Beauty stockists; The Winners and Losers of 2020

glossier products
Olivia Alcorn
by: Olivia Alcorn
As lockdown began in March 2020, the UK beauty industry saw a significant increase in consumers shopping for beauty and skincare products online, with multi-brand retailers emerging as some of the firm favourites for beauty customers of all ages. As restrictions prevented us from physically shopping in department stores, buying and shopping for beauty and skincare moved online, with ecommerce beauty stockists emerging as winners from a global pandemic. 

From a huge range of stock, custom discount offers and monthly subscription models, beauty stockists have directly responded to a shift in consumer behaviours and buying habits, offering consumers a wide range of brands in one place. We’ve compared some of the largest online non-pharma beauty stockists in the UK; Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Look Fantastic, and analysed some key digital marketing metrics to identify how well they fared throughout 2020.

Beauty Bay Lose Out 

Before 2020, UK-based stockist Beauty Bay was dominating searches and enjoying a relatively quieter market for their share of the online beauty market. The brand maintained a consistent lead for search compared to other beauty stockists, until the start of 2020 where their winning streak started to nose dive.

Created in 1999 in Manchester by David Gabbe, Beauty Bay rapidly gained a solid reputation for having a huge range of over 10,000 products at competitive prices. Coupled with a solid social media marketing approach, the brand went from strength to strength partnering with YouTube star Jeffree Star, sending the brand global and maintaining interest reflected in search trends.

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However, fast-forward to March 2020 and the search trends tell a different story, with other beauty retailers creeping onto the scene. As 2020 progressed, brands Look Fantastic, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique began to overtake the once dominant beauty retailer. One of the USP’s for Beauty Bay was the selection of products- boasting over 10,000 in one place, but as the UK plunged into lockdown Look Fantastic, made a huge leap to overcome to become the most in-demand stockist online. 

Offering consumers more than double the products Beauty Bay can, Look Fantastic experienced a 200% year-on-year increase in search in 2020, whilst Beauty Bay experienced a 33% decrease in search volume for their brand name. 

So, what happened to Beauty Bay?

One suggestion could be the choice; as Look Fantastic brings a huge 22,000 products to consumers. Many of these are new product launches and emerging brands like GLOSSYBOX attracting new customers as well as pleasing their existing ones. The retailer also spends a lot of time and effort on their promotional offers and general digital marketing activity, developing a solid presence across social media channels, creating customised discount emails and daily offers for their customers. Like Beauty Bay, their entire business is modelled on only having an ecommerce presence, but they maintain intrigue and interest among skincare fans by featuring emerging brands and products before other retailers. Could this be one of the main attractions for continuing to appeal to new customers too? 

And it’s not just Look Fantastic enjoying a winning streak throughout 2020 with search trends, as Cult Beauty’s year-on-year brand name increased by 82% and Feel Unique by 22%. There is clearly appetite within the beauty industry for a multiple brand platform that offers variety, discounts and new brands.

Look Fantastic Winning In SERPs

It’s not just in search trends that highlights the real winners and losers of beauty, as we delve into keyword ranking for the leaving beauty stockists. Keeping up their winning streak, Look Fantastic dominates organic search results too, appearing in the top 6 results for huge brands such as ‘la roche posay’, ‘cerave’ and ‘urban decay’. They’ve combined a clear onpage keyword strategy from URL down, capturing the brand clearly on it’s own dedicated landing page and featuring around 150 word intro for each- a winning combination for search.

This solid presence in search results will be generating a substantial amount of organic traffic to the Look Fantastic site, potentially even pulling users away from the brands own sites as the appeal of discounts lure them in. 

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Whilst Beauty Bay held its own at #1 throughout 2020, many of the keywords they’ve conquered in search results are more generic and less brand based. There’s also evidence on this dashboard of declines in website traffic overall and “lost” keywords too. Digging a little deeper, it’s clear Beauty Bay have dropped keyword positions throughout their 50K ranking keywords, but could this be down to a new marketing strategy? 

From our research, there is evidence to suggest that Beauty Bay may be shifting their strategy away from super generic terms like ‘foundation’- a keyword that was lost- to target brand and product searches instead. Their on-page focus isn’t as slick as Look Fantastic either, with merged URLs and no clear keyword layout. Most of the landing pages have no blurb or intro content either making them thin.

They’re also focusing more on retailer-led searches such as ‘Jeffree Star’, ‘mario badescu’ and ‘revolution makeup’, which suggests Beauty Bay are wanting to capture consumers at the top of the funnel as they research new brands and products.

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Nobody saw a global pandemic coming, so it’d have been impossible to create a robust marketing strategy but what is clear from our research is:

  • Brands who were proactive with all of their digital assets really benefited- combining solid on-page optimisation with consistent email marketing
  • At a time when consumers are most likely to be price-sensitive, pushing promos and discount codes really impacted consumer buying

Known for their endless offers and discounts outside of a pandemic, Look Fantastic were the clear go-to online beauty stockists during a difficult year. As well as benefiting from increased visibility in search and well-optimised landing pages, the retailer also increased the level of discounts available to customers. Championing their ‘20% off your first order’, free shipping and many other promotions scattered throughout the website, Look Fantastic continued to entice a variety of consumers to spend their money despite living through economically difficult time.

Whilst conducting our research, we also looked into each retailer’s response to the pandemic, with all beauty stockists openly supporting and celebrating key workers. Look Fantastic dedicated 22% discount for NHS key workers whilst Beauty Bay offered a 10% discount. One of the ‘losing’ retailers for referring to the pandemic was Cult Beauty, who had clearly decided against offering key workers discounts.

As a veteran in the UK beauty retailer space, it would appear Beauty Bay were perhaps focusing on a new marketing approach, as their visibility in search continued to decline throughout 2020. It may have been an increase in brand awareness for the other beauty retailers or perhaps due to their internal strategy change? What is clear is brands that were seen to react quickly and really observe the ‘feeling in the room’ benefited far more than those who perhaps sat back on their previous successes and didn’t adapt to the demands of a pandemic.

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