Much has been written lately about the revolution underway in retail. The growth of E-commerce continues to explode, while legacy brands are closing locations and direct-to-consumer brands are setting up physical shops.

These changes amplify an enduring question: “what drives foot traffic into stores?”

The transformation of Target’s beauty department offers a clue.

Target, with its high-low sweet spot, started revamping its beauty department in 2017 to better compete with Sephora and Ulta Beauty. 

Brighter lighting, lower shelves, broader product assortment, wider aisles and “beauty passionate” staff were added to encourage discovery and inspiration. The department’s staff were selected for their interest in the category. But passion does not equate to consultative expertise. 

As market researcher Pamela Danziger wrote in Forbes at the time, “Maybe the Target category experts won’t match the level of personalized service at Ulta or Sephora, but having boots on the ground dedicated to beauty will be a big step ahead of the old self-service model common in mass merchandisers.”

But the evolution of Target’s beauty department was not complete. 

Target recently announced that it’s teaming up with Ulta Beauty. Under this partnership, Ulta Beauty will be building a “shop-in-shop” at select Target locations.

In today’s omnichannel world, both retail brands and consumers will benefit from this partnership in multiple ways. The specialized Ulta Beauty training that Target employees will receive, in particular, could be a significant driver of in-store traffic. 

Why? It stems from the concept of “informed taste.” Taste is esthetic judgment and, in a broader sense, our capacity to select. With training, we can develop sensitivity, educate our tastes and develop informed taste.

That’s what Ulta Beauty’s specialized training does: it trains Target employees not only to be sources of knowledge but also educates them on taste. And in turn, consumers will visit a physical location to access this expertise and informed taste — and experience it in person rather than being mediated by a screen.

Plenty of digital discovery and trial tools exist to enable experimentation with different looks. But sometimes, we want the intimacy of an in-person opinion delivered by a human expert with informed taste.

In spring 2021, Amazon opened Amazon Salon, a hair care and styling salon, in London. This concept salon trials new technology, including augmented reality assistant apps for haircuts. 

After visiting the Amazon Salon in London, New Yorker writer Anna Russell came clean to her long-term hairstylist. His response underscores the value of informed taste: “‘I guess the selling point is the technology. But I’ve got eyes. I can suggest colors to clients. When clients come to me, they trust my taste more than what the screen would say.’”

Archer Malmo’s client Palm Beach Tan drives new customers and members into its salons with the customized tanning advice that only the brand’s highly-trained Tanning Experts can offer. Their specialized training is an operational investment, but it pays dividends — and drives new and returning foot traffic.

As retail’s revolution continues, it’s imperative to keep evolving solutions that crack the driving-traffic code.