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Glossier’s “Very Human Year”

Contact Author Jeb Gleason-Allured, content director
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Glossier founder Emily Weiss expects to see physical retail return ... eventually.

2020 was all about comfort and small luxuries, said Glossier founder Emily Weiss during a CEW virtual event moderated by WWD’s Jenny B. Fine. At the same time, however, it forced the company, like its industry peers, to transform rapidly.

As Weiss noted, COVID-19 likely accelerated the beauty industry’s digital transformation by a factor of several years. The impacts will persist, she added, particularly as the first half of 2021 may look a lot like 2020.

The transformations, however, went far beyond retail channel patterns.

A Year of Upheaval

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The Glossier team has dispersed from its NYC digs to work remotely amid the pandemic. Weiss noted that the company has been finding ways to boost empathy among employees—particularly those who serve as caregivers, are stressed out or otherwise in need of some understanding during a challenging time. She added that the company has instituted no-Zoom-Thursdays to give employees a break.

Amid all the experimenting and ongoing uncertainty, Weiss said Glossier is still figuring out its future remote/in-person mix for its staff of more than 200 people.

Meanwhile, Glossier has worked to address the issues raised by an August 2020 Medium post by former employees, which alleged an incident of sexual harassment and additional race-based harassment from customers that went unaddressed by store management. 

Glossier’s philosophy is simple: deliver timeless hero products.

Glossier had already launched a revamp of its policies to diversify and professionalize its retail staff, address issues in a timely and effective manner, generate career advancement for all, improve communication between Glossier HQ and retail, and holding customers accountable for inappropriate behavior. The company continues to make strides toward these goals. 

In addition, Glossier has addressed inequities in funding streams for upstart businesses run by Black founders. As such, the company, as of June, instigated a program to provide $500,000 to Black-owned beauty businesses in the form of grants. In addition, Glossier donated $500,000 to organizations combating racial injustice. 

How to Make a Glossier Product

Glossier’s philosophy is simple: deliver timeless hero products. Weiss explained that the company is inspired by necessity rather than the trend-hungry ethos of fast beauty. 

Instead, Glossier focuses on routine-building and finding the right product for the right consumer. This requires the product development team to vet products with diverse and inclusive input that lead to honest evaluations of products. 

Looking ahead, said Weiss, this scrutiny will increasingly focus on clean and sustainable credentials. She also appeared to tip a future product launch, noting that she’d like to see a retinol product from Glossier. 

What’s Trending

According to the executive, 70% of repeat Glossier customers buy skin care and makeup. This year, Glossier’s You perfume has been the top-selling product over Black Friday weekend, reflecting the ongoing power of fragrance during this key shopping period. 

Throughout 2020, however, body care was a key growth category. This was driven by the launch of the brand’s Hand Cream, a “palm-sized pod” containing a non-greasy, moisturizing formula comprising meadowfoam seed oil and coconut fruit extract, as well as the Glossier You scent. 

Though a hand cream launch in 2020 sounds like a rapid response to the challenges of the day, Weiss said the Hand Cream was an anticipated launch well before COVID-19. While the executive is happy to experiment with marketing (more on that later) she’s less laissez faire about product development.

Glossier has boosted its marketing online, as well as on streaming services such as Hulu.


The body category also benefited from the expansion of the Body Hero range to include the Exfoliating Bar and Dry-Touch Oil Mist. The bar features biodegradable bamboo powder for exfoliating action, sunflower seed oil and aloe leaf juice to keep the skin hydrated and an Orange Blossom Neroli Blend scent. It also includes a groove on one side to incorporate liquid products.

The Body Hero Dry-Touch Oil Mist, meanwhile, comprises antioxidants like sunflower seed, grapeseed and oat, radiance-boosting sea fennel extract, and the Orange Blossom Neroli scent. 

The expanded Body Hero range rolled out with a campaign that highlighted the stories of medical staff, artists and other real-life individuals. Glossier, as the league’s first beauty partner, highlighted WNBA players as part of its Glossier’s Body Heroes campaign

The campaign featured self-produced content from WNBA leaders such as Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, Seimone Augustus of the LA Sparks, Lexie Brown of the Minnesota Lynx, Kalani Brown of the Atlanta Dream, Amanda Zahui B. of the New York Liberty, Natalie Achonwa of the Indiana Fever, and Stefanie Dolson and Gabby Williams of the Chicago Sky. 

Marketing, Glossier Style

Glossier has boosted its marketing online, as well as on streaming services such as Hulu. The brand also rolled out its Tik Tok, which has amassed about 1.1 million likes. Weiss explained that the rise of the platform comes as Instagram becomes increasingly “saturated.” 

She also noted that at a certain stage Glossier had become too top-down in its social media strategy, rather than letting the platforms find their own voice organically. Now, guided by some basic brand guidelines, digital teams have more leeway to discover what works on each platform. 

Glossier is fostering community digitally.

The beauty of digital channels is that they’re not permanent, Weiss said. Posts can be edited or deleted altogether. This allows brands to experiment. For instance, as consumer well-being becomes a central concern, the brand finds itself addressing a wider array of issues in its communications, including mental health. 

This flexible outlook extends to product launch strategies, which are typically assembled a month or so ahead of going live. This stands in stark contrast to the launch of physical products, she added, which require brands to be precise in their execution at the moment of launch. 

Is Retail Coming Back?

Glossier will bring back stores “when it makes sense,” says Weiss. In August 2020, the company announced that it would have to lay off its retail employees in New York, Los Angeles and London. At the time, Weiss noted on the brand’s blog: “To say that these teammates have been an essential part of making our stores so special would be an understatement.” 

Following the initial store closures, Glossier compensated its retail employees for more than eleven weeks. Teams in Los Angeles and New York also received 12 weeks of severance, as well as extended medical and mental health services. 

Until physical retail returns, Glossier is fostering community digitally, as seen with its Into the Gloss platform, as well as social media. 

That said, Weiss acknowledged that the closure of stores removed a key community-building hub for the brand. While merchandising was never a key focus of any of Glossier’s experiential retail spaces, they nonetheless generated a high conversion rate. 

Holiday 2020 has shown that its fragrances can succeed just fine in an e-commerce context.

The quality of the consumer within these sites was enhanced by a staff that wasn’t motivated by commissions, as well as selfie-friendly surroundings and high-quality products they could take home. Critically, she said, technology at retail should be more about the back end, facilitating experiences and not so much customer-facing. 

While experiential concepts make little sense amid a pandemic, Weiss expressed a belief that they will continue post-COVID. This reflects the executive’s belief that owned omnichannel direct-to-consumer is the future. 

As for third-party retail for Glossier? Weiss said there were no plans at the moment to collaborate with retail, as it briefly did with Nordstrom amid the launch of Glossier You. In fact, she said, holiday 2020 has shown that its fragrances can succeed just fine in an e-commerce context.

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