How to Level the Playing Field with Ecommerce

The ecommerce channel has leveled the playing field for brands in the US lipstick, mascara and nail polish segments, according to a new report from Clavis Insight. By leveraging product availability, search rankings and content quality (images, reviews, etc.), affordable and upmarket brands alike can challenge offline category leaders.

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Searchability Wins

A Millward Brown Digital analysis notes that fewer than 30% of Amazon shoppers will explore beyond the first page of search results while shopping. And, if you don't show up in the first two search page results, you're not "on shelf." Turning up high in the search rankings, consistently, is key to ecommerce success.

As in a physical store, if consumers can't find you on an ecommerce site, they can't buy you. Optimizing how your products rank in searches is crucial to succeeding online, notes Tom Golden, VP of marketing at Clavis.

Content is King

Consumers cannot pick up, inspect or interact with your products in the ecommerce channel. As a result, beauty brands must focus on providing robust product descriptions, photos, video, reviews and other supporting media to connect with consumers.

In this way, online commerce has leveled the playing field for brands. If all players have the exact same space online in which to present themselves, unlike brick and mortar space, then each brand has an equal opportunity to get the content and consumer engagement right.

It is this area in which many offline category leaders fail, according to the Clavis research. By shortchanging product information and media, stealthier brands can rise in the ranks. This presents a growth opportunity for offline leaders to regain their status in ecommerce.

If you don't have good consumer friendly description, says Golden, you will not get them to click and buy. Missing and inappropriate content can kill purchases. And ecommerce sites are becoming increasingly sophisticated, meaning brands must keep up with the types of information and media consumers will expect and respond to. 

In addition, positive ratings can significantly boost purchases, particularly when two similar products from different brands appear side-by-side. As Golden explains, these reviews are a "good way to 'interrupt' the shopper."

He adds that this is not about advertising products, but about engaging the consumer.

Online Content Creates Offline Opportunities

Strong ecommerce content not only drives purchases online, but can also drive business in-store. Golden explains that about 70% of people who buy products in-store have done research online.

Strong content can also drive sales for online-only brands, allowing them to compete on a level playing field with category leaders and eventually expand out to offline marketplaces. Golden offers the example of kind bars, which were initially launched exclusively online at Amazon. The ecommerce platform allowed the brand to compete with category leaders and, eventually, expand to become a ubiquitous market leader.

This creates a clear advantage for start-up brands and a challenge for established players.

Be Available

There is nothing worse than running into an Out of Stock notice when attempting to purchase a product online. Perhaps it seems obvious, but brands of all types have topped ecommerce categories in part by simply being available across categories and across ecommerce platforms. There is no substitute for being present when and where the consumer expects.

Of course, availability fluctuates significantly online. Some ecommerce platforms may carry small inventories until brands prove themselves. Keeping track of availability is crucial, then, in serving consumers and proving that a brand is a good partner for the ecommerce outlet. Certainly etailers don't like to be caught without stock. When availability goes down, your brand becomes less attractive to the consumer.

Golden cautions that some stores may not ship all the products, as is the case with Target and other retailers. This may cause a disjoint in the path to purchase, though brands have little control.

Variable Pricing

Golden explains that some beauty ecommerce platforms can have the feel of the stock market, with prices changing "quite speedily." This is in part the effect of marketplace stores offering low prices. Consumers have become more adept at locating these lower-cost options and brands need to be aware.


Strong search performance, good content and large product portfolios drive success in the US mascara category, according to Clavis.

The top five brands were:

  1. Maybelline
  2. L'Oreal
  3. CoverGirl
  4. Lancome
  5. Blinc

Blinc, a smaller brand, managed to climb the rankinsgs by optimizing its search performance.


 Affordable and upmarket brands intermix freely in Clavis' ranking of top US lipstick ecommerce performers:

  1. IMAN
  2. Revlon
  3. NARS
  4. Maybelline
  5. Bite Beauty

According to Clavis, content integrity, robust product information and wide availability boosted these brands' results. The firm adds that many offline category leaders have mixed search results, meaning there is room for them to grow.

Nail Polish

Broad and well-distributed portfolios led the US nail polish category, according to Clavis. Top brands included:

  1. Sally Hansen
  2. OPI
  3. Deborah Lippmann
  4. Maybelline
  5. Christian Louboutin

 In addition, Clavis notes that strong content and availability also boosted top performers.

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