Sunday Times

Avon lady booked in for a dig­i­tal makeover

- By ALIS­TAIR GRAY Avon Products · North America · United States of America · Brazil · United Kingdom · India · China · London · New York City · Instagram · Twitter · Facebook · Procter & Gamble · East Avon, NY · West London · Unilever NV

● The Avon lady is get­ting a dig­i­tal makeover in a be­lated cam­paign by the beauty com­pany to drag its direct sales busi­ness into the 21st cen­tury.

Up to a mil­lion mem­bers of Avon Prod­ucts’ global army of doorstep sellers are to re­ceive train­ing by the end of the year in how to ex­ploit so­cial net­works to pro­mote cos­met­ics.

Hav­ing sep­a­rated its North Amer­ica busi­ness in 2016, Avon’s largest mar­kets in­clude Brazil, the UK and SA. It is tar­get­ing ex­pan­sion in other coun­tries, in­clud­ing In­dia and China.

The push into tech-driven “so­cial sell­ing” is part of what Avon ex­ec­u­tives are call­ing a rev­o­lu­tion at the com­pany, founded in 1886 by a door-to-door book­seller.

Yet the ini­tia­tive is likely to en­counter scep­ti­cism, given Avon’s long strug­gle to adapt to the age of e-com­merce.

“Over the last num­ber of years we lost our way,” said Jan Zi­jderveld, who was in­stalled as CEO in Fe­bru­ary. “But the beauty mar­ket is grow­ing, the direct-sell­ing mar­ket is grow­ing — the core and essence of what Avon has to of­fer is still ab­so­lutely rel­e­vant.”

It is Avon’s lat­est at­tempt to re­verse a mul­ti­year slide in rev­enue and an ex­o­dus of sales reps. Pre­vi­ous ef­forts to har­ness tech­nol­ogy have failed to spur a turn­round.

Avon, based in West Lon­don and listed in New York, has lost to ri­vals in the boom­ing yet rapidly chang­ing beauty sec­tor. Its mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion has col­lapsed from 2004 highs of al­most $22bn to $1.1bn (R15.6bn).

The dig­i­tal train­ing forms part of the com­pany’s $300m in­vest­ment in it­self. At the same time it is also plan­ning to cut $400m of costs by 2021.

As part of the shake-up, Zi­jderveld, who spent 30 years at Unilever, is plan­ning to re­duce the num­ber of prod­ucts Avon of­fers. “We have a huge tail — many prod­ucts are sell­ing ab­so­lutely min­i­mally,” he said.

He wants Avon rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who sell via printed brochures, to also be­come “e-rep­re­sen­ta­tives”, tar­get­ing con­tacts through In­sta­gram, Twit­ter and Face­book.

Jonathan My­ers, a for­mer Proc­ter & Gam­ble ex­ec­u­tive who joined last year as COO, said: “If I were to say we need to play catchup in e-com­merce, that would be a good ex­am­ple of Bri­tish un­der­state­ment.

“What we need to do is ac­tu­ally trig­ger a rev­o­lu­tion in­side Avon.”

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