Retail Spa of Tomorrow


Retail and spas have never been the best of bedfellows.

Traditionally, hotel spas have been really, really bad at retailing. Why? One simple explanation is…

Retail is Science – Spa is Art

I mean, just look at the retail displays in our spas. We try to create masterpieces! Because, as spa people, the aesthetic is important. For we are artists at heart. We have made the shelves look like a modern-day work of art. They’re beautiful. Beautiful is great for attracting attention. But nobody wants to ruin a beautiful piece of art. As a result, nobody dares take a product off your shelves – lest they ruin your masterpiece. #Retailfail!

But take a closer look at the retail shelves of a major department store or a pharmacy or even a supermarket. The shelves in these businesses tell a very different story. Sure, there is some clever merchandising around it, but the shelves themselves are usually stocked high and full. No space is wasted. On these shelves, there can be no doubt, retail is precise and exacting science.

And then we have the human side. Talk to most spa therapists or even spa managers and they will tell you that selling retail products to guests is not what they do. The role of the spa team is to provide amazing, life-changing spa experiences. Not to move merchandise. What they are missing, of course, is that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. We’re artists, don’t forget.


Services businesses, like spas, are hard to scale. Relatively speaking, selling product is easy to scale. So, from a strict numbers perspective, retail is a better business to be in. Today there is a lot of talk that bricks and mortar retail is dead. However, as Mark Twain famously said… “the report of my death was an exaggeration. “. Walking in to a physical store and buying retail products may not be the way of the future but for now, it is still the way most people, in most parts of the world, buy most of their retail products.

Fantastic Footfall

What is interesting to me is that hotels and shopping malls share a key characteristic – a regular supply of footfall. In fact, it could be argued that hotels actually offer a better type of footfall than shopping malls do because the hotel has new guests every day. In a city hotel, the guest turnover could be as high as 70% plus each day. Though admittedly, in a resort property, where guests will stay longer, it will be less. Still, shopping malls, for the most part, have the same shoppers coming back again and again.

The Retail Spa of tomorrow redefines the spa as a retail space first and a spa space second.

Retail First

Some retail stores in some shopping malls may have already given us a glimpse of what the Retail Spa of the future might look like. When you walk in to most skincare stores, what do you see? Just retail. It simply looks like a normal retail store. But some smart skincare brands are also adding spa services to their retail offering. This makes perfect sense. Customers often like to try skincare before they buy. A small Tester sample is good, but for sure you will be more committed to the skincare if you have a quality massage or facial treatment using that same product. It is not so much of a brand extension as it is a way to add a new experiential element to what is otherwise just another product purchase.  But if you walked in off the concourse, you would most likely never know they had treatment rooms as part of the store. It is Retail First!

The same concept, to my mind, fits perfectly in a hotel environment. Think of your spa as a retail store, with some treatment rooms out the back. Customers are coming in primarily to shop. If they have time, they can stay for treatment. A specific strategy that could work in this new Retail Spa is packaging the treatment with the retail sale. Think about that for a second. We are flipping the logic here. Spas sell treatments first, then add in some retail products to create the package. The primary driver of the purchase in this case, however, is the treatment. But in the Retail Spa, we want to make the product sale the primary driver. The treatment is the add-on. Remember, Retail First!

Free Services

Adding a treatment or a service to a retail sale is simply acknowledging consumer motivation and behaviour. The product will live on long after the treatment is over. So, it makes sense to build your sale around the product, not the treatment. Cosmetic brands do this very well. Walk past any makeup counter in a major department store and you will see ladies sitting on a stool having their make-up applied. Buy some product, and we will apply it for you. We will give you the service of the make-up artist for FREE! All you need do is buy some product.

The smart brands sometimes throw in a Glamour Photo Shoot with the deal as well. Brilliant idea. Buy some product, they’ll give you a free makeover and then give you a free Glamour Photo to capture the moment. Of course, by free what they really mean is they have factored the price of these elements into to the cost of the product, either directly with this specific package or indirectly via their marketing budget.

Grab Land and Build a Brand

Retail to me is fascinating because it is a cut-throat business. Skincare brands that sell in retail outlets, especially the big department stores, live and die by Revenue Per Square Foot (RPSF). No doubt these stores like to have certain marque brands, but at the end of the day, if your product does not sell, you will be relegated to a poor location, away from the main footfall. Prime retail space is expensive. If hotel spas took this same approach their retail space, or better still, their entire spa, things would look a lot different.

Driving retail sales is not just simply about generating more revenue. Retail can play a big part in helping to build the brand of the spa and the hotel. For most people, the hotel and spa experience ends when they walk out the door. But the retail goes home with them. The more your brand is in my life, the more loyal I become. Having your guest buy quality spa retail to take home can make a big difference to their brand loyalty.

Help Me to Help You

And for all those spas who are having trouble getting their therapist or even their receptionists to sell retail, consider this perspective.

You can’t sell anyone retail. You can only help them buy.

I believe that nobody in the world, no matter how good a salesperson they are, can make me buy a product. All they can do is help me buy. It is an important distinction. The ultimate decision is mine. I have seen lots of retail training materials that would say differently, but I believe these theories are selling the consumer short. And the days of the ignorant consumer are long gone.

The great news for spas is the idea of helping people buy fits right into our wheelhouse. As we identified earlier, the motivation of our spa team is to help people. To show them a new and better way of being. So, if you can convince your spa team that the focus is not selling, but on helping people buy, I can guarantee your retail sales will increase, along with your brand awareness and loyalty.