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6 Ways to Win the New Beauty Shopper

Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
6 Ways to Win the New Beauty Shopper
While sales of cosmetics declined, the pandemic drove a 5% increase in beauty sales over the past year as consumers snapped up more facial scrubs as a way to relieve COVID-19 stress.

Rapidly evolving consumer trends in the health and beauty care (HBC) aisle are nothing new for grocery store operators, but ask category managers whether they’d ever heard of “Zoom face” or “maskne” before March of last year, and you’d likely get blank stares in response.

When the pandemic hit nearly a year ago and consumers were forced to stay home and avoid hair and nail salons, many of them became more aware of and insecure about their appearances on video platforms such as Zoom. Cue the boom in sales of at-home hair color, double-chin reducing neck masks and other HBC products.

More daring consumers began experimenting with new beauty products because of Zoom: After all, if their new hair color looked bad on video, they could just turn the camera off.

Meanwhile sales of moist towelettes (wipes) have skyrocketed 24.3% over the past year as consumers look for ways to reduce “maskne,” facial breakouts and rashes attributed to wearing face masks.

All of these new behavior trends, none of which show any signs of going away anytime soon, gave rise to explosive growth in beauty care in 2020. While sales of cosmetics declined, the pandemic drove an overall 5% increase in beauty sales over the past year as consumers snapped up more facial scrubs and hand serums as a way to relieve stress and look good online, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI). Essential retailers such as grocery stores are uniquely positioned to squeeze more growth out of health and beauty care in 2021 as consumers adopt a “one-stop shop” lifestyle and buy their cuticle oils and eye treatments during their trips to get bacon and butter.

“We have seen great performance of our products in the grocery sector, and we expect that to continue throughout 2021,” affirms Leland Hirsch, founder and CEO of No Fade Fresh, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based beauty brand. Hirsch, formerly a new-product consultant for Redken and Clairol, developed the first color-depositing shampoos and conditioners under the ARTec brand in the 1990s. “We expect this trend to continue as food retailers experience higher traffic and more health/beauty growth than in past years,” he adds.

To capture more market share in body scrubs, pillow sprays and moisturizers in 2021, food retailers should be catering to six new types of beauty shoppers.

The DIY Beauty Shopper

No matter how many pictures of maskless Americans sweep across the nightly news, most U.S. consumers are still staying home as much as possible and avoiding hair salons and manicure shops over virus worries. This means do-it-yourself beauty treatments have become routine. According to IRI, sales of nail cosmetics (nail files, cuticle nippers, nail polish, etc.) were up 18% for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 29, 2020, sales of electric shavers were up 13%, and sales of hair color were up 7.1%.

Food retailers should take a leadership role in the natural and clean-beauty trend.

“We believe that a great percentage of the ‘at-home’ trends developed by consumers amid the COVID-19 shutdown will be continued from a DIY and economic perspective,” Hirsch notes.

The at-home beauty treatment trend isn’t going anywhere. Consumers are seeing the value in doing their own beauty care at home versus at salons, and sales in these categories are up for the foreseeable future. As a result, suppliers are working with retailers to meet demand for product.

“Our products are a brand-new category at retail,” Hirsch says of his company’s color-depositing shampoos and conditioners. “We created this category with our prestige brand, Celeb Luxury, which is the No. 1 product in salons in over 30 countries. The food, drug and mass customer has embraced our No Fade Fresh product as salon shutdowns prevented them from visiting salons. We believe that these ‘salon intermediary’ products will continue to be appealing to consumers that are looking to continue social distancing in 2021.”

The Clean Beauty Shopper

The rising popularity of clean, or natural, beauty products isn’t new, but the grocery retail channel has been slow to commit to marketing and merchandising more natural beauty SKUs.

Clean beauty products usually feature sustainable packaging and ethically sourced natural ingredients, in many instances locally produced and sometimes organic. Consumers of these products are likely to care about ingredients and where a product came from. Last month, Hy-Vee said it would host quarterly “Best of Local Brands” summits in 2021 to help expand its local product assortments at its more than 275 retail stores. The West Des Moines, Iowa-based grocer is particularly looking at expanding its assortment of locally produced beauty products as shopper interest in these items has exploded during the pandemic.

“An increasing number of Hy-Vee customers would like to be able to purchase from local vendors during their grocery shopping process — whether in store or via our Aisles Online grocery pickup and delivery service,” says Darren Baty, Hy-Vee’s EVP and CMO. “Supporting small local businesses is important to us, and these quarterly summits will enable vendors in our eight-state region to present their products directly to our purchasing team, and — in return — will ensure our team is aware of all of the incredible, locally made products that we can share with our customers.”

There are significant opportunities for food retailers to take a leadership role in the clean beauty trend. They just need to bump up their clean beauty SKUs and call out clean ingredients and wellness attributes in signage. Cross-merchandising pineapple snacks with pineapple masks wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

“Clean beauty is continuing to ascend as a consumer preference, and is applicable to anything that you are putting in your hair, on your face, or ingesting,” Hirsch observes.

