Expert's Opinion

Online Beauty: Researching, Purchasing or Just Parsing?

By Kat Fay, Mintel Senior Beauty & Personal Care Analyst | June 17, 2010

Mintel's Kat Fay weighs in on online activity.

As the internet continues to make retail advancements, the question of how to attract beauty shoppers is a real hot-button for the industry. Social networking has created yet another path for marketers to exploit. While online shopping grows in popularity, cosmetics and skin care have a few cyber-challenges. Obviously, there’s always potential for internet sales to increase as websites become easier to navigate, but currently consumers seeking to buy beauty products online have finite possibilities.

According to Mintel’s exclusive consumer research 58% of respondents purchase color cosmetics through a mass merchandiser, 42% purchase at a drug store, and 19% buy cosmetics at a department store. When asked about buying makeup through an online version of a brick and mortar location (such as; the response was only 5%. Not surprisingly, mass merchandisers and drug stores command the majority of cosmetic sales due largely to locations and price point. While there’s a drug store on every corner, mass merchandisers compete in terms of volume and one-stop shopping for many.

Specialty stores such as Ulta, Sephora and department stores require a special trip for most, so the convenience factor is not the same. Based on this logic it stands to reason that more women would utilize the internet. But with only 5% reporting this as a purchasing channel, this option is not being adopted as heavily as some think.

So why aren’t more women buying cosmetics and skin care online? There are a few factors, but based on the physical/personal nature of these products, most women need to try them out before making a decision. Color cosmetics require repeated trial and error and the internet cannot replicate physical sampling. The same goes for skin care, but these purchases are based on feel rather than appearance. Because women spend so much time choosing these products, they are not likely to take a chance on a “blind date” found on the internet.

What they can purchase online with confidence are repeat repertoire purchases. Once they become familiar with a brand or color they use; buying online can save a trip to the store. But sometimes, saving time is not always top of mind. Makeup and skin care purchases are emotional to a certain degree. Most women enjoy a trip to the cosmetic aisle so they can stock up, but many prefer to visit physical stores so they can look for seasonal introductions and promotions. The internet offers advantages when it comes to product research or searching for the best deals. Women can do their homework before making a trip to the store, but most are not making the Internet a purchase destination.

Besides the tactile nature of cosmetics and skin care, many are still averse to buying anything online. Whether it’s fear of identity theft or even the lack of a credit card, the internet is not always considered failsafe when it comes to purchasing. Beauty retailing in cyberspace is still expanding and improving, but it has a long way to go before it increases its market share against the dominant channels. Inducements such as liberal free samples and free shipping can encourage some, but it’s more likely that deep discounts will ultimately persuade a higher level of online traffic in the future.

About the Author
For more than six years, Kat Fay has been analyzing trends for Mintel’s Reports team. As a senior consumer research analyst, her key areas of research include lifestyle reports that focus on health, weight control, eating habits and nutrition, along with the health and beauty sector.Some of her recent reports include Organic Foods, Weddings in a Recession, Spending Power of Baby Boomers, and Anti-Aging Skincare.

Prior to joining Mintel, Fay has held past positions as English department researcher for St. Xavier University in Chicago and editor of an online current events news publication. Her commentary and analysis has been featured in a several national consumer and trade publications, including
The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Supermarket News and The New York Times.

Fay holds her M.A. in English from St. Xavier University, where she is currently serving on the university’s steering committee to integrate the English and Business degree program.

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