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February 2014

The Salon of the Future

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At BlueWindowMedia, one of our specialist industry verticals is salon and spa. As a modern agency, we’re keen to stay on the cutting edge of thought leadership and always look into the future.

So, what does the salon of the future look like? Is it a scene where robotic limbs rotate around clients’ heads and perform services? Or is it a tranquil, mood-lit environment where stylists and colorists move gracefully around the salon on hover-boards? And when exactly is this future supposed to happen?

Well let’s start by looking about five years from now. The reality is probably very different from anything like we just described. It’s going to be more of an evolution. And in fact, at first glance you may not notice much difference from what we see today. The real change is going to be behind the scenes and how we communicate with the customer, both in and out of the salon. Because, let’s face it, the most powerful, super important, center of the salon universe, is the stylist and that’s not going to change. Yes, there’ll be a technological revolution of sorts, but it will be subtle and rather than taking over the salon, it will be an aid to the stylist-client relationship and a tool for the business. The real change will come from the customer’s perception. Few salons currently engage their customer as they should, but the salon of the future will make that much, much easier to achieve.

One thing we know for sure is that salons that sell product are more profitable. We also know that clients who purchase products are 66% more likely to come back for another service. But as an industry we’re not great at selling, because stylists don’t like doing it, and frankly, why should they? The client-stylist relationship is what drives customer loyalty the most, so we need to find alternative ways to encourage product sales and help the salon run as a business. And we’re not talking about certain group buying sites, where salons receive less money and more headaches. Far from it, because promotions will also evolve and will be an automated part of salon life, leaving the stylist, colorist and other staff to concentrate on the customer’s hair.

Many salons now have computer systems. Some, like Shortcuts Software, provide online booking and marketing features that automatically email and text clients reminders of their appointments. They even have dashboards for the business owner to see exactly how their salon is performing against industry benchmarks, and they can also calculate commissions and manage customer reviews. But the salon of the future will go much, much further.

The biggest change will come from convergence. It’s a term that’s been around for a while and it simply means that multiple systems will become integrated into one. So, computer systems like Shortcuts will talk to Smartphones to display hair tips and promotions; and Smartphones will talk to TV screens so that customers can control what they want to watch from their phone. Some salons already include screens for entertainment in backwash and waiting areas, but this type of technology will rapidly change. In fact, screens will display training out-of-hours for salon staff and during the day they will form an integral part of the salon experience, showing education, entertainment and promotions.

You may not realize it, but computing giant Microsoft has positioned itself right at the center of the changing face of service and retail business. They understand the challenges and the changes that are coming. Their Kinnect technology is a big part of what we can expect in the not too distant future. If you think Kinnect rings a bell, you’d be right – it’s the sensor technology that has become a huge part of the Microsoft X-Box phenomenon. So much so, that Kinnect is the fastest selling consumer electronics device of all time.

The Kinnect technology will also allow salons with retail areas to sense customers reaching for products and display information specific to them. In the same way, stylists and technicians with their hands full will be able to gesture at a screen and show the client the intended result.

The biggest revolution yet may arrive in new pricing. For years now, airlines and hotels have used dynamic pricing that varies according to available inventory and times of the day. Salons will be able to take this a step further and include specific customer information like loyalty when creating a price. With Microsoft’s technology, gender and age recognition can add another layer on to the dynamic pricing to decide between men’s and women’s products and services. That’s smart, relevant and just want tomorrow’s customer will want.

Check-in and check-out have traditionally been more like a border crossing than a smooth customer experience but all that’s about to change. Smartphones will house chips that will tell the computer system that you’ve walked through the door and hey presto, not only are you checked in, but the stylist is alerted and your favorite beverage is waiting for you. Exiting the salon is usually a mixture of tipping, awkward silence about product sales and the rush of footsteps as your client runs for their next appointment. In the salon of the future, a screen next to reception will thank the customer as they approach, read their history and offer an appropriate product, possibly with a discount. Adding this vital sales element at the point-of-sale, when the customer is 40% more likely to purchase than at any other time, will add a completely new revenue stream to salons, increasing customer loyalty and value.

