Aishwarya Ramesh
Road To Recovery

Will customers trust ‘at-home’ salons in a post-COVID world?

As economies unlock, will consumers step out into salons or trust technicians who offer to bring the salon home to them?

Unkempt eyebrows, overgrown hair, unwaxed legs… The lockdown has resulted in complete abandonment of grooming for some, if not all, people.

In a pre-COVID world, many people relied on salons, either branded chains or local parlours, for their grooming needs. While this may have been a pricey process, one can’t deny that it is definitely less time-consuming than attempting to groom oneself at home.

And then the Coronavirus gate-crashed our lives, and changed every aspect of it, especially one that involved leaving our homes. The pandemic has created a unique set of challenges for companies that offer ‘at-home’ salon solutions.

These include the likes of Urban Company, Housejoy, and Enrich Salon. They all offer the option of a beautician coming to your home to carry out various salon procedures. But, can a customer trust ‘at-home’ salon sessions now?

According to Rahul Deorah, VP marketing at Urban Company, customer sentiment has changed drastically in the past few months. Urban Company’s USP has been safe and hygienic services. Deorah feels it’s more important now than ever to be cautious.

Rahul Deorah
Rahul Deorah

He reveals that his company’s professionals are equipped with over one million Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, which are used before every session. He says that when the lockdown was eased, the company saw a rise in demand, and had to put nearly 1.2 lakh customers on the waiting list, mostly for house repair and grooming services.

A glimpse of contactless waxing
A glimpse of contactless waxing

Deorah acknowledges that the customers might be paranoid now. “You can’t change consumer intent if they feel afraid to let a person into their homes. But the most we can do is assure them that our services are safe. That’s why we’re offering contactless services, sanitisation of work spaces, and equipment used.” Urban Company was launched in 2014 by founders Abhiraj Bhal, Varun Khaitan, and Raghav Chandra. The company has operations in various cities including Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Noida, Faridabad, Gurugram, and Ghaziabad.

Urban Company's at-home grooming services
Urban Company's at-home grooming services

Arpan Biswas, vice president of marketing at Housejoy (which was also founded in 2014), says that the technicians were not allowed to go out and work because their services were not classified as an ‘essential’ one. However, that changed once the lockdown was lifted. He mentions that the demand was in two main categories – technicians who specialise in beauty, and house repair.

Housejoy is an online on-demand service provider that caters to all home needs ranging from construction to maintenance and additionally offers beauty and grooming services too. It is headquartered in Bangalore and offers services in Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Pune, Coimbatore, Vijayavada, Surat, Baroda, and Ahmedabad.

Arpan Biswas
Arpan Biswas

Despite an overall slow consumer sentiment, Housejoy is seeing an increase in demand right now, says Biswas, adding that those who continue to work from home want to look ‘groomed’ while attending video meetings, and Zoom calls.

Though DIY grooming solutions could be a potential source of competition for the company, it is using it as a means of engagement, instead. Biswas admits that DIY videos yield great results when it comes to engaging with customers on social media platforms and has worked well for Housejoy in the past.

“What this does is that it helps you establish top of the mind recall for customers because in this case, you’re not just thinking about your business, you’re thinking about what really helps the customer,” says Biswas.

He says that his company is also taking steps, like washing hands, providing protective equipment, and cleaning of work spaces (the area they work in, inside the customers homes.) “We’ve actually been seeing immense amount of demand because of the lockdown, and we have not had to increase marketing spends after the lockdown has lifted.”

Biswas briefly references the other services that Housejoy offers, stressing that services, like plumbing, electrical repairs, etc., require expertise, as well as experience. “You can’t do it yourself at home with a video. In such cases, calling a technician home is advisable,” he points out.

It's not just Housejoy that has embraced DIY solutions. Enrich Salon has taken a similar route. Vikram Bhatt, director, Enrich Salon, acknowledged that people would turn to DIY grooming solutions when salons were shut. The salon chain offered tips and tricks for self-grooming through its live social media sessions, webinars, and also helped address customer queries.

