standing true to our brand philosophy, which is a century old but still so relevant and resonates with our customers. The principal of personalised customer service together with generous sampling has remained our tradition. Kiehl’s is one of the first companies to proudly list ingredients on its product labels to help customers make informed purchase decisions. Also, we are not just a skincare brand, we offer dermatologist solutions formulated by Kiehl’s chemists and pharmacists to address specific skin concerns.

The challenges which came along the journey were our limited presence in the country and not being able to reach a larger target audience base as our stores are made in complete ‘store of the future’ concept, thus we took our time to study the city and then open a boutique there. Along with that, it took us a decade to educate on the importance of skincare as people were aware but not fully adapting it in their hectic lifestyles. Today, skincare awareness has definitely picked up and we are witnessing a skincare movement, where consumers are not only conscious but also wary about the efficacy of the products.

Kiehl’s never advertises, so how do you manage to create awareness about the brand?

That’s not entirely true that we never advertise, but yes, we do very, very limited advertising and believe more in technology and word of mouth marketing approach. Dermatologist solutions have become increasingly popular as they’re targeted treatments and offer better results. Kiehl’s as brand believes in evolving with technology, hence all our offerings have a perfect blend of nature and science, making them highly effective on the skin. Along with our competitive offerings, we firmly believe in creating a community and the biggest assets of our community are our in-house store skin experts and not just regular staff. These experts analyse the customers’ skin and understand the concerns and recommend products suiting their skin type and also helping them with their lifestyle. Thus, we rely heavily on our community, which comprises of all our lovely customers and our education & R&D department, who impart not just skin knowledge but overall existence criteria.

How has digital created awareness about the brand? How much jump did you observe in sales after shifting to digital?

Going digital has definitely been an exponential for us as the finest brand as we not only can reach the remote areas and service multiple pincodes, but also being able to spread awareness about quality skincare and the map ourselves in terms of our standing in the country. With our digital presence, customers can easily order Kiehl’s sitting in the comfort of their homes; also, it makes us more wary about the market positioning of our brand. It also makes our consumers aware about the brand history and heritage and our various global and Indian philanthropist and sustainable efforts. Also, digitally we make sure that we invest in organic channels like content, PR and highly efficient social media platforms as that’s the first impression and we aim to achieve 100% reply rate on all our platforms to increase the efficacy and reach.

Along with that, we have begun with 3 unique properties on kiehls.in:

Kiehl’s Koncierge – The Live Chat + Video Consultation feature, wherein anyone can live chat or do a video consultation with our skin experts anytime of the day. We have elevated the online experience through complimentary individualised skincare consultations, personalised healthy skin check-ups, customised routine building, unique tips and tricks from skin care experts and tailored follow ups via email or phones.

Healthy Skin Routine Finder – Kiehls.in pioneers in this and is the only one offering this distinct service, wherein one can log on to kiehls.in take a quiz to find a skincare routine that’s best for you and your lifestyle. This tool is broadly categorised into two parts, which suggests simple routine and advanced routine. The quiz consists of various questions like gender, skin type, lifestyle routine, age, skin goals, etc., and according to the typed in answers it will suggest the simple routine consisting of 3-4 products to start with or an advanced routine suggesting a ritual of 7-8 products.

The jump in revenue has not been significant as it’s been only 6 months that we launched the E-boutique. So, it’s still in the teething phase, but we aim to grow at 2x growth in the coming quarter.

What was the reason for not shifting to digital earlier?

The main reason for not going digital was more to do with the fact that Kiehl’s has been pioneering the customer service and experience since 1851 and we want our customers to be 100% satisfied, thus if you walk into any store you’ll not come across conventional staff but rather you’ll find interesting, friendly and skin experts in white lab coats ready to help. We believe in having 100% Kiehl’s customer representative fully equipped and knowledgeable about the products as well as the overall skin science, thus we never push a sale and rather make a friend. And we love them for just being sales staff, but rather educators and problem solvers. This is the sole reason that we resisted to be digital in the country and waited to completely provide the same personalised experience for our customers online as well.

Recently there has been an increase in the demand for products having Natural and Ayurvedic ingredients, how has that worked out for you?

We neither use nor are an Ayurvedic brand, but yes, the ingredients that we use in our solutions are a perfect blend of nature and science as they are dermatologist potent formulas. Hence, we do not claim to be 100% organic. Also, all our highest quality ingredients from nature have been sustainable and responsibly sourced from various parts of the world. Therefore, our core of product science is unique, extensive background which represents a blend of cosmetic, pharmaceutical, herbal and medicinal knowledge developed and advanced through the generations.

What has your promotion strategy been over the years, and how has it evolved?

Our promotion strategy has remained consistent since the start, which is #1 customer service, experience and satisfaction via our KCRs and then customers coming back and asking for more. Till today our promotion strategy has been the same as what it was for the last 90 years, that is, focus on consumer culture while purchasing skincare products – 76.8% of female consumers wish they had access to more expert advice – and offering more high quality samples for our ‘Try before you Buy’ initiative. Hence, Kiehl’s have been granting this wish ever since. Earlier, we used to take the traditional route by heavily relying on word of mouth and traditional PR approach; today, 90% of our spends are on digital for creating awareness.

How has your growth been on a year-on-year basis? How was your growth like in Q2?

We grew slow and steady over the years as along the way we wanted to educate about the skincare movement. But now that we have our e-boutique, we aim to grow at 2x basis every year.

What are your key observations on the beauty industry over the last 10 years? What are the behavioural changes or trends that you have witnessed during the pandemic times?

Some of the key takeaways from past 10 years would be as follows:

  • Kiehl’s has received huge acceptance in the Indian market and is trending at No. 1 in the market for a skincare options and our team, with their consistent efforts, has put the name of the brand at the highest level of pharmaceutical and aesthetic platform in the country.
  • We have constantly developed and improved our range to suit Indian skin types and our global brand philosophy of ‘Try before you buy’ has worked very well in India too.
  • We have had established a very loyal celebrity and influenced base who love Kiehl’s and have been advocating to all their patrons. Some of the key Bollywood celebrities are Soha Ali Khan, Neha Dhupia, Gabriella Demetriades, Saif Ali Khan, Arjun Rampal, Rhea Kapoor, etc.
  • Kiehl’s Made Better program is our ongoing effort in sustainability across all our businesses – from product formulation, packaging, manufacturing and recycling to our community. Through our Recycle & Reward program we collect old bottles and give a brand new product to promote reuse and recycling.
  • Our key product pillars remain Ultra Facial Cream, Calendula Toner and Avocado Eye Cream, which are fan favourites.

What is the road ahead for Kiehl’s India? What are the key areas that the brand will be focusing on?

From here, we wish to grow exponentially into travel retail and other retail expansions by 2022. We will soon be introducing a Face of the brand by next year. In addition to that, we would be exploring more e-commerce partners to cater to a larger database.


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