At first, beauty brands took the decision to suspend in-store treatments and services, but have since been forced to shut down retail stores entirely. Salons, spas – as well as digital booking platforms like Treatwell – have also temporarily suspended operations.

Now, the industry is doing all it can through ecommerce to combat the loss of brick-and-mortar sales. Fortunately, many beauty brands have already invested in online operations, and some of the biggest names in beauty use a direct-to-consumer business model. But will it be enough? Here’s a look at how the beauty industry is responding.

Virtual consultations and AR

Many beauty brands still heavily rely on the in-store experience to drive sales. According to NPD, the UK high street accounted for 80% of beauty sales in 2018. And while health and beauty is one of the fastest-growing ecommerce categories, the absence of physical retail stores is bound to heavily impact even multi-channel brands. 

Product purchases aren’t the only reason consumers head to beauty retail stores. Rather, it is often the experience before buying that drives conversions, such as beauty demonstrations, expert consultations, and other in-store services. Conversely, beauty purchases can also be spontaneous or ‘impulse’, which also may not align with the ecommerce experience.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, beauty brands have been looking for ways to maintain this type of in-person customer engagement, with digital technology enabling them to transfer consultations online.

According to WWD, skincare brand Kiehl’s is set to launch virtual consultations to guide users on the products that are best-suited to their needs. Glossier is another brand that has already ramped up online tutorials, using IGTV to immerse users in instructional content.

Elsewhere, London skincare clinic, Pfeffer Sal (which also produces its own range of products) is now offering consumers an ‘online skin MOT’ with a digital therapist. It has also launched ‘at-home facial kits’ to enable consumers to recreate professional-level skincare themselves.

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????We are so excited to reveal our schedule for Week 2 of #PSLIVE ????⁠ ⁠ We have lots more skin education for you PLUS some more incredible special guest joining us⁠ ⁠ Our schedule this week ????:⁠ ⁠ MON – ⁠How to Optimise Your Home Facials – we'll take you through a fantastic home treatment routine, sharing our tips and skincare secrets for optimum results. ⁠ ⁠ ⁠ TUES – In Conversation with Michele Evrard, Founder of one of our favourite skincare brands, Cosmetics 27. ⁠ ⁠ WED – Skincare 101 Episode 2 – We loved answering all your skin health questions so keep them coming for round 2!⁠ ⁠ THURS – Party Food for One (Or Two)- Up your house party canape game with some delicious recipes and tips from the wonderful chef Alix Caiger ⁠ ⁠ FRI – Beauty Bootay DJ Set – join Pfeffer Sal's resident DJ for a booty busting set to celebrate the long weekend⁠ ⁠ SAT – We are joined by the incredible Make Up Artist @naokoscintu to solve your make up dilemmas and delve into her skin health journey⁠ ⁠ SUN – Time-Less Skin and Fitness Tips – Join our Founder, Andrea, and Co-Founder of @moveyourframe as they share their exercise and skin tips and tricks for the time-poor⁠ ⁠ Hope to see to you there!⁠ ⁠ Head to our stories to switch on your countdown reminders for the events⁠ ⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ #beauty #pfeffersal #psbeautytip #balance #skinhealth #skin #skincareregime #skincare #facial #london #fitzrovia #beautytip #virtualtreatment #astrology #skincareroutine #skincarecommunity #skintips #nymphofneptune #cleansing #beautycare #wellness #wellbeing⁠ #beautyathome #instagramlive #pslive ⁠ ⁠

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It’s not just social media that brands are using to host virtual consultations either. With video conferencing tool Zoom growing in popularity, Glossy reports beauty brands including Trestique and Glow Recipe have been using it to hold consumer-facing events. The technology allows for greater interaction between brands and consumers, enabling brands to hold what is essentially more of a social gathering than a product demonstration.

Alongside virtual consultations, it’s also likely that we will see brands increasingly look towards augmented reality. The technology has been used by big brands for a while now, with examples such as L’Oreal’s ModiFace enabling consumers to virtually ‘try-on’ make-up. In the wake of the pandemic, it could be a solution that many more consider investing in.

For those who have yet to invest in AR, technology solutions provider, Perfect (which owns the virtual beauty app, YouCam) recently announced that it would be offering a complementary service “in an effort to help beauty brands quickly accommodate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.” This will allow brands to use the browser plug-in to enable virtual try-ons on their own website, as well as be featured in product listings on the YouCam app.

A Marketer’s Guide to Augmented Reality (AR)

Pivot to DIY categories

Will consumers continue to buy beauty online during the pandemic? Interestingly, data from IMRG shows a surge for health and beauty as lockdown began, with UK sales of this category during the week commencing 15th March growing 31.6% year-on-year. This could be due to consumers panic-buying, particularly products in the health vertical. For beauty brands selling online, however, the hope is that consumers will continue to replenish products that eventually run out again.

Of course, with less need for make-up and other occasion-reliant products, we’ve seen more of a pivot from brands (that sell multiple categories) towards skincare, and anything else that falls under the bracket of ‘self-care’. Naturally, during this time, people are more likely to be drawn to products that make them feel good as opposed to serving a functional purpose. What’s more, the skincare category aligns itself to virtual tutorials and consultations, as it requires less skill or practice than make-up.

We are also starting to see the beauty industry serve consumers who are unable to maintain their regular routines, but who usually rely on upkeep and regular services, such as hair dyes, manicures, or hair removal. Hair brand Bleach London, for example, has launched the ‘Bleach Hair Party’ platform on its website, which is essentially a digital salon that enables customers pick out and buy the correct hair colour, as well as an online guide to help them do it at home.

Bleach London
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Meanwhile, brands that already offer ‘DIY’ beauty products are seeing an increase in demand. LA brand, Olive & June, has found that demand for its ‘at home’ mani kits have increased eightfold since the outbreak. Haircare brand Madison Reed has also seen sales of its at-home hair colouring kits soar 750%.

Helping out

Throughout the past month, we’ve seen certain beauty brands leverage both scientific expertise and production facilities to help in the fight against the pandemic. Skincare brand Apostrophe is supporting the World Health Organisation by prioritising the production of hand sanitiser in its laboratory. Apostrophe is also donating any profits of its hand sanitiser sales to the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund.

Elsewhere, L’Occitane is also producing hand sanitiser, so far manufacturing 70,000 litres to go to healthcare workers in France. The brand has also donated 10,000 hand creams to NHS workers in the UK, and is sending profits directly back to the NHS, too.

Bookings platform Treatwell has also started an initiative to help the NHS, reaching out to its partnering salons to ask for any spare PPE equipment (such as face masks or disposable gloves) for donation. Karen Betts, who is the founder of Nouveau Lashes and HD Brows, has done the same, since donating 100,000 crucial items to NHS staff and care homes.

Finally, beauty brands have been stepping forward to show support to others who might be particularly vulnerable at this time. With concerns that domestic violence is likely to rise during this time, Avon has donated £150,000 to the women’s charity, Refuge. Soap & Glory has also pledged to donate 30,000 products to charities including The Hygiene Bank, which helps provide hygiene essentials to those who cannot afford them. Bravo.