Vikram Bhatt
Vikram Bhatt

Enrich Salon was founded in 1997, and has branches in every major city in India. It has always provided ‘at-home’ services for women. And, considering the current situation, Bhatt agrees that there can be a higher preference for home services. Enrich Salon now wants to begin services for men, as well as kids.

Bhatt hopes that people will return to salons for grooming services as long as the safety measures are in place. “Haircut, hair colour, and beard care (for men), and threading, waxing, haircut, and facial (for women) are still the top services in demand. So, the habits have not changed much. We sense the beauty and wellness market could be more resilient than other non-essential consumer markets,” he says.

When it comes to Zoom calls, Bhatt emphasises that though work from home is becoming the ‘new normal’, people still want to present ourselves the same way virtually as they used to for ‘in-person’ meetings. “Also, with the personality and body language not at full play, given the face is more in focus, people are, in fact, more conscious of their face and hair grooming.”

Ruchira Jain, a veteran consumer behaviour expert (former VP consumer insights, Swiggy), explains that grooming has been adopted as an ‘essential’ need, rather than a narcissistic indulgence that was previously only reserved for ‘special occasions’.

Ruchira Jain
Ruchira Jain

“… Grooming for Zoom calls has a lot of focus on camera angles, lighting and background, but equally about my face, hair and self-confidence. The inner-directed need of taking care of myself, pampering, and self-indulgence is where the salon and beauty services come into play, and this is hard to do with DIY kits beyond a point. It's about the ambiance, about expertise, and most importantly, about someone else taking care of you,” she explains.

Jain is now the CEO of Elevate Insights, which partnered with Coral Research for a quick poll of women across age groups, and cross-sections of Indian cities to understand the current sentiment. One of the findings of the survey was that very few women had actually visited a salon since the lockdown eased, even though they expressed a desire to avail these services when the lockdown was still in place.

“They all talked about availing the service ‘in the near future’, with most resisting the urge as of now. It seems that most are being cautious, and will wait longer for COVID cases to fall back drastically before they feel comfortable, despite all the precautionary measures salons may take,” Jain explained.

Another finding of this study was that most consumers would rather visit a salon, than call a professional service to their homes. Inviting someone into their homes means exposing the entire family to an outsider, which seemed like a bigger risk than just stepping out themselves. They also most missed the pampering of a salon, and felt that it’s hard to recreate that experience at home, even with a professional service.

Jain anticipates a huge potential for DIY solutions... She talks about the phenomenon of the lipstick effect (small-scale self-indulgences) that was seen in earlier economic slowdowns. “However, given the need for social distancing that is likely to continue till 2021, grooming products are likely to be the focus, more so than makeup products. In June (‘Unlock’ Phase 1), for example, both Amazon and Myntra have seen orders for trimmers shoot up, apart from sanitisers and immunity-boosting products,” she concludes.

Gulbahar Taurani, vice president - personal health, Philips Indian Subcontinent, says that because of the lockdown, parlours, salons, and even ‘at-home’ grooming section came to a halt. This led to both male and female consumers focusing on DIY grooming tools.

“Social media is replete with people cutting their own hair, trimming their beards, doing experimentation with their hair styles, as well as going for hair removal methods that can be done by themselves without the risk of stepping out, thus driving the ‘self-reliant’ movement. This has also led to a surge in the demand for all DIY products in the grooming space,” he explains.

Gulbahar Taurani
Gulbahar Taurani

Taurani admits that it is yet to be seen how this behaviour manifests itself once restrictions on stepping out are lifted. "At the moment, given the continuing need for social distancing, it seems like the DIY culture is here to stay,” he says.

Taurani emphasises on the fact that the biggest marketing challenge that this sector faced has been about the openness to talk about hair removal. Female consumers are mostly dependent on traditional methods, or salon professionals, for hair removal advice, which might not be the best, or the most reliable source of information.

Philips epilator in use
Philips epilator in use

He says that electric epilators is a very under-penetrated category in India, largely owing to cheap and easy availability of waxing services, and also several misconceptions around electrical epilation not being good for skin.

“The biggest marketing challenge for us, and other players in this category, is to educate the consumers to dispel these myths, and ensure adoption of new age tools for their hair removal needs,” he concludes.