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The Psychology of Shopping:The Magic of a Makeover...

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Never mind the X Factor, the UK is gripped by the 'Gok Factor'. Last week saw the launch of the British fashion guru's new series - Gok's Clothes Roadshow; Get The Look For Less. Just like his other series - How To Look Good Naked and Gok's Fashion Fix - British viewers have been glued to their sets and just can't get enough of his magical, budget makeovers.

But what is it that magnetises us to savour every minute of what is ultimately a tried and tested 'makeover' format?

Stretching right back to the eighties and the BBC's hugely popular The Clothes Show, there is an undeniable appetite for watching ugly ducklings being transformed into elegant, savvy swans, or the plane Jane into a catwalk diva.

I have to admit, I absolutely love these shows. Indeed, I lap them all up - from repeats of Ten Years Younger, to USA transformation shows like Extreme Makeover. There is something so satisfying and delightful in seeing someone who has not recognised their many good features undergo an image-boosting transformation.

This is not a shallow projection that looks are everything in our image-obsessed world, but something that lies within us all - the sometimes hidden or untapped desire to make the best of what we have... to feel and look good for ourselves.

Perhaps it is due to low self-esteem, work-life demands, motherhood, big life changes and even fear, many women (and men) sometimes find themselves living outside their bodies and neglecting their appearance and with weight issues.

The connection between obesity, self-neglect and our emotional state cannot be underestimated. In her book, A Course in Weight Loss, best-selling USA author (and famous yo-yo dieter Oprah Winfrey's good friend no less), Marianne Williamson singles out low self-esteem as the core issue behind obesity and emotional eating.

There are very few of us who have not been in the position at one time or another (even top actors and models) of finding that we have 'let ourselves go' and it is often connected to a difficult period in our life. That's why these programmes, while transforming the lucky makeover star, also tap into our own psyches, reminding us of our own potential and how good looking good makes us feel - it is undeniable.

In response to the huge appetite for the 'makeover', top department stores have stepped up their game in their beauty halls, offering in-store makeovers with luxury brands - making the makeover experience truly accessible. It is now a key element to the shopping experience in any beauty hall.

As a lifestyle writer, the rise of the in-store makeover is a trend I've observed and celebrated. We can't all have Gok's magic wand waved over us or undergo cosmetic surgery, but we can walk into a department store beauty hall and experience a taste of the huge pleasure of a mini-makeover. By sitting back, relaxing and allowing a professional to apply and instruct us in how to use the right base, colours and most innovative cosmetics, we can, just for the day, experience the boost of our own mini-transformation.

Leading department stores and brands have recognised that the 'makeover' is now a key experience for the shopper. Top cosmetic houses such as MAC, are at the forefront of this - training their staff in professional make-up artistry or even hiring top make-up artists to carry out their in-store makeovers. Indeed, top, international make-up artist Armand Beasley who works with celebrities in the UK and USA, is regularly hired by top stores to give the public his expertise.

A great makeover means sales, and sales in cosmetics means loyalty - we ladies get very attached to our favourite brands. The beauty market is huge. While the global cosmetics, toiletries and fragrance industry is worth GBP 6.2 billion, the UK exports GBP 1.85 billion of goods and services, while importing GBP 1.72 billion. There are over 32,000 beauty employees as well as countless staff in supplier companies, retailers and marketing/media involved within the industry across the UK. (Esprit December 2005).

While many department store shoppers may not have the budget for a Chanel suit or a pair of the latest Louboutins, many will indulge in treating themselves to a new designer/top brand lipstick, mascara or nail polish.

I personally am huge fan of this particular area of retail therapy. And it really is 'therapy'. Ask any woman, there is nothing like the thrill of heading home with those glossy bags, filled with your favourite brands of cosmetics. Like loads of other shoppers, I've been known to spend several happy hours in a good beauty hall, interspersed of course with lunch, before treating myself to the 'got to have it' latest fragrance and on-trend cosmetics.

That's why I'm fussy about my beauty hall experience - no more will I tolerate shopping in cramped surroundings with dark décor and bad lighting. Top department stores are more aware than ever that the beauty hall shopping experience is of such important to their own profits and customer loyalty, that they are investing massively in their beauty hall layouts and designs.

It all comes down to the psychology of shopping. For many women (and of course men) these beauty hall purchases go on to bring us enormous pleasure and benefit on practically a daily basis. That's why the experience of shopping for these goods has GOT to be associated with pleasure, relaxation and indulgence. We are creatures of habit and once we find a brand we like, it takes a lot to make us change!

I was recently invited to the launch of Selfridges new beauty hall (Manchester, Exchange Square). I went along with a critical eye - little did they know of my discerning beauty shopping habits. However, on entering the hall, it was crystal clear that a lot of serious investment and thought had gone into what is now a state of art beauty emporium.

Indeed, I'm informed that Selfridges are investing £20 million to refurbish the whole store, floor by floor over the next year. Clearly, Selfridges recognise the value of the beauty hall experience and have truly stepped up their game. Likewise, Manchester women sure do like to look good and want a shopping experience to match that!

So what have Selfridges done to revolutionise their new beauty hall and what can other stores learn from it? Firstly, the floor plan is wisely based around easy navigation and access. The sense of openness is boosted by really fab lighting - absolutely essential when testing make-up or trying out skin products.

A common issue I have with some beauty halls is the sense of being crunched in. However, the atrium design and natural lighting at the far end of this hall creates a good sense of space - as a shopper you feel naturally inclined to do a circle of the whole floor - that's got to be good for the retailers!

There are plenty of other new and exciting brands too, complimenting the fabulous surroundings. These include: Giorgio Armani, the excellent Blink Brow Bar, Illamsaqua, Suqqu, Jo Malone, the Fakebake beauty salon, Tom Ford beauty and Crème de la Mer. Georg Jensen, Monica Vinader, Dodo, carat and Thomas Sabo are the new 'go-to' labels to land in the fashion jewellery areas.

Overall, this is one 'makeover' Selfridges themselves should be rather pleased with and one their competitors will have to look to in order to 'step up' to the standards shoppers now expect. Like women, even top department stores deserve pampering. Happy shopping.

www.collettewalsh.com