My first Glossier experience

This post has been in my drafts for awhile… Last month, I visited New York and took a trip to the Glossier showroom, the first (out of two, now) Glossier store in the world! I had never purchased any Glossier products before, and I was not super familiar with their product line, so this was a very new experience for me.

The showroom is located in the penthouse of a building that is actually pretty close to RC. When I arrived, there was a line of about 10-ish people waiting to get in. It was somewhat deterring, but the woman in front of me told me that the line moved quickly. We were probably waiting for less than 5 minutes, and then we got ushered into an elevator and went up to the showroom together.

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The place was fairly crowded and smelled like roses. There was music playing. The interior decoration was spot on, and very on-brand, like the graphic design of the website in real life. Even though the place was crowded, the product layout made it pretty easy to try things on.

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Lots of products laid out (and multiples of many products), with adequate mirror space and sink space (not pictured) for trying on skincare.

I ended up purchasing the one item I went with the intention of trying, the Boy Brow. The checkout process is similar to the one at MAC, if I recall correctly (it’s been a long time since I’ve purchased something at a MAC store), where you go to the register and tell them what you’d like to purchase. I was surprised because I was told to wait a bit while my “purchase was being prepared,” even though I only bought one thing. But when I received my bag shortly afterwards, I found that my Boy Brow was packaged nicely in a pink makeup bag, along with a couple of samples and Glossier stickers, and I was no longer disturbed/put off by the fact that my purchase needed to be prepared.

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Beautiful (and recognizable) packaging. While walking outside afterwards, we heard someone comment, “I’ve been seeing a lot of Glossier bags!”

I feel that the most exciting part of the whole experience for me was not the actual experience of being in the store, but realizing that I had been “marketed to.” Even though I had previously read about the company and its founder (h/t Sonia ☺️) and watched videos of people applying and reviewing Glossier products, I didn’t really get the brand. But after visiting the showroom and making a purchase, I totally understood and bought into the brand’s appeal.

Unlike most other makeup companies which either seem to brand themselves as aspirational (e.g., Fenty Beauty, luxury beauty brands), more artistic (e.g., Kat Von D, MAC), or role-specific (e.g., Bobbi Brown for the professional woman, Huda Beauty for the Instagram baddie), Glossier advertises its products as bringing out the real you, but enhanced and cooler. Cool is the one word that always stays cool (I forget where I read this). Also, since Glossier is a makeup and skincare brand, their message is not only more believable, but they can also get consumers to buy in to the entire ecosystem, which is genius. The only makeup brand that I can think of that is as cool as Glossier is Pat McGrath’s line, but it’s more artistry-focused and isn’t geared towards everyday wear.

For me, someone who pretty much wears a full face of makeup whenever they wear makeup and is relatively high maintenance (people have commented on how frequently I wash my makeup brushes), the idea of becoming a “Glossier girl” was enticing. Since I’ll be traveling this summer and mostly living out of my suitcase, I knew that I didn’t want to pack a lot of brushes, and especially not my makeup sponge. If I embraced the your-beauty-but-slightly-enhanced Glossier look, then I wouldn’t have to pack any makeup brushes.

This idea was so compelling to me that I almost immediately changed my daily makeup routine, and honestly I don’t see myself changing it back even after the summer. I think the fact that the brand (which I only purchased one product from!) already made such an impact on my mindset and daily life goes to show how powerful—and craved—its message is. Glossier is definitely doing a lot of things right.

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The elevator everyone enters from. And notice the employee on the left wearing the cute pink jumpsuit that is a uniform option.
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People trying out skincare. Note the large promotional image, several of which are scattered throughout the store. This one was probably advertising their new Lidstar eyeshadow.
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Waiting/sitting area.

My first Amazon Books store experience

This past weekend, I visited the Amazon Books store on 34th Street in NYC. According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the 13 Amazon Books stores in existence!

First, let me show you some of the pictures I took of the store, and then I’ll tell you why I dislike the entire concept of the store (and why I’ll never go there to buy books). 🙂 Btw, hope the scroll-down gallery is fine! The slideshow view doesn’t seem to display long captions.

