Consumers prefer face to face when it comes to buying cosmetics

By Jacqueline Junke, market lead UK at global market research company Appinio

There’s no doubting e-commerce’s convenience. Next-day delivery used to be the pinnacle of fast, efficient service but with the growing range of same-day delivery options and even within-the-hour services in the grocery space, any whim can be sated in a matter of minutes. But convenience isn’t everything and despite e-commerce growing to 25% of all retail sales, there are still sectors where experience and the personal touch are a critical factor.

Cosmetics and personal care still feature highly in customers’ in-person shopping experience preferences, with Appinio’s latest research into the sector suggesting that UK consumers are fifteen times more likely to buy self-care products from a supermarket or health retailer such as Boots, than online.

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Some 68% of those surveyed claim that they prefer to purchase personal care products in-person because of the immediate access to the product and also being able to smell or touch items. It’s very promising for supermarkets and high street retailers to be able to tap into consumer demand for retail experience, as well as other elements of convenience, practicality and cost.

That’s not to say online channels don’t play an important role, but understanding how the omnichannel mix is made up is critical to reaching customers at the right point in their purchasing journey. For example, Appinio research has suggested that consumers are more likely to take inspiration for a purchase from in-store displays or recommendations from friends than from influencer or brand-based social media posts. However, for the near-third (30%) of consumers who do seek inspiration on social media, the aesthetic-focused Instagram scored highest with 35% of the audience. TikTok, despite growing rapidly particularly among a younger demographic, still only secured 15% of the audience.

When it comes to choice of retailer and channel, there is a definite split between pampering and practicality. Supermarkets garner the lion’s share of sales when it comes to deodorants (53%), shower products (52%), shaving products (47%) and dental care (55%). If you add in the fact that price is also the biggest influence on some purchasing decisions, it is clear that the keen discounting in supermarkets trumps the need for any kind of ‘self-care retail experience’.

Health retailers like Boots or Superdrug understandably see their strengths at the more pampering end of the spectrum, with consumers preferring to shop here for cosmetics (50%), face care (40%) and body lotions (38%). As past experience (33%) and skin compatibility (27%) also figure highly in why consumers choose certain products, these retailers are ideally placed to enhance the cosmetics-buying experience as well as introduce product experts to advise and guide customers to the best products for them.

Boots’ recent brand refresh to help its customers ‘feel good as new’ is hoping to tap into the complex needs of the personal care customer. Under new CMO, Peter Markey, its ad campaign looks to address everyone’s different personal care choices, from digital health to in-store beauty with a range that has been expanded to include 54 new brands, enticing customers to come and experiment.

In an effort to blur the lines between digital and bricks and mortar, there is also evidence that digital in-store is becoming more prevalent. One in 10 consumers claim to have used Virtual Reality (VR) to try on beauty products with 45% stating they could imagine having a go in the future. The pandemic naturally drew attention to virtual alternatives to cosmetics counters, with niche beauty retail – and department stores as shown by the British Retail Consortium – being forced to close its doors.

US-based Ulta Beauty saw a five-fold leap in engagement with its GlamLab virtual try-on tool since the pandemic. Skin analysis was another tool it added, which dovetails neatly with the finding above that skin compatibility is a big concern for customers. Given that 70% of Brits under 40 already augment their appearance in videos and selfies with filters, using VR to try out real-world options is a logical next step.

UK consumers are clearly open to new ways of shopping for personal care – even for the notoriously under-groomed British male, 70% of whom admitted they cut their own hair during lockdown and 66% of whom stated they intend to continue doing so. More than half already try or fancy using a subscription personal care service to make sure they’re staying sharp (literally) with shaving products and so on.

As a result, retailers have to stay on top of trends and make sure they’re delivering as much on experience as convenient. They cannot afford to have either lacking in any channel, such is the wide variety of options today’s consumer has when it comes to sourcing the best, cheapest and most convenient personal care products around.

Jacqueline Junke is market lead UK at global market research company Appinio

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