the James Charles Morphe palette

With a brand lineup including some of the hottest social media players in the market, Ulta Beauty is winning the relevance game.

According to Cherry Pick’s Beauty Retail Report, the retailer has a slight edge over arch competitor Sephora when it comes to brands that are driving consumer demand.

Cherry Pick tracks and measures consumer demand for products, brands and categories in social media using a proprietary AI methodology. That information is then distilled into what it calls a POPI score, or the relative percent of demand for a specific product across social media.

According to cofounder and chief executive officer Justin Stewart, the company is able to analyze intent at the product or stockkeeping-unit level.

In its most recent report, the company tracked nine beauty retailers — Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Macy’s, Cult Beauty, Bloomingdale’s, Bluemercury, Target, Walmart and Space NK — from Jan. 1 through March 31 of this year to compare the demand for products in the online assortment of each retailer.

Ulta Beauty achieved a POPI score of 18.69 percent, compared with 17.48 percent for Sephora. Cherry Pick broke out categories in color cosmetics. Macy’s scored third, with an overall POPI of 12.29 percent.

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On a category-by-category business, Sephora achieved the top-ranking POPI score in face, lip, skin care, hair care, bath and body and fragrance, while Ulta had the top score in eye and accessories.

Eye is the top category for driving demand, and Ulta is the exclusive retailer for the highest-performing product in the category for the time period: Morphe’s James Charles Palette. Numbers two and three were Lily Lashes 3-D Mink Lashes and Anastasia Beverly Hills’ Riviera Palette.

Sephora ranked second in the eye category; its top-ranking products were Anastasia Beverly Hills’ Riviera Palette, Urban Decay’s Naked Reloaded palette and Anastasia Beverly Hills Eye Shadow Singles.

While prestige makeup sales have softened this year — sales slipped 3 percent according to data from NPD — eye shadow palettes continue to be featured in beauty-related content three times more than any other category, Cherry Pick reported.

In terms of brands, standouts in the POPI index include Benefit, Nars, Colourpop and Anastasia Beverly Hills. Benefit’s Hoola Matte Bronzer was the top cheek product at Ulta, Sephora and Macy’s, while Nars was top in the face category at Ulta, Cult Beauty, Macy’s, Bluemercury and Bloomingdale’s, and number one across all color categories at Bluemercury and Bloomingdale’s.

For the mass retailers, Maybelline New York was a standout, with the top spot for eye, face and lip at Walmart, and eye and lip at Target.

Drilling down into categories, some key trends emerged. Lashes are a key social media engagement driver across channels. Ardell occupied two of the top three spots at Walmart and Target, while Lily Lashes were a high performer for Ulta Beauty.

“The big takeaway is that beauty is a homerun game right now — the top products generate so much more intent,” Stewart said. “One number-one product outweighs 10 mediocre ones. It’s a game of power laws — if you have that one item that really resonates with consumers, it will drive them to shop with you.”

In skin care, the top brands across the retailers surveyed were Farsali, Tarte and Mario Badescu in prestige, and St. Ives and Pixi in the mass market. Face mists are definitely trending. Mario Badescu’s Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater drove intent at Ulta, Macy’s and Bluemercury, while St. Ives’ versions scored at Walmart.

The hair-care category was more diffuse, with brands like R+Co, Shea Moisture, Ouai and Garnier all garnering top POPI scores.

Lancôme, Chanel and Jo Malone London were top performers in the fragrance category.

“This data is a good indicator of what will resonate with consumers,” Stewart said. “Our mission is to make failed products a thing of the past.”

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