Big name barbershops

As global brands cut into the $211 billion global hair care market, local businesses fight back.

In April 2021, Amazon opened a hair salon in London. The e-commerce giant’s surprise move into hair services is part of its steady expansion into physical retail, which began in the UK earlier in the year with a tech-first supermarket.

Amazon Salon is similarly tech-laden, with point-and-learn devices that enable customers to discover product information, and augmented reality mirrors that let clients virtually visualise themselves with cuts and dyes. Treatments will be reserved for company employees at first, before bookings open to the public.

In the US, men’s grooming brand Old Spice has opened a barbershop. Like Amazon, in addition to offering styling services, the physical space will double as a lab for testing and developing products. There are other benefits, too. Old Spice’s plans include a branded studio for creating in-house marketing content, while Amazon’s integrated point-and-learn devices are linked to the customer’s Amazon account, enabling seamless product or subscription purchases.

Hair is a highly lucrative global industry, predicted to be worth $211.1 billion by 2028, with services accounting for two thirds of all revenue. This was sideswiped by the pandemic, as many hair salons and barbershops were forced to close. As hair studios reopen, they will be reliant on making the most of pent-up demand and existing customer networks. Corporations entering this space is therefore a significant development.

At the same time, demand is growing for platforms and apps that support small businesses and freelancers. ArtistOnGo enables independent stylists to rent chairs and space that would otherwise go unused within bricks-and-mortar locations. Currently available in New York and Miami, the developers are working on a wider rollout to meet rising demand.

Virtual platform Squire helps barbershops manage cashless payments, and scheduling, which is even more crucial now that deep cleaning must be slotted in between appointments. The developers are currently waiving subscription fees to help barbers who lost business in the pandemic.

Squire also promotes the unique role of barbers in handling clients’ wellbeing through social media. Speaking to NRF, Wil Shelton, CEO of a global marketing agency specialising in hair care, characterised the unique value of barbershops and salons within the Black community, saying: “They are the cornerstone of the community. Their impact is deeply ingrained. People don’t just go for a haircut. The stylist is often like their therapist, too.”

Community does not appear to be a priority for either corporation. However, Amazon is working with grassroots causes in areas of London near its salon, and the company’s hair services are being organised by Neville Hair and Beauty, an independent local salon that frequently supports charities. For its part, Old Spice’s parent company, Procter & Gamble, has been widely praised for its campaigns challenging white supremacy, and donations to anti-racist causes.

Rearranging furniture, investing in PPE, and purchasing extra cleaning materials is costly. As multinationals dealing in cleaning and safety products, P&G and Amazon have a considerable advantage over smaller retailers in this regard.

Shelton concludes that local barbershops and salons will always have a winning advantage that corporations cannot buy: “You have to do a lot of social lifting as a business — not just social distancing.”

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Images courtesy of Amazon and Squire.

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Karl Finn

Writer in London. Currently run events at Google, formerly V&A and Sotheby’s. Founder of Predictedit, a newsletter bringing together trends, research and ideas.