All made-up and nowhere to go? Re-imagining beauty beyond COVID-19

Debbie Ellison, Chief Digital Officer at Geometry UK chats to young shoppers to explore the impact that coronavirus has had on beauty commerce.

Debbie Ellison

Chief Digital Officer Geometry UK


The global beauty industry is worth $532 billion growing by 6% in the last year and this discretionary category seems to be continuing to hold its own.

I set out to explore whether beauty commerce moments have drastically changed and wanted a real time industry pulse check. Brainwave: what better focus group than my 24-year-old daughter and her friends? All beauty trailblazers.

Combining insights from these young shoppers, together with Geometry category insights, I discovered, in truth, that the impact of Coronavirus has merely accelerated trends that were already happening.

This is what we learnt.

Lockdown is proving the best time to experiment; there’s no reputational impact if things go wrong.

Debbie Ellison

1) We’re all experimenting more: The digital experience

We’ve been deprived access to our usual beauty services; hairdressers, barbers, nail salons and skin specialists. “We still want to look great but now we’re in charge and it’s causing us to panic,” commented one. YouTube vlogs and Instagram Live are teaching us how to remove gel nails, blow dry our own hair, and, trial the latest make up trends we were afraid to do pre-COVID-19. In fact, lockdown is proving the best time to experiment; there’s no reputational impact if things go wrong. 

New at-home rituals have led to online sales in the beauty category rising by almost 140% in the first week of April (InternetRetailing) and increased YOY sales of prestige nail products of 24%.

2) We’re supporting the small brands: The rise of small community

Many of us are supporting smaller direct to consumer brands and entrepreneurs. One interviewee said, “Kylie Jenner won’t miss a £50 order, but a smaller business will”. The EY Future Consumer Index supports this insight by reporting that 57% of people will spend more on brands that support the community. Subscription-based beauty services such as Beauty Pie and Glossy Box as well as more niche affordable brands like The Ordinary and Brand Ivvici proved popular with my young focus group.

I believe that winning beauty brands, both gigantean and small, will demonstrate value to their consumers, beyond monetary, and deliver more exciting and more personal, online shopping experiences.

3) We’re being micro-influenced like never before: Influencers open up commerce opportunities

So as to not be forgotten, many in the beauty service industry are connecting with their customers by becoming micro-influencers, holding virtual classes and 1-2-1 consultations.  We see a big opportunity for brands to get in on this action by connecting new-era influencers with more commerce moments, specifically through social commerce, commerce generated through social channels, which has jumped by 110% in the last two years alone. US-based Huda Beauty, recognising the power of the micro-influencer and their lack of income at this time, gave away $100,000 to 100 make-up artists; $1,000 each via their social channels. 

4) We’re taking self-care seriously: A new emotional need

We all want to practice a little self-care. This is probably down to “The Lipstick Effect”, a theory coined by Professor Juliet Shor back in 1999 who offered up that when times get tight, people continue to indulge in little luxuries for an emotional lift. Since mid-March, Google searches for "self-care" have spiked to record highs worldwide. Brands are tapping into this behaviour. Lush for one is offering "Bath time beats", an evening chill-out session with bath bombs.

5) We’re turning to Amazon: A new platform trial

Deterred by long queues or perhaps even being seen making a non-essential purchase, many of us who had never shopped Amazon for beauty or skincare are tapping in because of their fast delivery times. Small surprise that Amazon has reported a 7-10% increase in beauty purchases. Interestingly, consumers are 50% more likely to try a new brand each time they switch to a new channel, offering a new opportunity for beauty brands to attract new consumers and re-establish relationships with lapsed ones.

Denied irresistible in-store trials and beauty expertise, consumers are seeking these moments from brands online.

Debbie Ellison

What does this mean for retailers and brands?

As shoppers continue to spend on non-essentials and change behaviour, new doors open up to reimagine commerce not just now but well into the aftermath of COVID-19.

What is clear from this young focus group, is that they’re not turning to technology like augmented reality to get closer to products but leaning into a more human connection with their peers and influencers.

This means that a more enhanced digital experience is one opening. Denied irresistible in-store trials and beauty expertise, consumers are seeking these moments from brands online. It does seem as though technology, such as the use of augmented reality to trial make-up, is being shunned for a more personal connection with experts. My view is for success, online experiences must deliver in exciting new ways through growing social commerce and retail channels. 

Re-formatted packaging is another opportunity. Luxury brands with higher price points might re-package existing products into trial sizes delivered through eCommerce in order to help replace instore services, such as foundation colour matching, that are sadly now no more. 

Thirdly, connect and follow through on heightened digital experiences with direct to consumer sites as well as non-owned spaces where beauty brands will be sold. Add more images, tutorials, videos and well-structured content to product pages as well as connecting consumers with easy to buy-bundles which fulfil new needs.

Finally, looking to the future, we may become less reliant on beauty professionals. High-end brands and beauty brands may consider how they exist in the home for consumers who aren’t experts.  

While times are undeniably testing, we see this as an opportunity for the beauty industry to innovate and re-imagine commerce. The door is wide open, step inside.

Guest Author

Debbie Ellison

Chief Digital Officer Geometry UK


With over 20 years’ experience in technology and digital, Debbie pioneers transformational changes in business through people-first, technology solutions. She leads development of proprietary digital platforms to place valuable data and experiences at the fingertips of clients, including industry-first Flagship, a physical, immersive space which uses 360 projection mapping to re-create over 140 retail environments, helping clients test and trial new and innovative solutions. Debbie has been named Industry Shaper by the global Women in Marketing Awards 2019 and Campaign/IPA Woman of the Future where she won the innovation/technology category in 2016.

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