Jessica Richards, owner of Shen Beauty, a store in Brooklyn that specialises in skin care, is placing an unusual bet that the worst of the pandemic will soon be over: she’s stocking more lipstick.
The product has seen dismal sales this year, with consumers seeing little point in glamming up the lower half of their face when they’ll be covering it with a mask. Prestige makeup sales in the US declined by 31 percent in the third quarter, year-over-year, according to The NPD Group.
But Richards is optimistic about the category, and lipstick in particular. She points to Pfizer’s announcement on Monday that its vaccine has proven more than 90 percent effective in clinical trials, and that up to 25 million people could receive immunisations by the end of the year.
She thinks sales for lip colour, foundation and bronzer – the first products mask-wearers gave up last spring – could rebound quickly if a vaccine becomes available in the coming months. She reached an agreement with a new luxe lipstick line that will be stocked exclusively at Shen Beauty starting early next year.
“People are going to be dying to wear lipstick,” she said.
She’s not the only one who thinks so. Ulta Beauty’s stock is up 17 percent since Pfizer’s announcement, hitting its highest price since the last week of February when coronavirus fears first hit global markets. Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and other beauty sellers also saw modest bumps.
“As Ulta went up, Peloton went down – that’s how quickly the market reacted to the vaccine and how quickly people’s habits might change,” said Katie Thomas, head of the Kearney Consumer Institute. Thomas said consumers will come back to beauty first – versus leisure travel – because they will be staying local and wanting to go out and get “dolled up.”
Even if beauty comes back, Thomas added, there will be casualties. Some beauty habits may have permanently changed during the pandemic. Customers pay more attention to ingredients now and have pared back the number of products they buy. They are likely to continue doing so even after a vaccine is widely available.
“Covid has allowed beauty to be redefined,” Thomas said.
Life may go “back to normal” (or closer to it), but it doesn’t mean consumers will stop worrying about Covid. Thomas urged beauty retailers to stick with what they learned from the pandemic about customer behaviour, hygiene protocols and in-store sampling – and extend that into a new way of selling.
Retailers aren’t just readying for an influx of sales; they’re eager for a return to services, many of which were put on hold because of the close physical contact required for facials, makeup application, blowouts and eyebrow styling.
For Credo Beauty, a quick pandemic resolution means resuming in-store events and masterclasses, a key part of the business, according to Dawn Dobras, the retailer’s chief executive. Credo has 10 locations across the US.
“Nobody wants another Zoom class right now,” Dobras said. “We’re all doing it because there’s no other option but the second we can all get off Zoom we’ll be thrilled.”
Since reopening, Credo offers limited services – but the experience is not the same.
“It’s not as relaxing or fun, you’re both masked, there’s a lot of sanitation. It’s not an easy-breezy, it’s a little more clinical,” Dobras said. “Part of beauty services is the community, the connection and the humanness of it – and you can’t do it right now.”
Others think there is a larger cultural reckoning afoot. The makeup diehards are counting the minutes until their lipstick won’t stain a mask, but going makeup-free may be a permanent behavioural shift.
Even if there is an effective vaccine available next year, many will (continue to) forgo colour cosmetics altogether. Going so long without a full face of foundation, highlighter and blush made people question the reason they did it in the first place. The same goes for tailoring, bras and high heels.
“For women, it blurs with this feminist discourse and the idea of ‘Why did I wear makeup?’ and ‘Why did I spend this much time and money on this segment?’ – those torturous things we used to do,” said Lucie Greene, a futurist and founder of Light Years, a consultancy.
Shaun Kearney, chief merchandising officer at Goop, thinks people will take a simplified approach to beauty because of Covid, whether it’s strictly skin care or hybrid skin care and makeup items that cut down the number of products.
“After living in this high-touch world of perfectionism so long, customer habits will be permanently changed – but to what extent, and as it pertains to makeup, it’s still unknown,” Kearney said.
He believes the mass adoption of anything with purported wellness, detoxifying or anti-stress benefits won’t go away – vaccine or not.
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