Your sneak peak into some of the technologies and strategies that salons can look forward to in the future could be here sooner than you think. We’ve explored the salon through the creative, business and customer service side, and painted a picture of customer engagement, automatic offers, reviews and a variable pricing system that could revolutionize the industry.

Finally, these changes are not going to happen overnight. Twenty years ago computers were a dirty word in salons but now any serious salon owner seeks to exploit the most from their system. The changes facing the modern salon will emerge as creative business solutions to help drive new and existing business and allow the stylist to concentrate on their client.

Small business should be wary of stormy clouds

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Cloud computing. What is it and why is everyone talking about it? Well, ok, not everyone, but certainly companies that make cloud-based software are constantly making bold statements like “anything else is just old” and “serious business only looks to the cloud”. Well, it’s not that clear cut.

Cloud-based software, for the purposes of this little exercise, is a program (or application) that you access from your browser. So, like Facebook, nothing actually lives on your computer. You don’t get floppy disks (who does these days?) or anything to load the software on. You simply open a browser and log in with your username and password and you have access to it.

Sounds great, right? Well, it does in theory, and if Facebook is what you’re accessing, then it is. But for business-critical systems, we should be a little more wary. And here’s why in one sentence: They don’t always work. 100% uptime, as they call it, or the fact that the software never stops working, is a myth. It doesn’t exist. That might be fine if you want to put some receipts into an expenses program that’s cloud-based. It might annoy you a little if it’s not available for half a day, but you can simply do it later. But if you have customers waiting to check out or make an appointment, that’s lost business unless you have a contingency plan.

So what could go wrong? Well there are essentially two things that could happen, so let’s have a look at both. Firstly, the Internet could go down. We’ve all experienced this and we’re all so connected that it causes anything from mild discomfort to screaming panic, depending on your disposition, and probably your last dramatic Facebook status. But most of us have smartphones and so we can access most things from our phones, without the need for wifi. In fact, if the Internet goes down, and remember this could be for any reason from your cable operator to a faulty router, then cloud-based systems usually let you access them from your phone or iPad, provided cell reception is great where you are.

The other, more worrying problem is that the software itself could ‘go down’. What? But surely that doesn’t happen often? It does and the reason is that depending on what you’re trying to use, it could be operated by a startup wandering through the fields of investor money and trial-and-error business models, or it could be a multi-national conglomerate like Amazon, who are still not infallible when it comes to their servers crashing.

If you’re a salon or spa, you could find yourself with a reception of angry clients who cannot check out, who may not come back or, worse yet, it could be people trying to become clients and not being able to use your online booking. They will go elsewhere.

Startups often create a program when they have a very small team and a good idea. They’re not always thinking about how to deal with tens of thousands of customers with millions of transactions and so, as they grow, the software often struggles. Some very high profile salon and spa systems have encountered so much disruption over the last two years that they’ve lost many customers and have stopped the ability for people to complain on their social media pages.

So, what should you do? Well to start with you need to work out how risk-averse you are. If you’re happy to swing into town, all guns blazin’, and you want all the bells and whistles you can get, then cloud-based systems could be for you. They may have more functionality, but may also be a little slower to operate. Look at the size of the business that’s running them. 20,000 customers does not make them a large business, so be careful. Speak to other users and look for reviews online. Best of all, speak to an independent specialist, like us. We will investigate for you, provide advice and find out the best deal available.

Speed and intuitive design are really important and both cloud-based systems and installed programs will have pros and cons in these areas. Make sure you try before you buy, especially for a business-critical program. What might be right for one business may not be ideal for yours.
None of us really know exactly where cloud-computing will go in the future. Will it completely overrun installed programs and be the only thing available in ten years time? The truth is that we don’t know and the likelihood is that it’ll probably be a mix. You probably won’t be using the same programs and systems in 10 years time, so buy for the next couple of years. Don’t look further than that and make sure that you build the costs into your business plan accordingly.

Cloud computing is here to stay and installed software is also not going away any time soon, so make sure you rise above the marketing propaganda and look at what will serve you best today.