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Two weeks ago, Nyx added its eleventh US store since October 2015, in the Kings Plaza Shopping Center in Brooklyn. Excited shoppers started lining up at 5 a.m. to get a glimpse of the new digs and of Instagram beauty royalty Patrick Starr and Jackie Aina, who were there for the ribbon cutting and a meet-and-greet later in the day. One of the first customers in line, Shemeka, 28, told Racked she’s been using Nyx for years. "I started out with their jumbo pencil, now [I use] their matte lipsticks. I bought it at the beauty supply store before this. I’ve grown up using this brand."
Before the stores existed, you could definitely purchase Nyx in the real world (or on its website), but with limitations. The makeup is available at beauty supply stores, Target, Ulta, and drugstores like CVS, but only a fraction of the brand’s 2,000 current products – over 700 of which are lipsticks – are available to shop IRL. A quick search reveals that only 172 products are available online at Target, 1,000 at Ulta, and 67 at CVS, though these may not reflect the multiple shades that are available. Between the highly edited product assortments at third party retailers and the potential for shopper overload with a product positioned in a sea of other beauty brands on shelves, it’s not surprising that the brand wanted to launch brick and mortar stores to really hone its message.
As we pointed out in our comprehensive look at the way we buy beauty now, beauty shoppers want value, and they want to play with products and try before they buy. This is one of the goals of Nyx for its stores, since you can’t pop open a matte liquid lipstick in the drugstore or Target to see if the color suits you. However, Nyx is taking it to a level that goes beyond mere Sephorization, even though at first glance the sleek, black shops definitely seem inspired by the beauty giant. The company added a beauty influencer and Instagram component into the IRL shopping mix, which is a key part of the brand’s DNA and therefore its stores.
Nyx founder Toni Ko started the brand when she was 25, first launching the (at the time) $1.99 Jumbo Eye Pencil, a product concept that is now ubiquitous across makeup brands. Ko told Cosmopolitan last year, "The first year, I did $2 million in wholesale by myself." Ko eventually sold the brand to L’Oreal Paris for a rumored $500 million in 2014.
In the beginning, Ko took her wares to various trade shows, and this became a defining feature of Nyx’s identity, according to Kelly Coller, the vice president of retail marketing at Nyx. "How we developed our brand in the beginning was going to beauty stores and trade shows and really partnering with the young makeup artists who were very excited to fill their train cases and who were looking for products with high pigment, long wear, and were in every color and every shade to allow them to really fulfill their mission in artistry," Coller said.
Trade shows like IMATS and BeautyCon soon drew a new generation of makeup artists, the so-called YouTube and Instagram "gurus" who mostly transform themselves rather than a roster of clients, then post the results on social media. Nyx has been an early adopter of social media and collaborated with these influencers right away, frequently reposting images of them on its own feed. According to Coller, Nyx’s Instagram following increased from 2.5 million to over seven million in just the past year. (For comparison, L’Oreal, Nyx’s parent company, has 2.5 million Instagram followers on its makeup Instagram.)
According to data released last week in a study by Facebook (which owns Instagram), "beauty experts on social media" were the number one source that influences a beauty purchase; 52% of beauty shoppers implicitly trust their gurus, so Nyx is savvy to utilize them this way. Patrick Starr, Nicole Guerriero, Iluvsarahii, Ciaoobellaxo, Kristen Leanne, Makeup Shayla, and Samantha Ravndahl have all worked with the brand.
These influencers' digital footprints are all over the stores, and not just in a superficial way. At the makeup try-on stations, there are iPads featuring different simple (no more than four steps) makeup tutorials filmed by influencers with a variety of skin tones. The products featured in the tutorials are prominently displayed, encouraging shoppers to try to recreate the look right there in the store. Traditional salespeople are there, but they are meant to be secondary to the DIY process.
"Our point of view is enabling people to become makeup artists for themselves, which is also why our beauty bar is set up differently. It's a DIY approach. We know that’s how people are learning to do their makeup, so we're giving them exactly how they already learn," says Coller. "Our advisors are there to assist, add pro tricks, and help them achieve the look, but it starts with getting them comfortable."
One of the best digital features in the store is a station that allows you to scan a product and then shows you the shade on a variety of skin tones, thanks to user-generated content that's been uploaded. There's also a continuously scrolling feed on screens in the window which feature a monthly theme, such as lips or eyes. Nyx's team chooses users who add a specific hashtag and then feature it in store feeds as appropriate.
There are plenty of non-digital things in store to play with, too. Some stores feature an eye bar which allows you to customize your own eye palette. Nyx stores also carry the full range of the brand's brushes and beauty tools. Mostly though, it's a one-stop shop for the brand's uber affordable products, like its cult favorite Soft Matte Lip Cream. At only $6 a pop, Nyx is counting on shoppers to purchase multiples. The brand has always provided the same sort of color selection and innovation that a brand like MAC or Urban Decay does, at a fraction of the price.
Coller was coy about how many new stores are opening, but based on the pace the first 11 debuted, it seems likely many more will follow. Real estate site The Real Deal reported that Nyx had just signed its first Manhattan lease for a store in the Union Square area, though Coller would not confirm. It will be in close proximity to two other sleek, black cosmetics stores, MAC and Sephora. (Obviously Union Square isn't a mall, but retail is so concentrated in this area that if you put a roof over it, it very well could be.) A Queens location is also reportedly opening in July. You can see a full list of stores, most of which are in California and the New York tristate area, here.
So, is cheap, fun lipstick going to bring people to their local malls again? Nyx is definitely banking on it.