Sales of cosmetics, fragrances and personal care products have bloomed online—and prospects for growth are the very picture of beauty.
According to research company Forrester, e-commerce revenues in the personal care industry are expected to increase from $6.9 billion in 2010 to $9.6 billion by 2012. That’s a nearly 40% jump—a third higher than the projected growth rate for e-commerce overall.
With increased purchasing comes higher expectation from consumers, who research heavily for beauty products online. They require robust product and value-added content—both from experts and other consumers—along with seamless customer service. In response, beauty retailers are investing heavily online to grow overall sales, strengthen brand identity and build customer loyalty.
Leaders in beauty employ the following strategies for success:
Branding, Branding, Branding
The $350 billion beauty industry (according to Euromonitor International data) features a vast array of both highly recognized and not so well recognized brand names. To win both the mind and wallet share of customers, clearly communicating your brand promise and the unique value you deliver to consumers is critical. This brand messaging must permeate every aspect of the customer experience—not only in terms of content and tools on your e-commerce site, but through e-mail marketing, cross-channel promotions and via your social and mobile channels.
Neutrogena, for example, clearly states its brand value proposition in the global header of its website with the tagline “Complete acne therapy system. #1 Dermatologist Recommended Acne Kit.” Throughout the site, Neutrogena educates its customers with compelling visually designed content that clearly shows it’s a complete solution and how it works while addressing key purchase barriers. Neutrogena also backs up its promise in the form of customer video testimonials, clinical results and the recognition and awards it has garnered from consumer beauty publications.
Bliss, a premiere beauty spa and multichannel retailer, delivers on its brand promise, “We’ve tried and tested so you know we can be trusted,” using a brand voice that’s uniquely sassy and self assured. With merchandising promotions like “No Zit, Sherlock” and informative entries from their “behind-the-scenes spa-thority” blog, the brand’s tagline, “from our spa to your skin,” is reinforced with expert advice directly from their own estheticians and well packaged product and content on how to replicate spa treatments at home.
Another winning strategy: Creating theme-based product classifications that help shoppers find the right solutions. Skin care brand NeoStrata allows shoppers to browse products by skin type and by specific beauty concern along with the option of seeing what products other customers favor in its best sellers category. The Neutrogena SkinID site goes one step further, guiding shoppers through a self-evaluation tool to match them to the perfect regimen of products that address their specific acne problem.
Merchandise the Solution and Promise—Not Just the Product
Shoppers seek solutions to their beauty dilemmas; they don’t necessarily know which product will fit their needs. Successful merchants tailor their merchandising and content to this solution-oriented shopping behavior. They clearly state product benefits, and include customer results, testimonials or even clinical evidence to back up their claims as Perricone MD does consistently through email campaigns as well as on its YouTube Channel.
Content Drives Conversion and Loyalty
To help shoppers evaluate whether products meet their beauty needs, leading merchants supply comprehensive product information from a variety of sources—not just manufacturer information. These sources include reviews and ratings from customers. Perricone MD’s product pages have it all, with tabbed content presenting not only ingredients and specific instructions for application of products, but “Clinicals” (scientific results) and extensive reviews that allow customers to evaluate products on multiple criteria.
Bliss capitalizes on the expertise of staff at its physical spa locations, presenting links throughout the website to “expert spa ‘glow-how’.” Subject matter experts present advice and information in Q&A format, organized by topic—giving shoppers a library of knowledge to consult as they browse products.
Leading merchants also employ video to provide helpful instructional content. Carol’s Daughter provides how-to videos organized by hair and skin type, and links to them from individual product pages—adding another dimension of content for shoppers to browse.
Pervasive Customer Service
Because beauty shoppers aren’t merely seeking a product, but a holistic solution, it’s key to, in addition to providing highly accessible information available at fingertips, provide them with an easy means for seeking further assistance. Beauty e-commerce leaders make it easy to get in touch by placing their toll-free customer service number in the global header and providing similarly easy access to email links and store locators (if physical locations exist). And increasingly, shoppers are using live chat links to get quick answers to pressing questions; Forrester estimates that 15% of online shoppers now use live chat, and the percentage is growing.
Robust service can also take the form of self-service, with customers supplying information to other customers. On Gaiam’s website, questions about personal care products are displayed on individual product pages, with members of the customer community and company experts stepping up to provide the answers.
Replenishment & Loyalty—Compel Shoppers to Reorder
Once shoppers have connected with products that address their needs, leading beauty merchants make it easy for customers to reorder. Unlike apparel or furniture, beauty products are perishable and need to be replaced regularly. So easing repeat orders provides a useful service to customers, as well as a means for merchants to boost loyalty.
Perricone MD, gives free shipping and exclusive product samples to shoppers who commit to replenish products every 30, 60 or 90 days; the replenishment program is offered directly on individual product pages, making it easy for shoppers to select recurring delivery.
Garden Botanika motivates their customers to purchase regularly via member’s only offers, free shipping and discounts on every purchase through its paid loyalty program. They do a highly effective job at highlighting additional member only savings through the site.
Social and Mobile Commerce: Keep Customers Connected with Each Other and the Brand
The majority of online merchants currently allow customers to share their product experiences and pass along recommendations directly to friends or the community at large via "Customer Ratings & Reviews," "Add This" or "Share This" and Facebook’s “Like” functionality. Additionally most beauty retailers already have a presence on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter. Beyond these dial tone social tactics, successful merchants are leveraging these tools and channels in a more comprehensive way—allowing them to integrate into the daily life of customers while giving their customers a sense of direct impact.
In addition to robust product information, Perricone MD also provides expert value-added content that highly leverages its social and mobile channels—giving customers a reason to visit and connect often. The Perricone site puts a unique emphasis on health regimens that go beyond just purchasing product. Through its “Start Fresh” program, shoppers receive comprehensive advice on nutrition to bolster skin health, along with exercise plans and healthy recipes. They can share before and after results from the program via Perricone MD’s Facebook page, making the experience interactive and engaging, while also getting support advice from Dr. Perricone's “Daily Perricone” blog. And through its smartphone application, Perricone makes its content pervasive and easily accessible when shoppers need it most—while shopping for groceries customers can view the full Start Fresh menu plan.
Carol’s Daughter, has also had tremendous success utilizing Facebook as an integral part of their marketing and loyalty initiatives. With almost 361,000 “Likes” Carol’s Daughter promotes events and new products but keeps their customers engaged with questions such as “If you could have Carol’s Daughter founder, Lisa Price, create ONE product just for you, what would it be?” This one post had 727 comments … now that’s great social activity but the product insight they received is even more valuable.
More and more, shoppers are going online to research, purchase and re-stock beauty products. In response to this growing opportunity, leading beauty merchants are providing robust, full service e-commerce solutions—and achieving results.
Mark Pierce is CEO of MarketLive with significant experience in operations, finance, e-commerce strategy and application development. Since 1995, MarketLive has provided enterprise-class e-commerce retail technology and services that help fast-growing companies such as Bliss, Neutrogena, Perricone MD and Vanity Shops successfully sell goods and services online. 1-877-341-5729; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.marketlive.com