How Lush brings a hand-crafted approach to digital transformation

The cosmetics brand relies on physical, tactile marketing — but that's not stopping it embracing the power of digital.
21 August 2020

Lush was founded in 1995. Source: Lush

  • The handmade cosmetic firm seeks to balance adopting technological advancement while retaining its handmade idealogy
  • TechHQ interviews Adam Goswell of Lush’s R&D Tech to learn about its burst of innovation 

UK-based cosmetics firm Lush has long relied on enchanting passers-by on the street with the fragrant smells of its handmade soaps, infamous colorful bath bombs, cosmetics and hair products. It’s a pretty unique, simple, and authentic form of marketing that appeals directly to consumers’ senses. 

Lush sells these goods ‘naked’, with minimal, environmentally-friendly packaging. Ethical and sustainable values are sewn into its branding; products are sold without figure-hugging plastics or packaging to trap the aroma of products, while information such as name, prices, ingredients is usually handwritten on chalkboard-style signs. 

While this simple, organic, and hand-crafted authenticity is key to the appeal of the products on its shelves, behind the scenes, Lush has pivoted to embrace emerging technology to strengthen its operations, and that has proven vital for the brand’s survival in 2020. Leading technology research and development at Lush, Adam Goswell joined TechHQ to explore the brand’s unique approach to digitalization, and how it adapted in recent months when it could no longer rely on tangible, sense-based marketing to sell its wares in-store. 

Adam Goswell. Source: Lush

Seeking a balance 

Like most other retailers, business-as-usual for Lush was quickly turned on its head amid the pandemic. At one point, the cosmetics firm saw most of its shops closed globally. But customers quickly flocked online, and the onus was suddenly on managing a surge in e-commerce and a demand that Goswell described as akin to Black Friday or Christmas sales. 

The surge meant scaling up warehouse space, operations, and delivery but, in staying true to its brand, Lush faced unique challenges: “Because we’re a handmade company, the warehouses we have rely on very manual processes,” Goswell explained. “In our factories around the world, we make our products mostly by hand.

“We could quite easily put machinery in there and automation into it for a bigger scale. But we don’t want to lose what Lush was born out of, with that kind of handmade element. We could bring in a lot of technology, but it would take away from our brand and message.”

Instead of automating processes, the focus instead was on giving employees tools to make their work more efficient, in all areas of the business. Facing a surge in customer service requests, Lush took a ‘no chatbot’ approach, instead expanding its live chat service with human operators. Goswell explained that while efficiency would undoubtebly been advanced by chatbots, Lush wanted its actual staff to provide all customers with their “amazing experience and know-how.”

Handmade in a digital-first era

While Lush largely relies on physical, in-store experiences, the company has been exploring how it can make it can digitalize its sensory approach to marketing since 2018, when it launched its Lush Lens AR tool at Tokyo’s fashion capital Harajuku — an initative aimed to help reduce waste while enhancing customer experiences in-store. “We opened our kind of vision to the future of retail, which at that time around was like browsing products in a completely signage and label-free store.”

In these gallery-like stores, customers could use the Lush Lens app to scan products with their camera and get product information in their languages, in addition to other essential details such as ingredients of products, customer reviews, a guide on how to use the product, and more. Of course, with stores now opening up, Lush Lens is proving itself a valuable tool in enabling contactless in-store shopping: “Customers can find out a lot more about the product by not having to touch it, and only touch their own mobile phone,” Goswell said.

Going forward, the AR-powered technology will be key to reducing the need for labels, while displaying information in a way that is “language free” — aims that feed into the brand’s drive for sustainability and accessibility. 

Asked about other projects being cooked up in Lush Labs, Goswell pointed to the firm’s famous boycott of advertising with social media giants, and how this has pushed them to explore the creation of their own platform for social engagement: “We are building a forum-style community where we’re going to try and move our communities that were on Instagram or Facebook talking to us to our own platform,”  he explained, “[…] to try and bring those people into what we believe would be a safer place and more ethical place than how Facebook and Instagram are going about at the moment.”

The Lush social network will include the frills and thrills of popular social media platforms, Goswell told TechHQ: “We can create fun experiences using the camera, using AR, machine learning, and things like that, rather than relying on platforms like Instagram where we don’t control what goes on.”

Goswell stated: “There’s a lot of focus from a marketing point of view and also a tech point of view to try and move our reliance away from those social media platforms.”

In short, Lush continues to thrive on a hand-crafted approach to its business and products. By embracing new technology, the company isn’t distancing itself from that, it’s instead enabling it to meet its core values better than ever before, at a time where solid brand values matter more than ever before.