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Fast Fashion for the Face

In a bid to make their stores a one-stop destination, high street retailers are launching own-brand beauty lines.
& Other Stories beauty | Source: & Other Stories
  • Kati Chitrakorn

LONDON, United Kingdom — Kaleidoscopic counters of eyeshadows, foundations to suit every skin shade and a lipstick for every month of the year. Make no mistake. This is not a beauty emporium like MAC or Smashbox. Rather, it's what your local branch of H&M will look like in a matter of weeks.

In May, the world’s second biggest high street retailer announced the launch of a 700-piece beauty collection, which will hit 900 stores worldwide and online this autumn. Consisting of three separate beauty lines — a flagship H&M beauty line, a premium line and an eco-conscious line — the range will be launched alongside a new beauty website, H&M Beauty, which will advise on the latest beauty trends and make-up tips.

To keep up with today’s consumers, high street brands are launching beauty lines, stocked alongside their men’s and women’s wear, to make their stores a one-stop destination. This includes Topshop, which celebrates five years of its beauty offering this year; Next, which quietly launched its ‘Make Me Beautiful’ beauty range in February; Urban Outfitters which increased its beauty offering this year by 18 percent; and H&M, the newest entrant to the space.

H&M beauty products | Source: HM

Fashion and beauty have always been closely aligned. The reasons why are two-fold explains Nicole Tyrimou, a beauty and personal care analyst at Euromonitor: “Beauty’s affordability helps fashion brands expand their target audience without compromising on brand image. On the other hand, we’re seeing fashion and luxury brands getting into it, because beauty represents an entry point and a way to capture a lot more consumers.”

According to Euromonitor, the global beauty market is currently worth $465 billion, with a growth of 5.3 percent compared to the previous year. The ‘mass beauty’ market category, which high street beauty falls into alongside brands like L’Oreal and Maybelline, was worth $290 billion in 2014, with a growth rate of 5.7 percent.

“Low cost make-up has been on the rise as [fashion] brands offer beauty items that are affordable and displayed in an attractive aisle where consumers can interact with and experience the products,” says Emmanuelle Moeglin, a global fragrance and colour cosmetics analyst at Mintel. “Own-labels such as Topshop and & Other Stories have benefitted from their mass-market image and lower prices, while having quality formulations and imagery.”

Beauty on the rise

One of the first high street players to take a significant step into the beauty market was Topshop, which first dipped a toe in 2010 with a basic collection of lipsticks and eye make-up. The brand has since expanded to include blushers, primers, foundations and nail polishes, which are sold alongside false lashes, travel wipes, hair extensions and make-up brush kits from other brands.

“Fashion and beauty sit under the same roof. It makes perfect sense for Topshop to complete our offering with a beauty range,” says Stephanie Sheperis, beauty trading manager of Topshop. “Our customers shop with us because they know they can always find something new in our stores, while we create an approachable environment for them to experiment and have fun with it.”

Topshop beauty | Source: Topshop

Over the past five years, the Topshop beauty brand has made a credible name for itself, having collaborated with fashion designers such as Louise Gray and extending its reach to stores in Europe, the United States, Hong Kong and Australia. Presented in a unique polka dot and stripes packaging, the brand can now stand on its own in multi-brand retailers such as Selfridges and Nordstrom.

While H&M’s first full-range beauty collection is yet to debut, it isn’t the company’s first foray into beauty. & Other Stories was launched by the H&M Group as a premium beauty brand three years ago, before evolving into a fully-fledged ‘lifestyle brand' encompassing fashion, accessories, jewellery and intimates. Packaged in the same vein as the rest of the store’s products — clean and chic, with a touch of Swedish flair — & Other Stories’ lipsticks, blushes, eye make-up, nail polishes and creams are dotted around the store, among the clothes and accessories.

