The Supply Side: Beauty category shifts online; Amazon, men behind push

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,186 views 

The beauty category is valued at more than $93 billion in North America and much of the growth in the high-margin category is online, fueled by social media and startup brands, according to a recent study published by market research firm Tinuiti. The 44-page report outlined category growth, Amazon’s inroads and habits of men flocking to the category.

Beauty is one of the segments actively migrating online from brick-and-mortar as 10% of all sales this year will be made online. Beauty and personal care sales are expected to grow 19% this year, according to eMarketer, which predicts sales will increase more than 17% annually through 2021.

The growth in beauty is drawing the attention of Amazon, Walmart and other online retailers hoping to carve out some of that share for themselves against specialty giants Sephora and Ulta, which each have a huge head start.

While online sales are growing rapidly, Tinuiti says physical stores remain popular with shoppers, even younger consumers (ages 18 to 24) who frequent stores for purchasing beauty items. Yet 40% said they sometimes conduct online research in stores and then make a purchase online. This could mean they are shopping the retailer’s own online store or they could be showrooming: looking at the products in one store and then making a purchase on a competitor’s online site. Tinuiti notes retailers offering omnichannel in beauty must make the shopping experience seamless, similar to Ulta and Sephora.

Ulta allows consumers to set up an online profile with their brand preferences and all their beauty attributes from hair styling to foundation make-up and overnight creams. When these consumers shop Ulta stores, the employees can upload their data and make recommendations for them to try while they are in the store.

That is not the case for a customer who is shopping Walmart, Walgreens or Target for their beauty needs, though Walmart continues to experiment with a beauty box subscription. Even so, this subscription is not directly linked into a personal beauty profile on that can be enhanced by an in-store experience.

These gaps at brick-and-mortar are providing opportunities for growth at Amazon in the beauty and personal care space. Amazon is on track to claim 47% of all online sales this year, and more than half of U.S. households have an Amazon Prime Membership subscription, according to eMarketer.

As Amazon sales continue to slow with market saturation, eMarketer predicts the e-tail giant will have to push harder into specific categories to find new growth opportunities: Beauty is one such category. Amazon recently revamped its beauty category, with a focus on luxury brands and an “indie” brand shop featuring products not available through other retailers. This exclusivity signals Amazon’s intent to compete with the likes of Sephora and Ulta. As a result, eMarketer predicts health and beauty will be Amazon’s third fastest-growing category this year with sales totaling 44% of all online health and beauty e-commerce.

The Tinuiti study found 72.6% of consumers surveyed primarily buy their beauty products in stores and just 27.4% of respondents preferred to shop online for their beauty product needs. The study found that even though just 27% of consumers shopped online, Amazon was the most preferred website for 26.6% of the respondents. Walmart was a close second to Amazon as 22.4% pegged as their top choice for beauty-care purchases. Specialty brands Ulta and Sephora ranked considerably lower in this study at 2.9% and 5.6%, respectively. In this report, 18% didn’t name a store and said they preferred to shop in physical stores.

The main reasons consumers chose Amazon when buying beauty products was free-shipping, low prices and large assortment. Nearly half (43%) of Amazon shoppers surveyed said they like to see the products in brick-and-mortar before making the purchase online, higher than the 38% of non-Amazon shoppers in the survey.

Tinuiti said retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence have an opportunity to divert sales from Amazon if consumers are indeed showrooming for beauty products in their stores. The use of augmented reality in displays is being tested in Walmart and other retailers with mirrors that allow consumers to see what eye-shadow looks like on them — without actually applying the makeup. Walmart has also put large mirrors in the aisles and cameras to track consumers as they shop the beauty department. The retailer said this is to reduce theft which is high in this category, but insiders say it is also to collect shopper behaviors to gain insights from actions like showrooming.

Tinuiti reports men’s grooming is forecast to grow at 8.9% through 2025. This is led by younger men defying gender stereotypes to explore skincare and cosmetics.

“Even men old enough to remember the term ‘metrosexual’ are part of the trend, with nearly two in five dads who have more than one child looking to prevent the signs of aging,” the study noted. “Already, more men than women go online once per month or more to buy beauty and grooming products — 22.8% of men, compared with 19.3% of women.”

The study found of respondents who make at least one online beauty purchase a month, 24.7% of women said they buy makeup, compared to 9.9% of men who purchase makeup. In hair care products, men outspent women with 27.9% of men against 22% of women. With skincare products, men also slightly outspent women. Bath and body products are where men spend most of their online beauty dollars. They outspend women by roughly 25% in bath and body products.

Tinuiti also found men are more likely to rely on stores to learn about new products, whereas women are more apt to use social media or online research. Men slightly favor subscriptions over women and both genders rely heavily on the word of friends or family.

“Given men’s reliance on stores for learning about new products, it’s no surprise that they’re more apt to conduct research in the aisles on their phones; close to 45% of men say they’ve used mobile devices to shop while in-store, compared with just 32% of women,” the report states.

Tinuiti found when men purchase online, close to 63% of them buy beauty products from mass merchants Amazon, Walmart and Target, with roughly a third choosing Amazon. By contrast, while Walmart is narrowly the top choice for women, just one in five shops at Amazon — and Target doesn’t make the top three.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.