NEW YORK, United States — A 23-year-old French student named Marianne Bijaoui sent out a carefully crafted tweet this week — gif included — directed at one of her favourite beauty brands, begging for a clue as to when it will finally open international shipping in her country. She has managed to try its products by shipping orders to a post box in the UK and having them sent to her in Paris. “@Glossier if another product comes out before you start shipping to France I'll die,” she wrote. “PLS give us a hint.”
She only needs to hold out a few more months. The American skincare and makeup brand is counting on pent-up demand from women like Bijaoui as it prepares to start selling its Lash Slick mascaras, Cloud Paint blushes and the rest of its line in four more countries this year.
Shipping to Ireland began on Tuesday and will expand to Sweden in June, Denmark in August and France in October, according to a source close to the expansion efforts. Germany is slated for 2019. The brand, which was launched by founder and chief executive Emily Weiss in the US in 2014, entered Canada and the UK last year.
Glossier is going global at an unusually fast pace for a direct-to-consumer brand. The strategy is centred on quickly establishing and cultivating a community of engaged followers — much like the one that has grown over the last four years in the US, making Glossier attractive to investors. The company has raised over $86 million to date. Glossier’s most engaged consumers have become powerful ambassadors. Some are unpaid, while more than 500 “reps” are rewarded with cash and shopping credits. The word-of-mouth strategy has helped keep promotion costs down when entering new territories.
The company is laying the groundwork in its four new markets by repeating the methods tried and tested in the UK. Glossier’s director of international marketing, Sarah Hudson, searches through its Instagram followers to find “hyper-engaged community members” who are clearly fans. Maybe they have visited the New York showroom, its first retail location which opened in December 2016, or have found a way to smuggle product into their country. (A second retail location opened in Los Angeles on Tuesday.)
Once identified, Hudson and her team personally meet with this core group, which in the UK started with about 50 people and has since grown to about 150. The Glossier team takes them to lunches and dinners or drinks at their local pub.
“They aren’t influencers, but we treat them like influencers,” says Hudson, emphasising the value of meeting these followers face-to-face in the months leading up to the international openings.
It’s a strategy Glossier says paid off in the UK, helping draw over 10,000 visitors in one week to a pop-up shop in London last October. UK sales are expected to surpass $10 million in the first year, chief operating officer Henry Davis tells BoF. While Glossier does not release revenue numbers, market sources estimate it hit about $50 million in annual sales in 2017.
Glossier raised an additional $52 million in a February Series C round and a $24 million Series B round in 2016 was specifically pegged to support the international plans. The company plans to use a warehouse it opened in the UK last year as a European shipping hub until it can add another distribution centre on the continent later this year, Davis says. Its London office will also be the base for the continent.
Glossier’s next international launches will bring new challenges, however. The UK and Canadian beauty markets share many traits with the US, including the language, shipping preferences and e-commerce penetration. France, Sweden and Denmark have their own beauty regulations and cultures; in France, for example, pharmacies are the go-to source for skincare.
Direct-to-consumer companies like Glossier are able to quickly expand into new countries because they don’t rely on physical stores to drive sales, says Rob Keve, the chief executive and co-founder of Flow, a cross-border e-commerce platform. By contrast, when the Toronto-based MAC Cosmetics sold to Estée Lauder in 1998, the conglomerate’s global logistics network and marketing muscle were motivating factors.
Glossier’s alluring visual identity and savvy social media presence differentiate it from its competitors. Thousands of customers regularly give feedback online, posting images of its products and tagging the brand on Instagram. The company says that three-quarters of new customers come to Glossier via peer-to-peer marketing and other organic channels.
It is rare for small beauty brands to invest in warehouses full of inventory in multiple countries, as Glossier is doing. Many opt first to sell through online marketplaces, local retailers, or just ship from the US. While those methods are cheaper, brands have less control over the consumer experience and can struggle to build local communities of loyal customers.
“Our proposition to the customer is so much more than availability of product,” says Davis. “It is inclusion, the community experience, a stakeholder status in Glossier. For us to be able to give those things to customers in other territories, we have to be on the ground engaging with people.”
Our proposition to the customer is so much more than availability of product.
Even so, the company is not changing its current product line or brand identity to tailor to local markets, says Hudson. “People want the Glossier that they had come to know and love on the internet.” (Some product names will be translated in France, however.)
Glossier’s point of view is strong enough that it doesn’t need to adapt its products and strategy to different markets, says Ransley Carpio, a former director at L Catterton who now works with international prestige and premium beauty lines expanding to the US. He says Glossier is “almost creating a market before even entering it” through its social media channels.
For French student Bijaoui — who, besides having product forwarded to her from the UK, also picked what she could from Glossier’s Colette pop-up last autumn before it sold out — the launch couldn’t come soon enough. “I feel like people outside of France have this idea of what the standard French woman is like,” she tells BoF, describing Glossier as refreshingly different. “[It’s like] your cool best friend.”
Editor's Note: This article was revised on 17 May, 2018. A previous version of this article stated that Glossier will launch in Denmark in June. This is incorrect. The brand will enter Denmark in August.