 

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A screenshot of a Yelp review for the Stumptown inside the store (which is definitely a plus for Stumptown lovers like Michael!). “Slightly dystopian vibes” is definitely a phrase I would use to describe the store!
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The storefront. I saw a bunch of people taking this picture as I drank my chai latte inside the street-facing window of Stumptown.
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A sign you see when you walk into the store. This was kind of confusing to me! I’ll get back to the pricing in a later picture.
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One of the ways the Amazon Books store is different from many other bookstores: it sells more non-bookstore-type merchandise. For instance, coffee and juicing machines, and blenders, to go along with books on the same topic…
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…and fitness accessories to go along with fitness books. One thing to notice though (and this continues in other ways throughout the store) is the weird specificity of the merchandise displays. I know other stores do New Year’s themed marketing in stores, but this felt weirdly more intrusive, probably largely in part due to the context of the rest of the store.
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Along with those non-book products, they also sell Amazon devices, including Amazon Fire TV and Echo Dot (next pic). From the Amazon Books site: “For customers who aren’t Prime members, Amazon devices are the same price as from Amazon.com; books and other items are sold at list price.” As a side note, I’ve heard that they’ve also begun selling e.g., the Amazon Echo at Whole Foods, but I didn’t see any when I last visited a Whole Foods in Charlotte last month.
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For some reason, this kind of stuff really bothers me. I get that you’re primarily an online retailer, but that doesn’t mean you have to bring web practices/jargon/etc. to the physical world! Let me know if this bothers you too and we can have a conversation shitting on it.
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A picture to help you get a sense of the store’s layout. To describe it in more detail, Stumptown is on the left when you first walk in, and takes up the entire left third-ish of the store. Random electronics (like the various drink makers) are directly in front of the entrance, other electronics are in the middle left of the store, checkout is on the middle right, and everything else is books.
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I guess this is one of the reasons someone might choose to go to the Amazon Books store instead of another one? If you primarily base your purchases off of online reviews (which, yeah, I do too), then this is probably supposed to be a differentiating feature. But I’ll go into detail after the photos about why this kind of thing actually has the opposite effect on me.
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More of the same.
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This is another example of the weird specificity. I’m guessing this is their attempt at physicalizing targeted marketing, but it really doesn’t do it for me. Like, maybe? But no. And it makes me feel weird.
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Using not-Amazon reviews, but still an “online”-type metric for one of the displays! (I notice myself getting saltier and saltier as I write these captions.)
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Similar to the last picture, but this shelf was curated just using Goodreads.
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A sad (in the context of everything else) attempt at humanizing the store. Cute, but still too little, too late.
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An attempt at physicalizing Amazon’s recommendation system. It kind of works (?) because I’m guessing the books on the left are widely read. But this still doesn’t make me want to come here.
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Similar to the last picture, an attempt at physicalizing the “sort by top sellers in this category” online feature.
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The pricing in this store was really strange. If you’ll notice in the previous images, the labels under all the books didn’t have prices. Maybe I’m missing something, but the only ways to check the prices were to either scan the barcode on the label in your Amazon app (quite tedious!), or to scan the book in this price scanner (also tedious, because there were only a few of these in the store). As you can see on the screen, if you’re a Prime member, you get a better deal on the books. This would be the same price you would pay if you were to buy the book on Amazon.com. One small confusion I have about this is: if you don’t have Amazon Prime, why would you get the book in stores (if it’s not urgent)? I get that Amazon’s probably trying to convince a different demographic to try out Amazon Prime with this scheme, but people who want to resist can still resist at a pretty low cost (for instance, they could just buy the book on Amazon.com without Prime shipping instead).
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You can checkout with your Amazon app. I feel like this is a novelty more than anything else – I can’t imagine actually repeatedly checking out this way and being happy about it. Probably (hopefully) a temporary solution…
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…but you can also pay with a credit card linked to your Prime account, so not sure why the troublesome QR code method is advertised/utilized at all. Maybe for the small number of people who don’t have all their credit cards with them, or share a joint Prime account, but even then, I don’t understand why the QR code method was advertised more prominently.
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This is an image of a small sign on the checkout counter of Stumptown. I wonder who fills out these surveys… Surprised that they didn’t include a QR code linking to the url! 😏
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Last photo: the arch separating the coffee shop from the bookstore. The design is still cohesive across the boundary. In general, the store gave me major airport bookstore (e.g., Hudson Booksellers) vibes, but with a bit less wood and more white. But still depersonalized af.

 

Now…onto why I don’t like the store and could never see myself choosing it over any (reasonably) normal bookstore – barring fundamental changes.

Let’s think about buying books and visiting bookstores. For me, those two are actually very different things. If I’m buying a physical book (not an e-book), there are only a few different scenarios. Either a) it’s a textbook I need for school, in which case I would go to my university bookstore which is conveniently located and gives us a 30% discount on textbooks, b) it’s a book that I want a physical copy of (like if I want to gift a book, or if I want a book for reference or to add to my physical collection that I can lend to people), in which case I would just order it online, or c) I’ve received a gift card to a local bookstore (very rare). For the last point, I should also mention that it looks like there is no Amazon Books-specific gift card, you could just use your Amazon account, which could be loaded with an Amazon.com gift card, to pay, or use a physical Amazon.com gift card. (I could be mistaken about this.)

