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Touch Me, Tell Me, Sell Me: The Business of International Beauty

By: Daniela Ciocan
Posted: July 9, 2012, from the August 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

The international language of beauty comes down to one thing: the personal connection. With the evolution of technology, consumers’ tastes have leveled to a common global consciousness where shopping behavior is more aligned than ever. I see first hand the high demand to stay competitive and launch new brands and categories from retailers, as well as the ongoing need for the one-on-one connection.

To get a pulse on the global state of beauty, I connected with four prestige retailers from abroad that represent some of the leading beauty players within their respective markets: Le Printemps (France), House of Fraser (the U.K.), La Rinascente (Italy) and Fedco (Colombia).

As an overview, Latin America is a global pocket of strength, and its emerging markets are a catalyst for current and future growth. Analysts at many beauty companies recognize developed countries have modest growth, while the BRIC countries have been a high risk for economic upheaval. In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico are the primary movers, but it’s also worth noting other traditionally beauty-oriented, smaller countries such as Peru, Colombia and Chile are also making a global impression, and Fedco is a prestige chain of perfumeries in 13 cities throughout Columbia.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union (EU) countries have been struggling with unemployment, a faltering economy and austerity measures that impact consumer confidence. Despite these conditions, the French selective cosmetics market grew 3% in 2011 due to the perfume category (+4%). This growth represents the majority of the business, as skin care was down 1% in 2011.

In light of the country’s economy, the decision of Le Printemps (a traditional French prestige department store with 17 locations) to redesign its beauty department to represent the unique tastes of the French consumer was a laudable but risky decision. However, the positioning of its new La Belle Parfumerie in the flagship store helped the chain increase 18% in 2011.

The beauty market in the U.K. has grown despite high unemployment and a sluggish economy, and fragrance leads the pack (+11%), followed by color (+9%) and skin care (+8%). House of Fraser, the country’s 62-door department store chain, has been followed in the news lately due to its focus on niche brands. To accommodate this, the U.K. retailer launched two new store concepts and a redesigned website.

In Italy, another country marked by economic distress, the beauty market is down by 3.9%, yet the prestige department store La Rinascente has risen above this trend by implementing a focus on niche products in fragrance and skin care categories. U.S. brands, with strong marketing messaging and clean points of difference, resonate with the Italian consumer, which has helped La Rinascente maintain as a premier Italian department store with four locations.

While diverse in their own right, these four retailers agree that when it comes to the business of beauty, it’s a business that constantly needs innovation, fresh concepts and a balanced assortment of recognizable brands to keep consumers engaged.

Fragrance continues to be a strong category and represents huge growth factors for both Le Printemps and House of Fraser, while the nail category leads at La Rinascente, and innovative skin care and anti-aging products are the most shopped at Fedco.

So, internationally, does consumer behavior become more conservative when faced with a limited budget? Does consumer trust in a brand take precedence over the desire to try a new niche brand? Yes and no, and cultural demographics seem to weigh in on these considerations. For example, in Colombia and the U.K., the consumer is drawn to established brand names, while in France and Italy, the interviewed retailers are finding more open- minded consumers eager to experiment with new beauty finds, particularly in luxury skin care and fragrances.