MILAN — Italy — the country of fashion, food and beauty. While architecture and art might historically have been equated with the third category, fragrance and cosmetics are an important part of the mix.
Over the past three decades, the Italian beauty industry’s sales have grown consistently — even during times of financial crises — by 4 percent on average annually, according to sources’ estimates.
Preliminary figures released by Cosmetica Italia, the Italian association of cosmetics companies, showed that sales in 2017 hit the 11 billion euro level after rising 4.4 percent on-year. And the revenues are expected to increase 5 percent in 2018.
Industry experts highlight that Italian consumers’ behavior toward purchasing beauty products is becoming more aligned with that of shoppers elsewhere in the world, with their focus turning toward online shopping and mixing mass with class.
“The Italian consumer today is careful, demanding and prepared, and not interested in price anymore, but mainly in a product’s quality,” said Cosmetica Italia’s president Fabio Rossello.
This is due to the rise of online stores, beauty blogs, digital forums and other social media platforms, which make even the most professional information and tools accessible to everyone.
The country’s mass-market sales last year rose 1 percent to 4 billion euros, which represented 40 percent of Italy’s total beauty revenues. Meanwhile, e-commerce revenues increased the most, up 25 percent to 300 million euros.
Rossello underscored that a wider assortment online compared to that available in brick-and-mortar stores appeals especially to clients in suburban towns and is key to the growth of e-tail revenues — much more than pricing differentials.
Still, Italians continue to seek advice and service from professionals, including qualified sales assistants. That’s in part what lures consumers to hair and beauty salons, where last year sales were up 1.9 and 2.4 percent, respectively.
Heightened service at monobrand beauty retailers is a draw, too.
“Monobrand stores have really introduced a different approach both in terms of business and cultural mind-set,” said Rossello. “They have opened the doors of this [cosmetic] world to younger customers and transformed the use of beauty products into a fun and daily ritual.”
“These stores allow a full display of a brand and its offering, which no longer focuses on one category only, but includes different groups, from makeup to skin care,” continued Fabio Formisano, head of global communication and marketing at Italian accessible beauty label Wycon.
Founded in 2009 by Raffaella Pagano and Gianfranco Satta, Wycon registered revenues of 60 million euros in 2016 (the most recent year for which numbers were released) up 88 percent compared to 2015. It operates 181 stores in Italy and 44 abroad, and its products are carried in 32 countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The implementation of in-store digital tools and personalized services, along with an aggressive social media communication strategy, have enhanced the brand’s success and are considered by industry experts as key assets for beauty companies operating monobrand stores.
Multinationals, such as the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. and Chanel, have started taking a similar tack in Italy by opening freestanding beauty stores.
“The shopping experience has to be complemented with services such as makeup classes, tutorials, information on trends, beauty consultations for customers and events to engage them in new products’ launches,” said Formisano, noting Italian consumers demand more information when purchasing beauty than people from elsewhere, who are more accustomed to buying at department stores where there’s more open-sell.
Other types of retailers are engaging similar strategies.
“Our clients are sensitive to in-store events and dedicated services, like having the opportunity to customize product packaging with silk-screen printing and special wrapping or buying tailor-made products,” said Cinzia Baldelli, head of home, media and travel, beauty and children’s wear at the Rinascente department store.
In general, she believes Italian customers still experiment less beauty-wise and remain attracted by bigger brands’ offer, while “our clients coming from abroad seek new launches, exclusive products, limited-edition lines and bargain prices.”
Baldelli’s goal is to fuel such international demand by anticipating people’s needs and offering a selection of exclusive brands, such as the addition of the Christian Louboutin Beauté line in the department store’s Milanese beauty floor.
Exclusive offers helped boost the retailer’s beauty sales last year, which reached 42 million euros, up 7 percent against 2016.
In Italy overall, skin care is stealing the spotlight — and sales — from nails and somewhat from makeup. Within the treatment segment, those categories include multifunctional products for people trying to simplify their beauty routines, clean and antipollution brands, Baldelli said. She finds among the most interesting skin-care labels SK-II, AmorePacific, Sulwhasoo, Tata Harper and La Prairie.
The slowdown of the nail category in Italy can be explained in part by plainer looks being favored over extravagant nail art. Sales in the category are on the decline “in retail distribution as consumers prefer professional services and dedicated salons’ expertise,” explained Formisano.
The executive considers makeup to be strong, especially products for eyebrows, eyelashes and lips. Baldelli, meanwhile, believes that in Italy, overall sales of color cosmetics are suffering slightly, along with fragrance revenues.
Gender-neutral beauty products’ appeal keeps on growing, as well. Helping to lead the trend are offers from niche prestige perfume brands, including Frédéric Malle, Le Labo, Creed, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Clive Christian and MiN New York.
For makeup, the hottest brands in Italy include Charlotte Tilbury, Bobby Brown, Hourglass and Nars, in addition to Millennials’ favorites Glossier, Kylie Cosmetics, Fenty Beauty and The Ordinary, which prove “the power of social media in the creation and development of a brand,” Baldelli said.
Italian beauty customers are showing a growing penchant for mixing high- and low-priced products, a trend already strong in many other countries.
“Similarly to fashion, where consumers combine low-price clothes with high-end and expensive accessories, Italian beauty customers are more and more cross-buying affordable products plus specific ones to make the difference,” noted Rossello, explaining that in the past, the shopping pattern was more segmented.
That’s not to say that the desire for pricy products has gone away. “Today the aspirational trend is very strong,” he said. “It will make the difference in the future.”
Asked what it will take to bring Italy’s beauty industry to the next level, Rossello maintained internalization is essential.
“We don’t have big multinational brands, but we do have many quality names, and the goal for our entrepreneurs is to expand their reach,” he explained, urging that key to this is entrenching strong communication alongside product innovation at the core of a company’s strategy.