I don’t think there’s ever been a case where I’ve urgently needed to buy a physical book other than for school, but if I did, their feature that allows you to search product availability in your local store would certainly be helpful (and I’ll admit, is more convenient than calling in to ask the same thing from a smaller bookstore). Otherwise, I would just buy the e-book, go without it for a few days, or read the summary online. 😅

The Amazon Books website describes itself:

As a physical extension of Amazon.com, Amazon Books integrates the benefits of offline and online shopping to help you find books and devices you’ll love. We select books based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments. We place books face-out on the shelves, so each can communicate its own essence. Under each book is a review card with the Amazon.com customer rating and a review. Most have been rated 4 stars or above and many are award winners.

They say all of that as if they’re good things. What I appreciate about other bookstores is the curation, the ambience, the spontaneity! I want to have the experience of discovering a new read, or to just be able to sit down and take in the bookstore environment (similar to what I look for in a coffee shop). When I lived in the Mission in San Francisco, I loved (and cherished!) passing by Adobe Books and Alley Cat and checking out the discounted selection of used books in front of the store.

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Even though you couldn’t replicate that kind of experience with a store selling new books, there overall is a sense of wonder and calmness that I look for in a bookstore that just cannot be replaced by Amazon Books’s curation by the online masses and attempts at translating their targeted marketing strategies into the physical world. Furthermore, the aspects that are supposed to be selling points of the store make me feel uncomfortable. The store is “personalized,” yet very depersonalized at the same time, and seems to be quite explicitly focused on getting me to buy buy buy, which is annoying enough to resist online, and almost antithetical to what I look for in other bookstores.

PSA: stores/corporations/etc. do not act in your best interests – they act in theirs! Sometimes the two are aligned – in which case, great! But that is very much not true for me and this Amazon Books store.

Overall, the only reasons I see for me returning to this store would be to either get some Stumptown (most likely), or maybe to try out one of the Amazon electronics (very unlikely). I think it’s worth checking the store out once if you’re interested in this kind of thing, but mainly, writing this blog post really made me realize that I really should support my local bookstores, lest Amazon Books stores become the new norm.

My first Reformation experience

I visited the Reformation store in SF (on Valencia) before my trip to Europe to buy some 80/90 degree-weather appropriate clothing. It was Reformation’s 4th brick-and-mortar store, out of the 6 stores now in existence.

I was really confused when I walked into the store; I had walked past it multiple times but this was my first time actually entering. There were several other customers in the store, and their behavior was abnormal in a way that I couldn’t pinpoint. I am terrible at asking for help from customer service reps that aren’t in-your-face friendly, so I just started browsing the racks and pulled a dress off to try on.

A sales associate quickly came over and semi-explained the system to me: she’d create a virtual dressing room, and I should notify her to add anything to the room. She asked for my name and added that dress to the room after verifying what size I wanted, and then put the dress back on the rack and walked away. I was a bit confused at this point, and thought, “I have to get her every time I see something I like?!” so I continued browsing without adding anything else to my virtual dressing room.

At this point I was feeling pretty deflated, but decided to see what the touch screen monitors (I think there are two in the sales room) were about, since the people occupying them had left. As I played around with one, I became excited because it (for the most part) integrated the conveniences of online shopping, like filtering by in-store size availability, seeing the items on sale, and viewing all the colors of a particular item, with the convenience of being able to try things on in stores (and not having to do the returns switcheroo). From there, I added several things to my virtual fitting room, clicked a button saying I was ready to try them on, and walked towards the dressing rooms.

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It was pretty magical when I went to get a fitting room, until I thought about it and figured out the source of the magic. Here’s what went down: a sales associate asked for my name and then went away somewhere, and then told me that my room was ready shortly after. I was confused because I didn’t see her go into the dressing room at all! But when I went in, everything I had requested was in a little closet inside. Magic!

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I felt like a kid in a candy store – they even had several different lighting options and a plug you could use to play music from your phone. I started trying things on, still mesmerized by how it all happened, when someone opened and (rapidly) closed the  back of the closet while I was changing. Notice the seam at the back of the closet. The source of the magic – a back room and a back door – had been revealed, and real life was more disappointing than whatever my imagination had conjured.

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There’s a touch screen in the dressing room, similar to the one in the sales room but smaller, where you can also add new items and get new sizes, which is handy!

The checkout procedure is pretty typical of stores trying to imitate the Apple experience, where an associate just rings you up on their phone and can email you the receipt. I also chuckled internally when I noticed that they offer Boxed Water to customers.

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Overall, I liked the experience after I started using the touch screen, and I see where Reformation is trying to go with the store. I do have several ideas about how the UX could be improved, but I was mainly only interested in talking about my experience in this post.