Despite thousands of shuttered stores across the country earlier this year and varying degrees of re-openings as restrictions ease, the beauty industry has proven resilient. While sales have declined, they have not bottomed out like many other industries. However, the loss of in-person experiences has fundamentally changed the dynamic of how beauty brands engage consumers. In our ThinkNow Cosmetics & Beauty Report™, we surveyed a representative sample of cosmetic/beauty buyers to gauge sentiment in the category and how COVID-19 has impacted purchase behavior.

Through our research, we’ve found that the decrease in sales has not depressed consumers’ love of beauty products, but it has changed how they buy them.

Sales Shift Online

In the past six months, 66% of consumers have purchased cosmetics or related beauty products. Women outpace men in purchases, while Millennials and Gen Xers purchase more than Boomers. Non-Hispanic Whites are most likely to buy, while African Americans are least likely.

To make those purchases, consumers are going online. Although many stores selling cosmetics have reopened, foot traffic has yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels fully. Many factors are at play, such as income constraints, store capacity restrictions, and stores’ inability to demonstrate products for safety reasons.

Given those factors, e-commerce has become the most popular point of purchase for the consumers we surveyed. But brick and mortar stores haven’t lost their appeal. Availability greatly influences purchase behavior. The ability to walk into a drug store like Walgreens, who brought back their beauty counters before COVID, or a specialty store like Ulta Beauty, and immediately find the beauty product you’re looking for is convenient. However, since 73% of past six-month category buyers research products online through search or social media, completing the purchase on a direct-to-consumer site or social shoppable pin is attractive for buyers.

Social Influencers Offer Advice

The rise of social media influencers like Kylie Jenner, whose Kylie Cosmetics line is the pinnacle of masstige among Gen Z consumers, has a significant impact on consumer behavior, with 63% of consumers following them for advice and inspiration.

Overall, both male and female influencers are about equally popular, except among African Americans and Boomers, who are more likely to follow female than male influencers. Asians and Boomers are less likely, however, to follow beauty influencers at all.

Consumer Push for Diversity in Color Palettes

Growing pride in the broad spectrum of humanity has finally caught the eye of the beauty industry, who has long been vilified for its limited offerings of products in diverse skin tones, especially for black and brown consumers. The lack of diversity sparked the creation of brands like Fashion Fair Cosmetics back in 1974, who provided black women with an alternative to mainstream brands who missed the mark. More recently, contemporary brands like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Black Opal have picked up the mantle.

Offering diversity in color palettes for skin tones is a business imperative. Forty-two percent of consumers surveyed indicate that it is very important to their decision on which brand to buy, more so than other product and corporate characteristics. This sentiment is driven primarily by Hispanic and African American consumers. They want to see themselves in your brand, and if they do not, they will not buy.

Beyond color palettes, consumers also expect diversity to go beyond cosmetic foundations to the foundation of the company offering the products. Sixty-eight percent of Total Market consumers care about companies that are committed to diversity and inclusion. Those numbers are highest among people of color.

About 40% of consumers are buying and using beauty/cosmetic products less often now as a result of Covid-19, but about a third of consumers surveyed are using or purchasing it more, even if their method of purchasing has shifted online. How your company shows up for consumers now could be the deciding factor as to if they spend those dollars on your product or if they give your product a shout out in a social post or a Zoom call.

Looking Ahead

Finally, optimism. As with most things in life, the pandemic will have a beginning and an end. When the risks from the coronavirus pandemic cease, and the economy starts to recover, the global beauty industry, valued at well over $500 billion, will clap back against its naysayers. Call it the “lipstick effect” or just retail therapy. The demand for cosmetics and beauty is here to stay.