Samantha Dover
Samantha Dover is Mintel's Category Director - Beauty & Personal Care, identifying and analysing emerging beauty and personal care trends and writing in-depth market research reports in multiple sectors.

For facial skincare consumers, place of purchase impacts brand perceptions. The rise of online during the pandemic will have a lasting impact on facial skincare companies, with brand loyalty and differentiation becoming more difficult to achieve as consumers have access to more choice than ever before. Here we examine 3 strategies that can enhance the online and offline shopping experience for consumers.

1. Develop online and offline experiences in tandem

While stores remain the predominant place of purchase, the role online plays in the decision making process continues to grow and evolve. Three in ten facial skincare users in the UK have done online research on ingredients to find out how effective a product is. Despite skincare being easier to sell online than other beauty categories, such as makeup and fragrances, most skincare consumers continue to shop in-store, highlighting the importance of continuing to develop the in-store shopping experience – in addition to existing or new online channels. As a result, brands and retailers that offer a differentiated and compelling store experience will be best placed to win over engaged consumers, with opportunities to develop in-store facial skincare discovery with improved consultations, sampling opportunities and technology.

2. Consider the online experience throughout NPD and marketing

Consumers are often overwhelmed by limitless choice when shopping online for skincare. While achieving differentiation is challenging, it is important- as branding, packaging and online shopping experiences all influence what consumers buy and where they shop. An example is how the inability to experience how products feel on the skin persists as a barrier to online purchase – nearly four in ten female facial skincare users in China say format/texture is one of the most important factors when choosing a product. Brands can therefore explore new ways to convey texture online: some brands are utilising direct to consumer (DTC) sites to communicate texture with emotive language, while developing next-generation textures can offer added appeal, such as onTop’s Renewal Oil Cream.

Source: Xiaohongshu. onTop features an oil-cream texture to offer nourishing skin benefits; the texture also makes it possible to add lipids that cannot usually be added in liquid oil, such as ceramide, phytosterols and some solid oils.

Brands should also draw consumers in with a spotlight on newness. While somewhat at odds with sustainability demands, consumers are looking for retailers that excite them with new products. This showcases the direct impact NPD has on the purchase journey, as consumers will inevitably be drawn to retailers based on innovation. Most online BPC retailers have sections dedicated to new and trending products, making it easy for consumers to see the latest facial skincare products. Although a growing number of retailers are introducing in-store areas dedicated to new product discovery (eg MECCA’s Skin Lab), such activations are typically reserved for flagship stores, limiting access. As a result, there is an opportunity for mass market retailers to develop smaller activations that can be deployed across store estates, spotlighting new and trending skincare products via dedicated shelf space.

3. Play to the strengths of different channels

It is important to recognise the reasons why facial skincare consumers choose to shop via certain channels and ensure online and offline experiences are fit for purpose. Online activations can erode the need and/or desire to shop in-store, with ongoing investment and innovation aiming to remove key barriers to purchasing online. As a result, the online experience of shopping for skincare can feel superior. However, there are opportunities to ensure the in-store experience matches the one online when shopping for facial skincare.

Retailers can enhance access to information in physical retail environments using technology, particularly as consumers are increasingly seeking ways to compare and review brands and products. Curation also plays a big role in aiding discovery – retailers can learn from online to elevate in-store merchandising, such as curating facial skincare in-store according to skin type and sub-category to better align with how consumers shop, as well as eco and ethical preferences to cater to the rise of conscious consumerism.

Source: Trinny London. Trinny London uses Skincare Diaries to showcase product suitability for women with certain skin types and concerns.

Strengthening online review credibility and functionality can help facial skincare consumers – brands and retailers can do more to elevate review usability. As consumers increasingly rely on reviews to verify purchase decisions, they will increasingly look for ways to ensure reviews are not biased or fake. Brands can therefore explore more opportunities by working with beauty review aggregators and product comparison specialists.

What we think:

Brands should differentiate and improve the retail experience in-store and online by playing to the strengths of each channel and utilising tech at every touchpoint, while also continuing to remove the core barriers to entry that deter facial skincare consumers from online purchase.