Make-Up's Malaise: reversing the COVID-19 sales decline

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November 11, 2020

by Andrew Wardlaw


COVID-19 has put make-up sales under pressure. With people staying at home more, things are not looking good for a sector that was already starting to lose its momentum. So, what can be done to combat the market decline?

In July 2019, L’Oréal’s Chief Executive Jean-Paul Agon said that “the make-up market has really slowed in the US.” It soon became obvious that this was playing out all over the world. Forum discussions suggested that people were getting a little bored...

"Never-ending launch announcements have taken the excitement out of new make-up."

"The average addict can't afford their regular stash, let alone the new."

"I'm tired of all the unbelievable waste for a slightly different texture, or color."

And all this happened before we were told to stay in more and go out less - and cover half our face with a mask. Now industry experts point to an acceleration away from how we look, with increased emphasis on wellness and vitality.

Bouncing back

Such a swing in consumers’ priorities is creating casualties. In the summer of 2020, over 350 make-up SKUS were removed from Britain’s supermarket shelves. Foundation, lipstick and eye make-up had all experienced sales dips as people adjusted to people’s more siloed living.

In the U.S., online sales of color cosmetics had not come anywhere near compensating for the loss of in-store sales.


To bounce back, it’s clear that make-up brands must up the ante if they are to persuade today’s consumer to re-engage. Launches that are less faddish, offer experimentation and drive ease of purchase from eCommerce platforms.


Less faddish

Because like those forums suggest, 58% of consumers in our exclusive beauty survey agree that 'the beauty industry is like fast fashion and must try harder.' Product launches have got to go beyond the gloss and offer meaningful benefits.

Offer experimentation

Because we know that reduced social exposure is encouraging people to try new things at home. Sectors such as hair coloring and male make-up have surged massively in 2020.

Easy online purchase

Because of well-documented shifts in shopper behavior. Evidence has shown that in Asia, make-up’s malaise was rescued by brands linking artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) beauty apps that were able to monetise the aforementioned experimentation with slick links to eCommerce buying options. L'Oréal is now implementing this in the West!

Selling experiences

A perfect example of how to buck the trend in make-up sales is to launch a make-up product that isn’t marketed as such.

The launch of Glossier’s futuredew product was anything but faddish. It is genuine innovation that walks the line between skin care and make-up.

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At a time when we’re all getting less natural light, this beauty bombshell is reported to help you light up the room - almost literally. But it's impact is not limited to aesthetics. There is a hydration effect that further reinforces the overall benefit of more radiant skin. Online reactions are peppered with countless superlatives such as ‘game-changer’, ‘totally amazing’ and ‘magical’.

So inquisitive were we about this shiny new contender, that we asked our trained sensory panellists to unpack the total brand experience. Panellist are able to divide pack and product experiences into micro moments that might otherwise be missed by conventional consumer research.

Unpacking the futuredew experience revealed something quite remarkable.

Glossier appears to sow doubt over its efficacy early on. This generates a feeling of jeopardy, which when eventually resolved serves to heighten engagement, product memorability and a burning desire to tell someone.

First contact with the liquid revealed a reflective, glossy, pearly and pink formulation that generated associations with premium and youthfulness.

However, the liquid created considerable trepidation. Would its light pink color show up too obviously on the face?

Panellists dispensed two pumps of liquid as advised by the brand and reported how well the product blended - regardless of skin tone.

Immediately after application, the results were logged as clear, glossy, dewy, reflective and translucent – and effective at diminishing fine lies and small imperfections. Some hours later panellists reported continuing and improving results which generated a ‘heightened ending’ to the overall experience that lifted perceptions of the overall experience.

Peak-end perfection

More than ever, make-up brands need to go that extra mile and deliver beyond expectations.

Our experience of futuredew points the way for make-up brands - and brands across all other consumer sectors - as they attempt to lodge themselves into new consumer habits.

What we know from psychologists is that people tend to remember the peaks of an experience – and how it ended.

So, applying the peak-end rule to product experiences with sensory charged micro-moments is surely the way to go.

Exploring these areas will help create a much brighter future for the sector.

If you've enjoyed this article and want to read more about trends, new products and opportunities, simply click here and download your FREE copy of MMR's Higher Purpose Beauty book.

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