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How to Sell Foundation on the Internet, According to ColourPop’s Laura Nelson

Nelson talks ColourPop’s complexion line, moving faster at retail and M&A.

ColourPop has been pretty good at selling makeup on the Internet.

The brand’s colorful, trend-oriented, value-priced products have gained a cult following over the past few years, and the company has done it primarily through online sales. But ColourPop’s launch of complexion — a decidedly untrendy, mainstay category largely dependent on shade matching — has brought the brand into whole new territory.

The thought process was, “Let’s try to really make it so buying foundation and complexion products is easier and more intuitive,” said Laura Nelson, president and founder of Seed Beauty, which makes and owns ColourPop. The result of that exercise was a full complexion range: 42 shades of No Filter Natural Matte Foundation, $12; three shades of No Filter Loose Setting Powder, $9; six shades of No Filter Sheer Matte Pressed Powder, $9, and 30 shades of No Filter Concealer, $6.

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How to Sell Foundation Online, According
ColourPop’s foundation range has 42 shades.

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So far the range, which is only available online, has done well, Nelson said. “Early indications from the reaction and sellthrough and things like that … I do think complexion is going to ultimately make up a substantial part of our business,” Nelson said. 

Part of that success is attributable to ColourPop’s online shade matching tool, which takes shoppers through steps that help determine their shade. One option, Match by Brand, allows shoppers to take a glance at their current foundation and color-match to ColourPop that way (this option includes six foundations from six different brands — MAC, Fenty, Maybelline, Estée Lauder, Nars and Urban Decay). Another tool, Find Your Shade, takes consumers through a quick online quiz on skin color and undertones to guide them to their match.

Those online options were critical to selling complexion products online, Nelson noted. “Getting into complexion, and foundation in particular, had a whole other dimension of how to actually [get people] to buy foundation online and how to provide an even better experience than you would find in the store,” Nelson said. “Because honestly, as a consumer, I don’t find it all that much easier to find a foundation that matches my skin in-store.”

“Part of the [intellectual property] we’re developing in-house is those tools,” Nelson said. “It goes beyond the product — it goes to the shade matching tools and shade finders and all that great stuff to use online.”

That consumer-centric experience is something the brand would look to replicate should its complexion products wind up on store shelves, Nelson indicated. Right now, ColourPop is sold in 265 Ulta Beauty doors in addition to its web site, but the complexion range is online-only.

“Currently, complexion is not on that [Ulta] display, but that is something we’re working with Ulta on and trying to figure out how to do that in a different way,” Nelson said. Keeping with its digitally native (aka fast) nature, ColourPop has been switching up its Ulta displays on a regular basis — every six to eight weeks — aiming for newness.

How to Sell Foundation Online, According
ColourPop No Filter Loose Powder

ColourPop entered Ulta doors in late February, following a brief stint at Sephora, where the brand is no longer sold. But the ColourPop website, Nelson said, still makes up the bulk of the brand’s sales.

Ulta represents one growth opportunity, but ColourPop is also mulling over geographic expansion, especially in Asia, and new products — like mascara — as a means of expansion, Nelson said.

The brand will also likely grow the complexion lineup, Nelson noted. “The complexion strategy is definitely a longer-term initiative that we’re going to be building up over time, then on the other side of that, we have our fun, fresh, trendy, super high-quality, affordable color side of the business.”

ColourPop’s shift into the complexion pillar comes as many others — including legacy beauty brands — do their best to keep up, launching on-trend shades in record time, for example, or starting entire brands in mere months based on trends. But the influx of players developing products and brands based on social listening could be a good thing, Nelson contends. “Overall, that’s good for the industry, it’s good for the consumer, it helps build and fuel that passion,” she noted.

As it continues to play in that world, ColourPop is sticking with its consumer-centric mission. “Foundation was the number-one requested thing everyone asked of us, so it’s not a surprise that we launched foundation and people are happy about it,” Nelson said.

The brand is part of Seed Beauty, the Oxnard, Calif.-based manufacturer of Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty. Investment eyes have been glued to the business for years, but Nelson contends Seed is not in the market for money — or to build and then sell brands. She classified herself and her brother, John Nelson, cofounder and chief executive officer, as people who like operating businesses. “We do not have a strategy to build and sell right now,” Nelson said. “Particularly with ColourPop and other brands in incubation, we have fun every day actually running those brands.”

As Seed incubates new brands, which Nelson confirmed the business is doing, anything in the beauty space is fair game. “Definitely within skin care, body, etc., there are so many categories and there is so much opportunity for disruption and innovation … that’s where we define where we like to play,” Nelson said.

In terms of deal-making, vertically integrated Seed is focused on buying real estate and building out its campus with manufacturing capabilities so it can keep growing. “We plan to continue to do that as the brands continue to grow and need additional space and capacities,” Nelson said. “We are not taking on outside financing.”