Last week The Body Shop introduced a new retail concept in the UK, with a focus on sustainability and activism… except it’s not really new for the once game-changing brand. With a refill station, recycling scheme and ‘activism corner’, The Body Shop is going back to its radical roots.
While 20 years ago The Body Shop was ahead of its time, with its stance against animal testing and its size 16 Ruby doll campaign, today it’s not really seen as an innovator. We were curious to see if this new concept could bring back its rebellious edge.
So what’s The Body Shop doing in store?
Relaunching refills and recycling
With independent zero-waste shops popping up all over the UK, and big brands like Waitrose and Boots following suit, a refill station must have been a no-brainer when planning the store.
So far there’s a choice of six shower gels, including two limited edition seasonal ones. A team member tells us we’ll soon be able to buy any shower gel as a refill, plus shampoo and conditioner. (The Body Shop is tweaking the formulas so that they can all be pumped through the dispensers, which look a bit like craft ale pumps.)
Ironically, The Body Shop trialled a refill station back in the 1990s, but customers found it too difficult to use. Perhaps that’s why, at today’s refill station, a team member takes us through the whole process.
There’s also a recycling scheme. Shoppers can drop off empty packaging from any beauty brand, plus they get a £5-off voucher when they recycle five Body Shop empties. Again, The Body Shop trialled a similar scheme in the ‘90s but it wasn’t successful. It just goes to show that sustainability wasn’t a priority for shoppers back then.
Reactivating its activism
Before our visit, we read that The Body Shop wants to revive ‘the idea of empowerment of girls and women’, and we’re not sure if this is a practical objective or a just a conceptual idea… after a few minutes of browsing, we realise it’s practical.
There are empowering messages around the store, like ‘You are enough’ written on a mirror, and there’s a donation box to drop off sanitary products for refugee women and girls.
Also in ‘activism corner’, shoppers can write empowering messages on a scroll of paper, and create a gif to spread awareness of The Body Shop’s community trade recycled plastic initiative.
The recycled plastic message feels like the most radical aspect of the store, because while other brands talk about recycled plastic, they don’t talk about how it’s recycled. The Body Shop’s initiative gives waste pickers in India a fair wage and better working conditions, and feels like a real force for change.
Reinvigorating shopper experience
While the focus of the new concept is sustainability, we were also hoping for a more exciting overall shopping experience…. and it doesn’t disappoint.
The store feels fresh and inspirational, with colourful, tactile POS messaging for every range. There are jars of real ginger to smell, real pumpkins to pat (we couldn’t resist), and rustic stone pots filled with creamy Body Butter testers.
Bright collages and bold slogans remind us what The Body Shop stands for – ethical sourcing, retail for good, and feeling empowered. It all adds up to an engaging space with a rebellious, playful tone, which is missing from the rest of its stores.
Remembering its roots
From the manifesto hanging in the doorway to the poster celebrating Anita Roddick’s achievements and philosophy, the brand’s original spirit is palpable throughout the store. It reminds us what the brand used to be, and what it could still be today.
When The Body Shop trialled its sustainable initiatives 20 years ago, it was maybe too ahead of its time. Since Anita Roddick sold it to L’Oréal, The Body’s Shop’s ethical credentials have become less of a focus and it’s also been seen as a bit middle-of-the-road: it’s not as radical as Lush, as premium as Neal’s Yard, as cheap as Superdrug or Boots, nor as natural (or desirable) as all the cool new organic brands you can access online.
But The Body Shop still has strong associations with being ethical and now, under its more sustainable owner Natura and with more shoppers wanting to make ethical choices, it’s the perfect time to get back to doing what it does best. This time shoppers are ready.