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Pandemic Reshapes Social Commerce

Summit workshop session examines how brands can leverage social media and build community, too.

As the COVID-19 global pandemic changes how, where and even why people shop, for the beauty industry, these changes are forcing brands to bolster and sharpen consumer engagement efforts — especially as online sales grow and social commerce takes on greater prominence.

But companies are also challenged by an alteration in the consumer mind-set in regard to how they view beauty brands.

For example, recent research from Publicis Sapient revealed a shift in the position of beauty products and brands from one of status to that of wellness. In the current environment, beauty shoppers are concerned more about personal health and safety than they are about how beauty products portray them.

These were some of the key trends discussed during a workshop session at the Beauty Inc Summit, titled, “Social Commerce in Beauty: Harness Social Media to Connect With Consumers and Establish Community.” The virtual workshop was hosted by WWD’s digital and prestige beauty editor Alexa Tietjen and was sponsored by Publicis Sapient — featuring several of the firm’s executives: Kristen Groh, consumer products industry lead; Scott Petry, senior vice president and head of engineering for North America; Kendra King, vice president, North America, and vertical CX and innovation consulting lead for consumer products, and Elizabeth Papasakelariou, executive vice president/fellow and executive client partner.

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Groh noted the explosive online growth of beauty this past year, and said the “pandemic is also changing how consumers engage with beauty products and cosmetics.” This includes a greater focus on hygiene and wellness and less emphasis on categories such as fragrances and lipstick.

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“Consumers are also wanting to try new things, including new brands and types of products,” she added.

Groh told workshop attendees that consumers have completely reevaluated the beauty products they use. This change in mind-set has also opened up an increased demand for beauty advice. Much of which has to do with a lack of access to experts in stores, specifically at the beauty counter, Groh said. Papasakelariou agreed and noted that “social feeds” have now replaced “trips to the mall.”

Papasakelariou said social sharing and “social proofing” have emerged as ways brands build trust and connect to consumers. Technology also plays a role, which includes increasing the use of virtual try-on tools and makeup or hair color filters designed for social media platforms.

When it comes to leveraging social media, King said “it’s all about the scroll,” and not about search. And with social media influencers, they’re less important than they were. King said research showed that “just 17 percent of beauty purchase decisions” were influenced by beauty influencers.

King and the other speakers also discussed the importance of “meeting the consumer where they are,” which includes deploying marketing strategies that are more inclusive and embrace diversity.

“Consumers are aware they’re being targeted in campaigns,” Papasakelariou said. “But they now expect brands to be more human and [as transparent] as possible.”

The speakers agreed that brand authenticity and how companies communicate ethical behavior is also being scrutinized by consumers. So content and brand narratives need to have a diverse voice — especially as social commerce and conversions move to social media channels.