Keys to E-Commerce During COVID-19

By Simone Xavier, Sigma Beauty | 06.01.20

Listen, plan, innovate and listen some more, says Simone Xavier.

When the outbreak of coronavirus began in China, I began following every aspect of it very closely; not only news sources but scientific sources. Prior to being a beauty founder and inventor, I was a veterinarian and a scientist. My understanding of the severity of a respiratory infectious disease, how easily it can spread and what is needed to contain it gave me an advantage in predicting what was next and to predict what actions our business needed to take.
Now, as we move to the next phase of adjusting to life where communities reopen but the threat remains, I’d like to offer what we’ve learned to succeed in beauty e-commerce. 

Take advantage of social listening to understand customers’ current and future needs and wants. 
My favorite way to gauge client needs is to read every single comment on our social platforms. I read every single review on not only our site, but on sites like Amazon and other major retailers. I also watch YouTube reviews by clients who have purchased our products, no matter their number of followers. I am constantly seeking the most genuine opinions to plan our product development
Listening to customers through digital channels became even more important during the COVID-19 crisis, providing insight for future planning on the products customers want and how they plan to buy them moving forward (retail or e-commerce). Sales data continues to be the best predictor of who your client is, what they want and how your brand is perceived. The products clients are currently purchasing also provide invaluable insights on what the market needs, and what they need from you specifically. For example, we’ve seen increased demand for our patented products that sanitize beauty brushes and strong interest in our new product launches.  

Infinity Point
Beauty clients also continue to show interest in the new, whether it’s new colors or new product innovations.Our Infinity Point lipstick, which features a patented precision point applicator that never loses the point, blew through our initial sales expectations for the product when it launched in March. Even as clients in many places around the world were wearing masks, our clients were very receptive to the concept and product overall. We have had great feedback on the four colors launched. We’re also starting to see online reviews that test the concept, and they’re so surprised that it actually works! 
Since the Infinity Point Lipstick was launched during the very early stages of the pandemic, several retailers had the opportunity to place orders, as they have access to new launches a few months in advance. Our retailers are very excited to carry this innovative product, and we will continue to provide new and exciting products to drive customers back into retailers as well as drive more sales on our website.
With the uncertainty in the world and lost milestone events, clients also continue to seek out positive and hopeful products. We see this with our new Cor-de-Rosa collection, an optimistic color palette launched in April with hopeful spring colors. For our clients in the Northern Hemisphere we’re also seeing an interest in color after coming out of a long and strange winter/spring period. 
We expect that as more clients start purchasing again over the next two quarters, we can re-introduce our spring product launches and capture the customers who missed the first launches due to budget or other constraints.
Innovate to Provide the Products Clients Don’t Know They Need 

With the continued interest in what’s new, it’s important to invest in innovative solutions. While we are always attune to what our clients need and want, we’re in the business of innovation, so we also focus on products, ideas or solutions that clients don’t know they want or need--yet. 
The reward might not be immediate, but we are always planning two years ahead. This gives us an ability to pivot when the market changes. For example, boosting our online sales capabilities or inventory. It’s always worth the risk to introduce a new idea. We live by the motto to fail fast and cheap as we work to bring new ideas to market.
My husband René is a civil engineer and co-founded Sigma Beauty with me. Together,  we have more than 60 patents around the world, primarily for products that were new to the market. Our clients never knew they needed silicone gadgets to clean their brushes, or a new brush building technology that makes our brushes indestructible and waterproof, or a lipstick that never loses the point. Whenever we introduce a solution, our clients are absolutely thrilled, and it helps keep Sigma top of mind when innovation is the subject of conversation.

Work with influencers who are truly fans of your brand. 
Our clients are savvy and they know sponsored content when they see it. They are thirsty for authentic, tried and tested recommendations when they buy products. This is true, now more than ever, as some people have a smaller budget for discretionary purchases.  

We invest our time in relationships with influencers who truly love our products. Their online demos as well as their feedback are so valuable. We also recognize that it was YouTube reviews from beauty gurus who praised our brushes that helped launch our business and sell out of our first product line with a waiting list of 2,000 clients. 
Moving forward, though, both beauty brands and influencers must find a happy medium to effectively reach clients and create value based on their interactions. Businesses should not rely too heavily on influencers, also seeking opportunities to communicate directly with clients in meaningful ways and adjusting to how they like to receive information. 

Focus on your strengths and be flexible to serve both direct and indirect clients to survive the current market conditions.
Our business philosophy has been to remain debt-free and to operate conservatively from a financial perspective. Yes, we try to fail fast and cheap, but that’s before we invest in getting products to market. This conservative approach has enabled us to weather the pandemic’s changing conditions.
Again, by planning two years in advance, it allows our future plans to accommodate for the changing dynamics of beauty retailers. We believe beauty shoppers will purchase more goods online and rely on influencers’ opinions. They will also research their purchases more, which is an advantage for us. 
Promotions such as free shipping or gifts with purchase have motivated clients during the pandemic and we will leave flexibility for promotions to meet the evolving market demands. Right now, free shipping worldwide has been a very popular promotion, and it has helped tremendously to track as closely to our revenue goals as we can. It also serves our clients abroad who perhaps don’t have as many e-commerce options as we do in the U.S.
We continue to focus on our core strengths: quality, function and innovation. Clients know what to expect from our products, and we endeavor to provide a consistent product. We also continue to invest in innovations to serve our clients and provide a sense of excitement. 
We also strive for micro-improvements to our existing product lines to ensure we are on the cutting edge of quality and performance. For example, we just recently launched our Clean Beauty program. All product launches moving forward will comply with our “No No” list, a comprehensive list of banned and harmful ingredients. We’ve also reformulated and re-certified all of our existing makeup products to be compliant. It’s been a monumental undertaking to find clean alternatives to all offending ingredients, re-certifying everything in our line. But we know it’s something our clients want and will appreciate from us as a trusted innovator in the beauty industry.
Our experience tells us that clients will always be interested in new products and product launches, a strength for us. Over the coming months, we will re-promote our products that launched during the crisis when we feel clients are ready for them, generating new interest for those who were not able or did not feel like purchasing initially. 
In uncertain times, classic colors and shades become more important. Our timeless palettes are more popular than ever as fast fashion and short-term trends demonstrate how quickly they fade. To appeal to today’s client, we want to offer quality products that will last and are worth their investment. In fact, past research by Nielsen indicates that when faced with uncertainty, people are more willing to focus on the overall quality of a product rather than price point.

About the Author
Sigma Beauty co-founder Dr. Simone Xavier, a molecular biologist, is renowned for her company’s focus on quality, function and innovation.