Winning by an Eyelash: The Impact of Digital on the Path to Beauty Purchase

by Larry Levin


I was at the NACDS (National Association of Chain Drug Stores) Total Store Expo recently talking about how the face of beauty in the U.S. is changing dramatically. With American shoppers more diverse than ever, a path to purchase that is increasingly complex, and fragmenting retail and media landscapes, the challenges in capturing the beauty buyer are greater than ever. However, beauty is one of the most sought-after categories online and ripe with opportunity, especially if you understand beauty shoppers.

Beauty is currently a $49 billion business in the U.S., with $1.5 billion of that spent online. Even though it accounts for 6.5 percent of total store sales, the category accounts for 14 percent of internet sales (this includes cosmetics, fragrance, skin care, personal cleansing, shaving, grooming supplies and hair care). Fragrance and skin care, in particular, have higher share online than off. And, while Amazon continues to dominate online beauty sales overall, and eBay are also highly popular sites, forcing all the other e-tailers in the beauty space to battle for the remaining share of wallet.

So, who is the beauty buyer?

Beauty shoppers are likely to browse and shop online – over two-thirds (69 percent) do this. They visit an average of 2.6 sites and browse/shop 1.8 stores. They are also highly engaged in the buying process. They do extensive up-front research to find the best products and deals. And, while they pay attention to price, it’s not the primary motivator. The buying experience continues to be a critical part of the beauty path to purchase. They are open to in-store experiences, and how-to videos and buyer reviews are critical online.

And you can’t underestimate the importance of pre-planning to them. Beauty vloggers, i.e. video bloggers on YouTube, can have a big influence on consumers’ path to purchase, especially when it comes to educating and influencing buyers. Pixability’s 2015 Beauty Report shows that the top six beauty vloggers, which include Bethany Mota, Michelle Phan and Zoella, each have more channel views than there are people in the entire U.S. population. It’s no wonder that, according to Advertising Age, many of these vloggers make at least $14K per month from their online presence.

Quick trips are important to beauty consumers, but one-stop shopping is not. And, nearly half of beauty shoppers go online to seek coupons and sales from coupon, retailer and manufacturer sites.

Beauty buyers also have a greater connection to manufacturer sites than other CPG buyers. In fact, shoppers are more likely to seek information at manufacturers' sites versus retailers’ sites. This direct-to-consumer channel underscores the need for strong collaboration between manufacturers and retailers.

The majority – 80 percent – of beauty shoppers make a list of some type before shopping, but only 18 percent of them specify a brand! This is a huge opportunity for beauty manufacturers and retailers to capture these brand-open shoppers.

Whether or not they bought online, over half of beauty product buyers surveyed by IRI did an activity online related to the purchase before going to the store:

- 61 percent searched for sales or coupons
- 44 percent researched/got information
- 38 percent responded to advertising/email

And, 60 percent used their smartphones to do it.

What's next?

There is no doubt that online sales of beauty products will continue to grow as consumers become more used to shopping for CPG products online. And, as demographics in the U.S. continue to change, brands and retailers must make a concerted effort to get to know millennials and Generation Z and offer products that match these shoppers' diverse needs. Also, brands and retailers will need to understand the shopper segments that make up the beauty buyers and browsers online including the DigitizeMe segment, one of the most digitally-savvy segments identified by IRI and which drives a disproportionate share of beauty sales.

Of course, it’s important to remember that, even with the rise of e-commerce, the store is still where the majority of sales currently take place. Its role is evolving though, as more consumers are testing products in physical stores but then go online to buy. E-commerce itself has evolved beyond just the actual transaction, with “how to” videos, social posts, bloggers and other online media directly impacting the path the purchase.  

The brands and retailers that know what different consumers want – using integrated data sets and analytics that uncover new insights, and technology that helps them act quickly on those insights – will be able to put their own best face forward and capture more share of the beauty wallet online and offline.

For a copy of my NACDS presentation and/or information on IRI's e-commerce, consumer segmentation and/or other consumer and shopper marketing solutions, please contact me at


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