Pandemic turned beauty the way of customer service-based e-commerce

By Ravyn Cullor

- Last updated on GMT

E-commerce is becoming increasingly common across all industries, including cosmetics, and some projections estimate it will make up $2.1 billion of the US market by 2025. © Getty Images -  Kathrin Ziegler
E-commerce is becoming increasingly common across all industries, including cosmetics, and some projections estimate it will make up $2.1 billion of the US market by 2025. © Getty Images - Kathrin Ziegler

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With consumers’ limited access to in-store retail experiences, the pandemic has pushed beauty brands to e-commerce, and experts say there is no going back.

Shelly Socol, CEO of e-commerce and digital marketing company One Rockwell, said many companies had to quickly pivot towards a stronger direct-to-customer model when the pandemic hit because most consumers did not have access to their usual sales channels.

“Pre-COVID, it was a very different market because people, in general, depended on their wholesale markets and their retail outlets,”​ Socol said. “What I think was different back then was that you’d put up your e-commerce site and create a really beautiful experience, but that’s not enough anymore.”

Customer service focused e-commerce

In order to compensate for significant losses in retail sales, Socol said many companies had to rebuild their online retail experience to feel personalized to consumers. Many employed quizzes and regiment builders, and some even created digital concierge services.

Associate Director of Biddable Media at digital marketing company Croud Katie McMahon said it became important for brands to add a human touch to the digital space so consumers could feel as though they were getting personalized service without going to a makeup counter or dermatologist. 

“Customer service has to be on par with what you would experience in-store, and it can’t be anything less,”​ Socol said. “I think that’s been the game-changer among a lot of the beauty brands we’re with.”

Augmented reality is a hot new tool in creating that experience in e-commerce, allowing virtual try-on of color cosmetics, they said. Both One Rockwell and Croud are building virtual try-on tools for brands.

Socol also said, with the switch to predominantly e-commerce, it is important for companies to be authentic in their marketing and branding around their sales platform. If a company is focused on science-based ingredients or is built around a well-known beauty influencer, she said it’s important that be clear through the whole digital experience.

Changes in available customer data

While companies become more reliant on e-commerce, McMahon said access to robust amounts of user data is dwindling. The EU has put restrictions on data collection and, while the US has limited regulation, some tech companies like Apple have increased users’ privacy options.

She said companies have been working hard to build customer relationship management which is prepared to record effective record information on current customers and efficiently target new customers with degraded access to cookies.

“It’s more important now than ever to be investing in that awareness piece and kind of getting your name out there as a brand, and not just in the same users over and over again as this data to record consumer behavior goes away over time,”​ McMahon said. 

Part of that readjustment will be looking at a companies marketing strategy not from just the “last click perspective,”​ but wholistically from a consumer’s first interaction with marketing material, through a browser and to purchase.
McMahon said that approach can be a tough sell to companies but as a digital marketing agency it’s their job to educate and explain to brands what the impact of the change would mean for their bottom line.

With resources like Shopify, she said these data collection and marketing changes are accessible for both large and small brands.

E-commerce is unlikely to ebb significantly

While consumers are going back into stores and buying products in more traditional settings, both Socol and McMahon said they don’t believe digital sales will shrink back to pre-COVID levels.

McMahon said consumers are now used to shopping online, both in and outside of the cosmetics industry, and doesn’t believe it’s likely that change of behavior will revert completely.

Socol also said that brands are interested in maintaining the same level of customer engagement on their e-commerce platforms because they are seeing greater margins through those sales.

As some consumers turn back to in-person shopping, both said it will remain important to keep personalization and a human aspect front-and-center in digital marketing and sales strategies.

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