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Executives Weigh In on Back-to-School Beauty

Executives from CVS and Walgreens Boots Alliance talk about how the return of in-person learning is impacting shopping behavior.

As students head back to in-person learning, mass retailers are seeing signs of a seasonal swell in product purchases.

The implications for beauty are myriad, given the advent of platforms like TikTok and renewed interest in self care catalyzed by the pandemic.

“When I think of back-to-school, it elicits memories of reams of paper and pens, and stuff like that. We’ve moved away from that and are thinking more broadly about getting back into school and the depth of the experience,” said Andrea Harrison, vice president of beauty at CVS.

“We’re more focused on providing ways for our customers to protect the health of their families,” Harrison continued, saying that CVS is “growing our focus to be much more inclusive of beauty and personal care, and those things bring hygiene, confidence and self expression.”

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Self care is still at the fore, but not in the traditional sense. “There’s a growing emphasis on all things confidence, so [categories] like personal cleansing and hand sanitizer are really an increasing part of this storyline for the customer that supersede a definition of beauty. It’s brought up taking care of oneself, end-to-end,” said Harrison, who added that oral hygiene “has absolutely been on fire.”

For other brands and retailers, consumer behaviors lingering from the pandemic are proving stickier than ever. “We developed this behavior of taking a moment for yourself, taking a bath or using products you wouldn’t have normally used,” said Anisha Raghavan, chief marketing officer of No7 Beauty Company, the brand subsidiary of Walgreens Boots Alliance.

“We’re seeing the amplification of the trends and growth for back-to-school that we were already seeing,” Raghavan said. “Some of those trends include simplification of routines, people being willing to try new brands, looking for value, as well as ingredient-based trends.”

Soap & Glory, Raghavan said, found in a recent study that 70 percent of consumers valued self care more than they did one year ago. “When we look at what we’re launching, bath and body scrubs are up 59 percent, but Soap & Glory scrubs are up 80 percent,” she said.

WBA also recently launched Boots Ingredients, a line of products at Target centered around single-ingredient names, as a reaction to “seeing a lot in ingredient-based trends, and we saw consumers say value was a big driver,” Raghavan said.

Color cosmetics in the mass market is experiencing a resurgence, and No7 has reaped the rewards, too. “Cosmetics definitely is one category that’s growing again,” Raghavan said, elaborating that “lash serum is really hot right now, as well as a return to lipsticks and mascaras.”

Outdoor products are resonating just as strongly at CVS. “We continue to see customers rushing for confidence categories, things like lipstick and traditional cosmetics. Sun care has been a fantastic demonstration of people getting back out there,” Harrison said.

Expression is still top of mind, too. “Customers still love trends, though. We see all sorts of bold nail and hair colors flying off the shelves,” Harrison added. “What we hear from customers is that there was such a long period of a lack of self expression, and there’s so much newness they haven’t tried that’s coming out. They’re trying to replace their makeup bags full of stuff that’s been sitting for a year. It’s really finding new things, refreshing and replacing all at the same time.”

To that end, Raghavan is optimistic about sales across categories. “People are ready for real life again, and shopping behaviors indicate that,” she said.

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