Just weeks after New York state came under quarantine—forcing retailers to temporarily close—Naturopathica announced it was letting go of store employees so they could receive unemployment. Being one of the first service providers to cut staff caused pause in the beauty industry, and forced many to look closely at their own operations, and analyze how they too should rethink their business model during a pandemic. The subsequent 60-plus days have been a whirlwind, as the brand, steeped in healing and touch, has been forced to pivot resources to digital, and figure out how to service their customer virtually. Here, Naturopathica President, Emma Froelich-Shea, talks about supporting customers, innovating services and implementing AI into the company’s website.  

The days leading up to letting our employees go were some of the hardest in my life. But it was a question of knowing in my heart what was coming and wanting to make sure that our employees were first in line for unemployment. I was torn because I really wanted to hang on and you know, hope against hope. But this was the fastest way, the most effective way, to help our employees.

As a company we have really pivoted our focus into digital and doing everything we can to support three pillars: our customers, both our dot-com customers and our guests, and our professional customers.

First, there are our guests. I think we were one of the first, if not the first, to launch at-home skin consultations and at-home virtual facials. At-home skin consultations launched April 2, and these were 15-minute consultations at a cost of $25 that could be applied towards any product purchase. This was really about connecting aestheticians directly with clients and helping make sure they had the individualized attention they’re used to getting from Naturopathica. It went so well that just a few weeks later we launched at-home virtual facials. The consumer purchases the facial, and gets a small box of six products, including skin care, aromatherapy and tea, and time with one of our aestheticians to be led through a real facial at-home. I think a holistic experience, which is of course what we stand for at Naturopathica, is why the tea and the aromatherapy are so important.

As for the professional pillar, on March 26 we created an affiliate program, and our insight was if our doors were closed, everybody else’s would be too. And so whether or not one of our [retail] customers has a commerce site, they may not have fulfillment. So we created this affiliate program and the marketing materials so that they could send out branded communication from them and direct the purchase to our website. It’s about them and their relationship with the customer, we just handle the transaction and the fulfillment, and of course they get the normal payment compensation structure.

What we’re seeing is that there is absolutely a pent-up demand for healing. So we want to be able to connect more of our expert aestheticians and licensed massage therapists with our consumers. Launching soon, our Hero platform, which is used in fashion, and connects a consumer with an expert on the ‘retail floor.’ It’s sort of like a chat on steroids. You can chat with them, you can have a face-to-face experience; it’s instantaneous.

We are about to launch a facial recognition skin diagnostic tool on our website. It assesses someone’s skin, and offers product and skin care recommendations. For those who combine it with a virtual meeting, they can ask deep questions and really understand the ins and outs of our ingredients.

People are really looking for these types of things. And it’s translated to  142 percent growth in direct site traffic, a 24 percent lift in read rate, and a 95 percent increase in dot-com revenue.

As a long-time beauty professional, I’ve always had a secret fear that I was just obsessed with skin care and holistic remedies in a way that was maybe not as important to the guest or the consumer. And what I have found is no, it’s not just me. People need this. This is healing. We help people from the inside out and it is important. And what I have been able to say that’s even more true now than it was before COVID is how proud I am of the Naturopathica team. I mean, we’ve always had a stellar team, but my goodness, every single person on this team has barely closed their eyes since this all started to make sure that we are in the best position possible and that we can be nimble and flexible and move with alacrity. Case in point is they have not let go of the urgency of new product development. Which has been difficult because not every lab is open and many are working on part time shifts. Our product development team has not skipped a beat. The work they’re doing now allows us to have some pretty extraordinary innovation coming out in July and August.

On re-opening, we’ve done a tremendous amount of research on best practices, understanding the latest thinking on how to conduct our business in person and purchasing equipment we’ll need to offer a safe place for our guests and our employees. By doing all of this now, it will allow us to open up the moment Governor Cuomo tells us we’re allowed to do so. I do think we’ll probably have some kind of curbside retail first. But when we are allowed to open our doors it will be a comforting, reassuring, healing experience.