Based in New York, Cannella is the head of global education and customer experience at Kiehl’s. Founded in 1851, the global skincare brand has always been focusing on efficacy and personalised care.
— What we’re about is education, care, and building long-term relationships. In order to do that, you need to get to know people, she says. We stay very close to the skin trends, of course, but we focus mostly on what each individual customer wants. So, the essence of personalisation for us as a skincare brand is to feel the customer truly heard and understood, in order to get something that fits not just your needs, but your life. Being that well-understood is what everyone dreams of. Giving away generous samples to build trust in the products and spending time on diagnoses are almost ’the price of entry’ in the skincare industry now. When we continue to grow globally, we have found that the secret is not just what we do but how we do it. That said, the people we recruit to work in our stores — our so-called ’Skin-Pro’s’ — are the most important in our company. We invest in them and give them advanced certification in skincare. However, you can’t train certain qualities — a caring one, focusing on education and generosity. So, those human qualities, we found, transcend all cultures around the world. Even in today’s modern world, people still crave that human care and that human touch.
— When I started, my challenge was: ’How would Kiehl’s grow?’ I first looked at our stores. Would we really translate it into all the different countries and regions around the world? And what I found is that the things that we stand for globally are very much appreciated locally, while we can have that local adaptation at a community level. The next challenge, I thought would be digital with the pandemic, when nobody was going in stores anymore — which is what we’re all about. What we discovered is that we can bring our ’Skin Pro’s’ to our customers online. People still want connection and I think we all discovered that through the pandemic.
How did it change consumer behaviour and how do you see it changing now, with Gen-Z and new consumer groups?
— What we’re finding with younger customers, in particular, that’s very interesting, is that they’re interested in anti-ageing, says Cannella. It used to be that we told people: ’if you don’t show any signs of ageing, you shouldn’t use anti-ageing — it’s not gonna work on you.’ Now, we understand that there’s a real drive and understanding for health, which the younger generation is more committed to, as well as a good diet, good sleep, ’good for the planet’, ’healthy behaviour’…
No alcohol, or less alcohol.
— That’s it. So, we’re able to work with them and teach them about retinol. It is sort of the anti-ageing’gold standard’ but what it does for young skin is that it teaches the skin to turn over more quickly and to behave young. It’s about preventive care so that you prevent up to 90% of skin ageing. Who doesn’t want that? So that you don’t need a miracle cure later. We’re finding a much more avid interest in maintaining young, beautiful skin.
In Scandinavia, we’re very much into tech but in retail, we’re not close to how it’s used in Asia and the U.S. How do you use tech in retail?
— We watch around us and we see what retailers are doing. For us, tech can’t take the place of human interaction. People don’t necessarily go into a store to interact with an iPhone or a digital screen. They go in to touch and feel products, to ask questions, so, for us, tech needs to support that personal interaction. We also bring tech into science, to bring more validity to the conversations around things like UV damage, but the focus is still on the 1-1 conversation. Machines will not recommend products, only the people will, because it’s holistic for us. We need to understand your concerns, your desires, and your lifestyle. Then, we build in the machine perspective and then we build a personalised routine for you. So, tech for us will elevate it, but as I said, it will never replace that human connection.
We also hear new technologies, such as AI and AR, being introduced into retail. Are you evaluating that in your retail stores as well?
— Always. Speaking of the store, we call it an O2O (Online-to-offline) experience now, because it’s all about different touchpoints, Cannella explains. The person shopping in the store maybe looked online first, maybe they want to assess their skin online with a photo. So, where can tech play a role that helps to provide a seamless journey? That’s how we’re evaluating it. It should never feel like it’s replacing the human touch — that kind of AI doesn’t interest us — but something that can give you a head start, or be convenient. People have a real need for convenience and speed today and to support an individual choice. Today, you’re self-shopping, and you want knowledge — tomorrow you might gonna spend time, browsing in the store, and you want personal care. We want to provide all those experiences for you. We use tech to help make sure that we can do that.
Lastly, what’s your biggest challenge as a brand?
— Sustainability is a challenge for the entire world. We have done little things along the way — we’re always committed to recyclable packaging, and we had a ’recycle and be rewarded’ program way before it became trendy. People shop and choose brands based on their own values and we have a responsibility to continue to build our plan for 2030, and 2050 but also, what can we do every day? And how can we use even less plastic or repurpose the plastic in some way? How can we go further? We challenge ourselves because our customer expects it and we have a commitment — our family founders even wrote that into our mission decades ago.