Putting the activism back into The Body Shop

Nov 05, 2019

GDR Innovation Researcher Harriet Cox visited The Body Shop’s new-look Oxford Street flagship to see how it reignites its activist past.

Fondly remembered by ‘90s kids for its bursting bath pearls, rich chocolatey smelling body butter and THAT white musk perfume, The Body Shop in recent times has become somewhat forgotten on the UK high street. While it’s been there in the background quietly doing its thing, competitors such as Lush have come to the foreground and stolen a share of the profits by offering beauty and personal care with gutsy attitude.

But The Body Shop is now undergoing a reinvention with a new strategy and a new look for its flagship London Oxford Street store, so I went along to take a look.

To call it a reinvention is maybe overstating slightly. What the brand has done is return to its activist roots and refocus on the causes it champions, reaffirming its core values according to its late founder, the environmental and human rights campaigner Anita Roddick. 


Encouraging product trial

The revamped store is opposite Bond Street tube station – the busiest of its 242-strong UK portfolio with footfall driven by office workers as well as tourists.

Inside the store the focus is on product trial. At its heart is a large circular sink where customers can trial body wash products. It feels a bit like a kitchen; as you move further into the store there is a tower of the brand’s best selling Body Butter and an eclectic mix of bowls merchandised with kitchen utensils displayed on a lazy susan, all encouraging customers to try before they buy. A nice touch is a huge slab of raw shea butter laid out inviting customers to use the wooden spatula to spread it on their hands.      


Returning to refills

Another part of the store – which has garnered the most attention – is the refill station. This in fact isn’t a new idea for the brand, which first launched a refill initiative in the late 1990s, before scrapping it after customers failed to understand how it worked. Now, given the general public’s growing interest in sustainable and eco-conscious consumption, it feels relevant, well considered and easy-to-navigate.

Customers select an aluminium bottle, then they place it into a UV bottle sanitiser and wait for the light to flash. Next, they make their choice – initially just shower gels – and place the bottle under the tap. The process is a bit like pulling a pint: you pull the lever down and the product is deposited into the bottle. Once the bottle is full you select your product sticker (a legal requirement listing the product’s name and ingredients) and there is also an option to customise the bottle with fun stickers displaying slogans about recycling.  

The bottle itself costs £2 and £6 to fill, so there’s an initial cost of £8 for a shower gel but this drops to £6 if you bring back your bottle for reuse. 

Other nice touches in store include a charcoal station, educating customers about the benefits of the ingredient, and a sensory ginger jar, inviting customers to experience the scent of its ginger anti-dandruff shampoo. 


Activism over technology

I note that the store is completely devoid of technology or digital and it has a lovely aesthetic that feels almost scrappy and handmade. This feeling is further emphasised by a materials palette made up of mostly materials rescued from landfill. 

Highlighting the brand’s activist aims, there is a small area dubbed “activism corner” where customers are encouraged to learn more about grassroots organisation and make their own change-making pledges. 

“We are reviving the idea of empowerment of girls and women, which is core to our business,” said Linda Campbell, The Body Shop’s managing director. “We will be encouraging shoppers to come up with ideas for how they can help their local communities.”

The staff also seemed very empowered, certainly engaged and enthusiastic about the store saying that the brand had even recently ditched staff uniforms, encouraging them to be their own person.

All in all, this store makes perfect sense for the brand. It has thought carefully about the customer journey, adding moments of exploration and delight combined with friendly and efficient service, whilst staying true to the core brand values. It feels like The Body Shop as we used to know it, but a bit more grown up, cool and authentic.

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