How Beauty Buying is Changing During the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, the beauty industry had already undergone vast change in recent years. Trends like direct-to-consumer disruption, the push towards inclusivity, and personalization — just to name a few — have all made a great impact on how brands engage with their consumers. And, after a year where online sales increased by 18.6% in 2019, brands were in a good position to adapt to store shutdowns and capitalize on digital. Below, we take a look at how the beauty landscape has shifted in 2020 and offer thoughts on the future.


Making Room for Men

During the pandemic, 49% of consumers have continued with their normal beauty routines. Over half of these consumers — 54%, to be exact — are men. This split can most likely be attributed to the fact that basics, such as shampoo or body wash, are still considered essential whether one is leaving the home or not. What products are men purchasing? Bath & Body (39%) and Haircare (36%) are the top spending categories, while Facial Skincare (18%) and Makeup (8%) round up the pack. Though makeup is a distant fourth place in terms of spending, there was a 51% YoY increase in terms of men who said makeup was their top spending category.


Haircare and Bath & Body products are the top spending areas for men


Overall, men merit more consideration as beauty consumers. One in five men buys beauty products online on at least a monthly basis, and they account for nearly 40% of those who spend more than $50 per month on beauty products. Inclusivity has been a big trend in beauty in recent years, so it’s likely that we’ll see brands making in-roads with men through gender neutral product lines or simply gender diversification.


Looking at Online Beauty Buyers

According to Tinuiti, 25% of consumers have been forced to increase their online beauty expenditures during the pandemic. Where are they purchasing from? Amazon continues to maintain its lead as the top destination in online beauty buying and is the most popular site for web-first beauty buyers. This is largely due to Amazon’s seemingly limitless inventory and the fact that shoppers use it as a search engine for discovering new products. Ulta and Sephora, too, have seen growth in 2020 as the top preferred sites for 11% and 10% of consumers, respectively.


Shoppers Gender % Under 35 Top Categories Top Social Platform
Amazon 55% Male 30% Haircare, Bath & Body Facebook (21%)
Sephora/Ulta 74% Female 50% Facial Skincare, Haircare Instagram (29%)


Looking at shopper demographics, Amazon caters to more of an older, more male clientele relative to Sephora and Ulta. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these consumers also spend less. Twenty percent of Amazon beauty buyers spend over $50/month on products, which pales in comparison to 38% for Sephora and Ulta shoppers. Lastly, in terms of social media influence, it should be noted that Sephora and Ulta shoppers are nearly twice as likely as Amazon shoppers to share beauty finds with their friends.


The Future of Brick and Mortar Beauty

When asked their preferred touchpoint for buying beauty products, in-store still reigned supreme among 45.7% of respondents. Walmart, specifically, remains the top preferred destination for in-store purchases (28%), but has lost ground year over year while the likes of Target (16%), Ulta (16%), and Sephora (10%) have seen marked growth.

On the other side of the coin, 54.3% of consumers purchase through a combination of online/in-store (35.7%) or just online beauty buying (18.6%). For brick-and-mortar retailers, that means adapting the in-store experience or continuing to lose share. While the MAC Cosmetics Innovation Lab in Queens has been in the works for over a year — well before the pandemic — it represents a glimpse at the future of the in-store experience. Shoppers can customize their own palettes, personalize product packaging, and virtually try on makeup — a touch-free experiences that brings together the best of both the digital and physical worlds.

Is your brand looking to cater to beauty consumers in the coming months? Contact us today to learn how our suite of integrated marketing capabilities can help you build awareness with consumers, encourage trial, and earn lifelong loyalists.




Sources: “Beauty Industry Trends Report 2020: Exclusive Insights on Shoppers Shaping the Future.” Tinuiti (2020), “MAC Cosmetics New Concept Store is the Next Step in Virtual Retail.” Forbes (2020).


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