As an expert in the beauty industry, what is your take on the recent closing of Becca Cosmetics?
While I was just as devastated as anyone else (after all, their Champagne Pop highlighter is an incredible product), I was not surprised. The entire beauty industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, but while most companies have found innovative ways to bounce back and take advantage of the global quarantine, Becca was simply stuck in the past. In my opinion, their troubles began far before the pandemic began. After all, while the brand rocketed to near cult-like status after they released Champagne Pop with the help of the one and only Jaclyn Hill back in 2015, ever since their brand has been on a gradual decline. While certain disasters such as their recalled BECCA x Jaclyn Hill eyeshadow palette from 2016 and their Zero No Pigment Glass highlighter from 2020 stand out, these disasters could have been overcome had other aspects of Becca’s branding performed well. However, given that they both failed to generate strong interests with their other celebrity partnerships and did not diversify into skincare once the pandemic hit, their closure was almost bound to happen.
If we take a step back and look at the beauty industry as a whole, how do you think it has fared in the face of the pandemic?
In the first few months, the impacts were pretty devastating. Data from BCG found that during the week of May 3rd of 2020, cosmetics sales were down 9.9% in the United States and 13.6% in Germany when compared to the previous year.
However, this drop in revenues forced cosmetics companies to adapt to an online environment. One of the most difficult things faced by the industry was the lack of sampling, as trying on and physically seeing make-up before buying it has always been a major part of the purchasing process. With this in mind, the fact that companies such as Lancome have introduced virtual “try-ons” for products has revolutionized the shopping experience. Another major factor has been the actual products themselves. After all, while make-up sales have gone down due to the decrease in social gatherings, the time spent indoors has seemed to make people more conscious of personal hygiene. As a result, skin care and body wash sales have skyrocketed, and so the increased focus on these products has allowed many beauty companies to comfortably recover. But above all, the increased amount of time spent on social media has given beauty influencers a much larger audience, and by partnering with influencers worldwide, beauty companies have really been able to increase their global presence.
Do you think that these innovations will lead to sustainable long-term growth, or do you think that they will largely fizzle out once the pandemic is over?
I’m confident that most of these innovations will stimulate increased sales even after the pandemic runs its course. One of the biggest long-term takeaways will be the fact that shopping online has become a lot more personal. Be it the virtual try-ons I mentioned earlier, the makeup tutorials being posted by influencers of all skin tones, or the use of Facebook and Instagram’s in-app shops, online make-up shopping is quickly starting to become just as engaging as in-person makeup shopping. When combined with the convenience of making purchases from a phone or computer, I suspect that the increased reach that has come from these mediums is here to stay.
I also think that the increased social media use we saw in the pandemic has caused many to spend a lot more time consuming industry-specific content than they otherwise would have. After all, we have seen an increase in activity in beauty-related chatrooms and social media accounts, and while this activity may lessen as people go back to living their normal lives, the brand loyalties they acquired will likely remain. Thus, brands that acquired new clients via crafty partnerships and marketing tactics will likely receive repeat business for years to come.
Has the performance of the beauty industry been consistent with previous economic downturns, or has the COVID-19 pandemic been an exception to the norm?
The data seems to suggest that the pandemic’s effects on the industry were far from coherent with what can usually be expected during an economic downturn. Generally speaking, the beauty industry is seen as relatively recession-proof, and this is because even during a recession people still like to maintain their looks and, by extension, their self-confidence. And while it’s true that many will turn to lower-cost options, items that are seen as either essential pieces or affordable luxuries tend to do well during these difficult times (an example of this was the 2008-2009 fiscal year, which saw sales across the beauty industry increase by about 3.2%).
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial months had many experts worrying that the beauty industry was not as recession-proof as once thought. After all, during most economic downturns, stores are still open, workplaces are still functioning, and social gatherings are still happening, and as a result, people still want to keep up their appearances. Yet, the fact that a large portion of the population was stuck at home caused many beauty products to become much less desirable almost overnight, causing sales to plummet. While this was not in line with most other recessions, the fact that it forced firms to innovate has helped make their recovery especially strong.
Do you think that the innovations from the COVID-19 pandemic will help the beauty industry mitigate future downturns?
Absolutely. The great thing about the past year was that it allowed many beauty brands to create an online infrastructure that simply did not exist pre-pandemic. As a result, even when another economic downturn inevitably comes about, companies will be able to shift their marketing approaches far more quickly than they would in a brick-and-mortar setting. In my opinion, this will provide a cushion that will make these brands even more recession-proof well into the future.