The Digital Beauty Shopper

COVID-19 e-commerce trends in beauty care will likely accelerate in 2021.

Beauty was the top-performing category for year-over-year online growth on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2020, according to retail marketing firm Bluecore. Online beauty sales grew by 46% on Black Friday and 47% on Cyber Monday. The New York-based firm predicts that beauty will have seen a 62% overall year-over-year increase for the holiday shopping period ending Jan. 5.

Food retailers will need to prioritize digital channels to capture and convert the attention of existing and new beauty shoppers. Grocers should be prioritizing the use of artificial intelligence for testing, discovery, customization and education in beauty care. Other examples include providing online tutorials or access to digital beauty advisers.

As do-it-yourself beauty treatments have become routine, sales of nail cosmetics, body care products and hair color are way up.

“Consumer education is essential in translating salon-quality products to the consumer for do-it-yourself application,” Hirsch says. “We are adding ‘tele-beauty’ options that include things like professional video color consultations and how-to videos from our in-house world-renowned colorists.”

The Self-Care Beauty Shopper

“Today, beauty is a critical link to acts of self-care and wellness,” asserted Mary Dillon, CEO of Bolingbrooke, Ill.-based Ulta Beauty, in a December 2020 call with analysts.

Hunkered down in their homes and feeling the anxiety caused by the pandemic, consumers have been purchasing health and beauty products to relieve stress. Sales of sleeping remedies (27.9%), vitamins (18.2%), body scrubs (6.8%), bath products (8.3%) and soap (41.8%) have all grown over the past year, according to IRI.

So have sales of candles, home scents and massaging appliances, according to the NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y.

“Massaging appliances can solve a variety of consumer wellness needs that have escalated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” notes Joe Derochowski, NPD’s home industry adviser. “Whether it is to relieve stress, soothe a sore back from a makeshift home workspace, or just find some much-needed relaxation, these products fit into the consumer’s broader quest for comfort during challenging times.”

In addition to massaging appliances, both candles and home fragrance have seen double-digit dollar gains, as have body-exfoliating skin care products.

“Through products such as body care and home scents, consumers are creating a spa-like environment at home and finding new outlets to de-stress and capture a sense of normalcy and balance,” says Larissa Jensen, NPD’s beauty industry adviser.

This past December, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever partnered with Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart to develop and launch Find Your Happy Place, an exclusive line of candles and body care products. The goal: to create value-priced aromatherapy products sold in stores and online.  

The In-Store Beauty Shopper

Despite strong growth in online sales, most beauty shoppers still want to shop in-store. When Ulta reported third-quarter results in December, Dillon said that the company’s priority is to reimagine how the physical store shopper experiences and discovers beauty in “the new normal.”

“Product discovery is a hallmark of the beauty shopping experience, and we’re welcoming more guests to experience the fun of GLAMlab, our virtual try-on tool,” she noted. “Our store associates have done a great job introducing GLAMlab to guests as a safe alternative to testers in stores, which are currently for display purposes only. To help facilitate even more in-store engagement, we’ve introduced new QR codes on select shelf strips that take guests directly into the GLAMlab experience, making it even easier for guests to virtually try on products while they’re in stores.”

This beauty shopper still really wants the in-store shopping experience, but now the rules of the game have changed. A great in-store beauty experience is no longer about fancy lighting and lots of testers. For food retailers, the way to win this shopper now is via a safe physical store experience aided by virtual tools, as Ulta has done; using signage promoting sanitation protocols; and providing plenty of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer.

The Inclusivity Beauty Shopper

With the United States on its way to becoming a multicultural majority country by 2044, multicultural beauty shoppers are naturally a major force driving U.S. beauty sales. These consumers are looking for value-driven products that they can relate to not only in terms of individual personalities and lifestyles, but also in terms of gender fluidity, disability and agelessness. That means fine-tuning messaging and merchandising to the diversity of today’s beauty consumer, whether it’s merchandising Black-owned skin care, or brands that cater to disability-focused beauty.

Some grocery retailers are working with suppliers to attract the inclusivity shopper. This past November, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer hosted its first virtual Supplier Diversity Summit, giving diverse-owned businesses an opportunity to showcase their offerings for Meijer merchants. Certified minority-, LGBTQ-, woman-, veteran- and disability-owned businesses in the beauty and personal care categories were invited to attend.

“At Meijer, we believe our partners should reflect the communities we serve,” explains Jamie Akemann, the company’s group VP of indirect procurement and supplier diversity. “This event gives us the opportunity to partner with diverse suppliers to empower them and provide economic support that will be felt throughout our communities, allowing us to better embody our mission of enriching lives in the communities we serve.”

The window of opportunity for grocery players to grab market share in the lucrative beauty category is wide open in 2021. First, however, food retailers must understand the six new types of beauty shoppers, and connect with them.

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