In 2020 we saw the accelerated rise of ecommerce. Restrictions and lockdowns impacted consumer behaviour wildly, as physical shops shut down and online makeup stores became more popular than ever. We quickly grew more accustomed to beauty and makeup online shopping. Our habits changed – but the question is, for how long?
Here, we reveal whether the shifts in buying behaviour might last, how beauty brands can effectively compete in the online marketplace, and the exciting new developments that are improving the online shopping experience for beauty, skincare, and makeup lovers everywhere.
Will Beauty Ecommerce Continue to Thrive?
When we look at the studies already taking place, shopping habits seem to be changing for good. According to a report released by Global Web Index in September 2020, 58% of consumers said they’d rather shop online, compared to 42% who still wanted to shop in-store. 34% of consumers within the beauty industry have even become ‘digital shoppers’ exclusively.
It would seem likely these changes are set to last, as despite the re-opening of stores in the UK in September 2020, 40% of consumers still choose to buy online instead of browsing in physical shops.
The Challenges of Online Shopping for Beauty Products
The shift to digital beauty shopping was inevitable in 2020, and the entire customer journey has had to adapt to a more digital focus too. However, savvy beauty consumers actively look for a heightened customer experience, and it can be a challenge for brands to meet these high expectations.
Additionally, health and beauty consumers are almost unique in their approach to browsing and ultimately purchasing items. As Abi Cleeve, MD Ultrasun UK and founder SkinSense recognises:
“Integrity and transparency are pillars of the beauty industry, and these will become more important than ever, so it is vital they remain at the heart of our brands. Honesty about sourcing, our brand principles, decoding the INCI list and real results will be demanded by a very well educated consumer- and rightly so.”
So, have beauty brands managed to meet the demand for transparency that consumers want from them without the advantage of physical shops or products? And how are brands adapting their customer experiences (CX) to meet the digital journeys that savvy consumers expect?
The Future of Makeup and Beauty is Digital
Due to the very nature of beauty and skincare products, consumers often want to physically see and sometimes try before they buy. With a global pandemic, these options have been restricted so beauty brands have started bridging the gap with interesting new tools and technology.
The technology for virtual reality make-up testing has been used for years by savvy-thinking brands who envisaged the shift in consumer behaviours long before lockdowns were in place. Companies such as L’Oreal and MAC had the foresight to invest in augmented technology on their websites, allowing customers to virtually ‘try before they buy’, as a way of future-proofing the customer experience long before shops had closed.
A notable example is ModiFace, an AI tool that simulates hair and makeup application, enabling virtual try-ons. ModiFace was founded in 2007 by University of Toronto engineering professor Parham Aarabi. “I was a grad student at Stanford working with the defence industry on lip tracking for lip-reading at a distance,” he said, but didn’t consider a beauty-focused application for his work until approached by pharmaceutical giant Allergan.
After its launch, ModiFace quickly began signing cosmetics brands and in 2012, French beauty brand Sephora’s application of the technology drew widespread praise.
The use of AI technology on health and beauty sites has proven to be a successful move, with research showing brands who have virtual assistance on their sites and apps such as Clarins, Maybelline and Space NK, see conversion rates around 90% higher for customers who are engaging with AR, compared those who aren’t using virtual ‘try-on’ as part of their online experience.
Having a virtual ‘try-on’ option has been one of the more popular ways beauty brands have adapted their customer experience online. Another is the use of virtual assistants.
Skincare and beauty customers are some of the savviest buyers, demanding more information from brands compared to other industries, as the Co-founder of Skin: Genius Julia Vearncombe notes:
“Consumers are hungry for information, liking the transparency – wanting to know more about ‘The Brand’ understanding its roots and the products and ingredients used.”
Customers are becoming increasingly more inquisitive and educated when it comes to what’s in their skincare and beauty products, forcing brands to do more than simply share their ingredients lists. There is a larger focus within the industry on sustainability and ethical products, and brands need to be bringing consumers on a journey – particularly if they’re an emerging skincare brand with less Klout. With more customers looking to invest in their skin, brands need to show they’re willing to empower their customers by offering to share expertise with their customers as part of their online experience.
Enter digital consultations: a free service that brands like Deciem (behind The Ordinary) and The Inkie List, are actively offering their online customers. It doesn’t stop at simple chat boxes on websites. For example, Caudalie have dedicated a Facebook group to consultation questions, and with MAC, consumers can book a free one-on-one virtual consultation with a MAC artist of choice.
By offering virtual skincare consultations, these companies are empowering customers with knowledge and expertise, as well as assisting them in making informed buying decisions. Part of the ongoing success of implementing a digital consultation service is that it shows consumers that brands care about the individual too and want to continue delivering the best possible customer service in a digital age.
Personalising the Customer Experience Online
With the absence of a shop assistant, the beauty sector has had to rethink their online approach to personalised experiences, using a range of information-gathering to serve individual customers. Some popular methods include:
- Questionnaires at the top of the buying journey
- Paid advertising on social media
- Allocating budgets for trusted influencers
These are just a few examples of new advertising priorities that appeal to consumers online. And it would seem investing budget in the right kind of advertising can make all the difference, with research showing 37% of beauty buyers find out about new brands or products via social media advertising and 22% via ‘expert’ bloggers and vloggers.
Knowing Your Online Audience
It’s never been more important for beauty brands to know and understand their audiences online, and to serve the customer experience they demand from brands in 2021. One new brand that is really conscious of the value of data is At1 by Allbeauty. Their development was heavily informed by the retailer’s own skincare sales data, which helped identify the target audience (women aged 35-55) and which product attributes were most important.
By going one step further and offering consumers a memorable online experience, with features like consultations, one-on-one chat slots and instant ‘try-on’ technology, beauty brands can stand apart and really need in the newly digital-first landscape.
Our Top 3 Beauty Brands for Ecommerce in 2021
So, who is really going above and beyond to perfect the digital consumer experience? Here are three of our favourites.
L’Oreal has a range of digital tools to enhance the consumer journey, including ModiFace for virtual hair and makeup try-on, and their Skin Genius AI – which digitally analyses skin to provide product recommendations.
These features are prominently displayed on the L’Oreal Paris home and individual product pages with the tagline: ‘Want to try it on?’ and ‘tap to try’ which highlights how easy the process is for the customer.
With experienced MAC artists being a significant draw for consumers, the addition of free digital consultations is an excellent move for MAC. These one-on-one experiences are bookable from the MAC website and feature alongside the ‘virtual try on’ option.
Maybelline showcases its online-only features with a strong product focus – with a brow-specific tool, a ‘foundation finder’ and the ‘virtual try on’ more a wider range of makeup looks. This approach helps funnel users more quickly towards their desired products.
Each feature guides users through a visual journey, with the incentive to ‘get this look’ at the end. It’s slick, easy to use and an example of how beneficial the use of AI can be for beauty brands.
The Next Step for Digital Beauty
With lockdowns lifted and shops once again open, brands may be tempted to shift their focus back and away from digital. However, to maintain momentum and to keep dominating in the digital space, brands should be conscious of their digital efforts – now more than ever. By continuing to serve more personalised CX journeys online, beauty brands can ensure they give consumers what they want as buying habits change for good.
Need a helping hand to be the best you can be in the digital marketplace? Take a look at the market insights we can offer.
Editor’s Note: first published February 15 2021. Updated 04 August 2021.