How Beauty & Personal Care Brands Can Win Online

Like other CPG categories, beauty and personal care is becoming increasingly complex due to a proliferation of newer, smaller, digitally native brands. In today’s era of digitization, the barriers to entry to start and grow a brand are lower than ever before, creating a competitive threat to even the most established players.

As new beauty trends emerge, products seem to be created at the speed of light to fill consumer demand. In the United States, for example, there are more products on the shelf in the average cosmetics aisle than in any other FMCG category.

To be successful, big-name beauty and personal care companies such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, L’Oreal and Coty need serious e-commerce strategies designed to drive growth in this increasingly competitive environment.

Digital beauty is booming

With beauty consumers being arguably the trendiest segment of shoppers, it only makes sense that they embrace the shift to e-commerce. Beauty and personal care products are also well suited to be sold online, as they typically have reasonable unit prices and are compact in size. Additionally, consumers’ combined interest in both discovering new products and replenishing the ones they already own make the category ripe for online development, according to Nielsen.

As a result, consumer spending on beauty products has moved online faster than almost every other CPG category. Today, nearly 30% of every dollar spent on beauty products in the United States is spent online, totaling over $12 billion in e-commerce sales over the last year. What’s even more impressive is how quickly the online beauty and personal market is growing, with an almost 20% CAGR over the next five years.

Amazon is leading the way in sales

Amazon is the leading online beauty retailer in the United States in terms of sales. In Q2 2018 alone, the total estimated sales for Health & Personal Care and Beauty products on Amazon were $1.9 million, a 23% increase year over year. Between first-party and third-party sellers, Amazon’s market dominance secured about 35% of online beauty sales in 2016.

According to a recent survey, beauty and personal care products are the second-most shopped category on Amazon behind books. Additionally, over 50% of Amazon Prime members have bought beauty or personal care products on the web retailer in the past 12 months.

Specialty retailers are driving growth

Though Amazon leads in online beauty sales, specialty retailers such as Sephora and Ulta are driving the bulk of online beauty growth, according to Nielsen. Ulta, for example, has had eight straight quarters of 40% growth in its e-commerce channel. The retailer is also adding 100 more stores to its already impressive 1,100 total locations in the United States. This omnichannel approach helps specialty retailers like Ulta, Sephora and Macy’s provide offerings that give them different value propositions than Amazon, such as expert product advice, loyalty programs, and individualized samples.

Not to be forgotten, Walmart and Target, which both own large shares of the total retail beauty and personal care market, continue to advance their e-commerce buying experiences and fulfillment options. Trends like click and collect will help these mass retailers grow their online share of the category.

Digitally-native startups are dominating e-commerce

Not unlike other CPG categories, beauty and personal care is dealing with increased competition from an abundance of digitally-native startups. According to Nielsen, while the top 20 brands still capture 90% of the dollars going to brick-and-mortar retailers, those same brands only capture a 14% share online.

Further pressure is being caused by the fact that these new startups are disrupting the very retail experiences that grew the dominance of market leaders. These attacks are coming from marketing-savvy, direct-to-consumer pureplay brands and subscription business models that rarely exist offline.

To illustrate, let’s look at three of the best-selling beauty and personal care products on Amazon in 2017:

  1. Gillette Fusion Manual Men’s Razor Blade Refills: Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s and several other men’s grooming startups have made the clunky and expensive retail razor buying experience more convenient with subscription models for refills.
  2. Men’s Rogaine Hair Loss & Hair Thinning Treatment Minoxidil Foam: Hims, Keeps and Roman have transformed the very public (and sometimes embarrassing) experience of buying hair loss products into a discrete process that allows customers to create personalized treatment plans online and have products regularly delivered to their doorsteps.
  3. Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips Whitening Strips Kit: Companies like HiSmile and Smile Brilliance are disrupting traditional customer acquisition strategies by leveraging social media to market their products, making teeth whitening one of the top categories promoted by social media influencers.

Younger generations are driving the shift to online

Millennials are outpacing older shoppers in their shift to buy beauty and personal care items online. A July 2017 survey from Prosper (cited by Coresight Research) found that some 45% of participants said they buy skincare and cosmetics online. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, that number jumps to 60%. All in all, almost half of the Millennial age group purchases between 1% and 50% of their skincare and cosmetics online.

Millennials are also changing the way big-name beauty brands must market to drive traffic to online retailers. Visual-focused social media, like Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram, work in a synergistic way with the beauty and personal care market. Many young consumers turn to social media as a source of information and expertise when deciding what items to buy. This is made no more apparent than by the meteoric rise of Kylie Jenner’s line of cosmetics that was built solely on the popularity of the influencer’s social media accounts.

What Brands Must Do

When it comes to beauty and personal care, Millennials are driving a major and irreversible shift purchasing online. This, combined with the onslaught of digitally native startup brands, has made the industry more competitive than ever before. To succeed, brands must ensure their products stand out as boldly in the digital world as they do on the physical shelf.

This requires a comprehensive e-commerce strategy that encompasses pureplay online retailers such as Amazon, specialty retailers such as Ulta and Sephora, and mass retailers such as Walmart and Target. This strategy should focus on attaining maximum search visibility on these retailers’ websites, meaning that when consumers search for keywords related to your product, your listings appear as close to the top of the search results as possible.

Start by compiling a list of relevant keywords you want your products to rank for. These should include both broad and specific terms, and they must be relevant to the products. Next, optimize your product page content to include these keywords. Incorporate these terms in a natural way, avoiding “keyword stuffing” that can negatively impact customer experience. Once you’ve optimized your listings, monitor your products’ rankings for target keywords across retailer websites to see how your efforts impacted your search visibility. Continuously optimize content for the best results.

Once a customer has found your product via site search, the content on the product page allows them to research the item and determine if it is a good fit for them. First and foremost, this content must be accurate, and it should provide everything the customer needs to know. Take advantage of all of the available content options, including photos, titles, bullet points, descriptions and enhanced content. Expand on the information on the product packaging, further demonstrating how the product will benefit the customer. Use this opportunity to answer any common questions or concerns consumers have, as well as to explain how the product compares to its competitors.

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