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According to a recent study by A.T. Kearney, the current online beauty market is making headway in satisfying the eager shopper base despite lacking premium customer service in many cases.

To map the effect of e-commerce on the beauty industry, A.T. Kearney conducts a survey every two years to investigate the progress and shifting consumer priorities. As part of the research, 800 women who indicated they shopped for beauty products online at least once in the last year were surveyed in October 2016.

The research found that the most successful categories within the segment included beauty sets and kits, skin care and color cosmetics. “Driven by high seasonal demand for gifts, sales of sets and kits are the clear outlier with online penetration [in the beauty market] of 17 percent, closely followed at 15 percent by skin care — where online sales are generally fueled by loyalty and the convenience of replenishing a known product,” said the report.

Skin care led the most popular categories — 38 percent of respondents reported having purchased these items online. Thirty-four percent indicated that they had bought color cosmetics online in the last year ­— a substantial increase, the report said. This segment formerly was reported as requiring in-store testing, marking the effect of try-on apps and its influence on its correlating e-commerce business.

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The study ascertained three main categories for the online beauty consumer: online enthusiasts, information seekers and “showroomers.” Online enthusiasts amounted for 55 percent of the survey participants. The study characterized them as “very comfortable shopping for most of their beauty needs online, although they do shop in stores. More importantly, they share their views and purchasing experiences on social networks,” the report said. It went on to note that these shoppers have increased their online shopping habits in the past year.

Information-seekers — the second most abundant type of shopper, making up 36 percent of the respondents — are heavy online researchers; however typically still opt for shopping in a store. “They go online to gather information about products, pricing and special promotions and to read product reviews,” said the report. This informs their in-store shopping experience, which leads to efficient product selection and checkout. “They prefer the in-person experience of brick-and-mortar retail and value the ability to see and test the products, buy them immediately and get assistance,” the report said. Think of this set as the Generation Z to the online enthusiasts’ Millennial.

Showroomers, who only accounted for nine percent of the survey participants, will browse in-store and then shop online. “They enjoy the convenience of shopping any time,” the report said. “Eliminating store traffic and standing in line, they feel that shopping online offers them more valuable purchase-decision time.” This set also reported a year-over-year increase in online shopping.

Across the board, consumers prioritize personalization above all else — even keeping their personal information secure. “Compared with 2014, finding the best prices has overtaken site security and free shipping as the most important feature,” said the report.

The study also asserted that seemingly organic and meaningful engagement is beginning to climb the ranks of shopper preferences. “Sixty percent of respondents say they regularly receive e-mail or text offers from beauty brands or retailers, but only nine percent of them feel these messages accurately target them,” said the report. Despite the preference for customized content and product recommendations, the study found that only 16 percent of respondents shared that they are currently members of a subscription service.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents shared that they tend to frequent four web sites when considering an item: Amazon, Sephora, Ulta and Wal-Mart. “When it comes to their single preferred online destination for beauty and personal care, 29 percent of online shoppers choose Amazon, followed by Sephora at 15 percent and Ulta at 12 percent,” said the report.

In order to capture consumers, the report suggests bulking up omnichannel efforts. “Using a store as an experience hub requires having highly trained sales associates who add value to a highly educated consumer as well as having experience elements such as events or technological tools that support the sales process and brand interaction,” said the report.

It also recommended improving personalization — consider platforms such as Monetate, Demandware, or Qubit to analyze and prompt product recommendations and organic e-mail marketing strategies. Last the report proposed that beauty companies reinforce authentic messaging. This will do well, especially with the Millennial and Generation Z demographics. “Brands and retailers will need to reconsider their communication strategies, establish new ways of engaging consumers and making them part of the brand, and leverage the power of influencers to increase reach,” the report said.

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