“It’s all about becoming a lifestyle brand. A consumer can pop into the store and shop everything from head to toe,” comments Tyrimou. “I think what high street brands have in their advantage is a strong brand identity and the consumers already being there in the store. Customers visit the store multiple times, week after week. If you wanted to buy a lipstick from L’Oreal Paris, you’d have to go to Boots or the supermarket.”

Festival-ready clothing store Urban Outfitters has also quietly ramped up its beauty offering in recent years. “We’ve always stocked beauty products at Urban Outfitters, but we’ve really expanded our range since Spring/Summer 2015. We increased our offering by 18 percent and have created a specific area for beauty within our key stores,” says Charlotte Glover, buying manager of Urban Outfitters.

Although they are not own-label products, Urban Outfitters boasts a colourful range of over 150 brands, from mainstream labels like Eyeko, Tangle Teezer and Corioliss to cutely packaged goods from Korea and products with magical names like Unicorn Oil. “Our best performing products have been affordable and quirky brands like EOS and Not Your Mother’s,” says Glover.

For Topshop, one of its most popular, cult products is the freckle pencil — “A pencil that swirls in two colours to draw freckles on your face,” explains Sheperis. Euromonitor’s Tyrimou explains eye-catching or unusual marketing is “important” for these own-label beauty lines.

“Topshop is doing it well. Their products have quirky, distinctive polka dot packaging,” says Tyrimou.

Mintel’s Moeglin agrees: “By offering attractive packaging, some own-label products have reached a point where they enjoy a cult following.”

Creating desirability

However, the high street’s push into beauty comes with its own set of challenges. The typical nature of the high street is that new products and trends are introduced to the store, fast and frequently. Beauty, on the other hand, has longer innovation cycles and cannot keep up. This creates an impediment for high street brands, as well as their consumers, who are used to seeing new product options once a week.

& Other Stories beauty products | Source: & Other Stories

“Typically, the categories where consumers tend to shop the most for branded items are fragrances, hair-care and bath and shower products — categories where brand image and quality are important purchase drivers,” explains Moeglin.

“People are more stable with products like skincare. You don’t buy skincare every week. Colour is the main thing brands are tapping into. It’s more similar to fashion because it’s more seasonal,” says Tyrimou. “H&M has catered for the seasonality of colour cosmetics and will be launching new colour palettes every season, as well as limited edition palettes to evoke exclusivity. Beauty doesn’t change as quickly as fast fashion, but it’s certainly seasonal and has links to fashion and its collections.”

"It's about finding the right balance," adds Topshop's Sheperis. "Historically, we've launched a constant stream of newness, but we also know about the disappointment when you find a favourite product and it's no longer available."

Challenging the mass market

With its guaranteed footfall, high street beauty should almost be a surefire hit for any brand looking to branch out. However, Moeglin stresses that “focusing on product quality is essential to encourage consumers to switch from branded drugstore buys to own-label beauty.” She continues: “Retailers’ own-label beauty aisles need to become destinations in their own right in order to improve their image from just being a cheap option to offering good quality, value-for-money products that can compete against mass market brands.”

Tyrimou notes that it wouldn’t necessarily be advantageous for all high street retailers to start offering beauty. “It’s easier for brands to launch activewear or a product to fit the ‘athleisure’ trend, because they already have the manufacturing and supply chain in place. With beauty, it’s a much bigger commitment because they have to tap into a whole new supply chain. You have to be willing to invest financially to be able to make beauty a viable business.”

Yet, five years in, Sheperis remains optimistic about Topshop’s beauty business. “Our aspiration is to continue to expand and create awareness outside of our own stores. The expansion needs to be well timed. It’s a strategic discussion we’re having at the moment. Our aim is that in five years’ time, we want Topshop Beauty to be in every girl’s make-up bag globally,” she said.

“Whether or not H&M’s beauty products can shake up the beauty market will initially depend on how well the company incorporates beauty in-store, as well as the quality of its products,” adds Tyrimou. “In the longer term, success will be measured on whether [brands] can build a beauty reputation that captures beauty consumers outside its fashion world consumer base."

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