Ear piercing is the next fun retail trend

You don’t have to go to the mall anymore to get your ears pierced.

While teenagers in the past may have gotten theirs pierced at the mall, the service seems to be one that retail a number of big-boxers think holds promise. Claire’s continues to offer the service with its certified piercing specialists. Although, unlike the ’80s, this time around you can book your appointment online.

Yet, other retailers are beginning to capitalize on the service. Whether it is stores that have household name recognition, or up-and-coming brands, more companies are providing piercing not only as a way to cater to young and multigenerational audiences, but as a way to draw customers to stores through a personalized service.

Milestone experiences

The notion of providing a milestone experience is frequently discussed when it comes to retail and ear piercing.

“I think it is a rite of passage,” Jen Cullen Williams, jewelry industry consultant and founder of Jen Cullen Williams Communications and Consulting, said in an interview. “I think that each individual, and each family, may have a different version of what that means. In some cultures it’s very customary that a young infant gets pierced. And then there’s other cultures that want to wait for other milestones, like entering your teen years,” she said.

In March, Five Below announced an ear piercing pilot program, wherein the service will be introduced to 150 stores this year.

That’s because Five Below has identified ways it wants to celebrate the “rituals of life and milestones of growing up.” During its first investor day, the discount retailer said it is focused on strategic moments in a young person’s life identified by products, including balloons for celebrating events, room products to decorate personal spaces, and merchandise that will personalize a first car, items for pets, And, of course, ear piercing.

The concept, Five Below explained, is that celebrating milestones is core to its strategy. “We celebrate those rituals of life and milestones of growing up every day,” Michael Romanko, Five Below’s chief merchandising officer, said at the company’s investor day, right before introducing its ear piercing program.

Five Below joins a number of other large retailers that are also offering the service. CVS began “pro-level piercing” services through a partnership with piercing manufacturer Studex following a successful pilot program with four stores in 2018. By 2019, the retailer began expanding, and ear piercing can now be found at 400 locations.

An in-store CVS ear piercing station, as part of the retailer’s partnership with Studex.

Target in Mac discussed its own ear piercing ambitions. The retailer began testing the service at a number of stores in Minneapolis, because the company’s research “found that guests were looking for a reliable, safe and convenient place to get their families’ ears pierced,” Target Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington said on a call with analysts.

Target says it is the first and only national retainer to offer piercings performed by a licensed nurse, and has partnered with ear piercing company Rowan.

“This service helps us connect and celebrate a major milestone with often younger guests, creating lasting affinity for our brand,” Hennington said. Target recently expanded the program to nearly 200 stores, with plans to “meaningfully increase” that number by the end of the year.

“This is a fantastic example of what happens when we listen to our guests, deeply research the market opportunities and create a differentiated solution,” Hennington said.

Piercing and repeat retail traffic

Ear piercing is also an opportunity to drive shoppers into physical stores, according to Cullen Williams. “If they’re really trying to get and drive consumers into the store, this is a way to do it. You can’t do a piercing through any type of virtual medium. It has to be an in-person touch and feel type of thing.”

Technology is being incorporated into virtual piercing experiences, but as a means to experiment with products. Perfect Corp. this April introduced an extension to its 3D augmented reality tech for earrings, which allows brands to help customers virtually try on items. Shoppers can try on ear jewelry in 13 positions across the ear and mix and match accessories and placements on the ear lobe.

“If they’re really trying to get and drive consumers into the store, this is a way to do it.”

Jen Cullen Williams

Founder of Jen Cullen Williams Communications and Consulting

But, to get the piercings themselves, customers still need to go into a store for the service, which is also a moment to create an experience — and repeat encourage traffic. “It’s not just a one-time experience, because you go back and you can get multiple piercings,” Cullen Williams said.

Trends in piercing are also opening up ways retailers can respond with a variety of products, and create loyal customers. The “curated ear” trend incorporates multiple piercings and different types of jewelry, thereby creating a unique look for the individual wearer. That means a stud can be worn with a style that dangles, or an ear cuff can be on the same ear as a hoop.

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