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Beauty's Omnichannel Dilemma

E-commerce has forever changed consumer expectations when it comes to convenience and accessibility. Between Amazon Prime, one-click checkout, and next-day delivery, it is easier than ever to buy exactly what we want, when we want it. When it comes to makeup, however, the advantages of purchasing in-store may outweigh the convenience of online shopping.

While millennials are making 54% of their purchases online, we found that only 9% of millennial females in our Tribe are shopping for makeup through this channel. According to these young women, purchasing makeup online leaves greater room for error.  

I do most of my shopping in general online, so it would be easier to buy makeup online. But unless I already know that the shade looks good on me, it’s very hard for me to buy something online that I’ve never tried before. -Tribe member, 28

Particularly when buying new beauty products, the ease of online shopping can’t compete with the opportunity for consumers to try before they buy. According to The Harris Poll, 62% of adults say that since computer screen colors vary, it’s important to buy grooming or cosmetic products in-person when making a first time purchase. However, for repeat customers, buying online can make sense: 88% say that when purchasing a product they’ve already tried, they’ll look to the cheapest supplier, regardless if it is online or offline.

The data suggests that the process of discovery is a whole different ball game. When you can’t take a new eyeliner for a test drive before committing, purchasing online can feel like you’re shooting blind. Elements as variable as fragrance, consistency, and tint require an in-person look, and perhaps even the help of an in-store expert. Our research found that the majority of millennial females are brand- and product-agnostic when it comes to most cosmetic items, with the exception of foundation and mascara in which buyers tend to stick with one particular kind. This willingness to try different items creates a huge opportunity for brands to target new customers through in-store discovery.

Of Millennial Women With One Preferred Brand

So how are makeup brands balancing the need to attract new customers while ensuring convenience for returning loyalists? Encouraging shoppers to try something new, while still meeting expectations? Offering a seamless and speedy shopping process, while also delivering a personalized experience? 



Here are some of the strategies beauty companies are leveraging to help address the online-offline tension:

1. Providing online customers with samples to promote discovery

It takes an incredible amount of self-restraint not to buy something in the checkout aisle of a Sephora store. With travel size collections and mini versions of house favorites positioned strategically around the cash registers, Sephora almost guarantees that you will add a few final items to your beauty loot. While the online shopping experience isn’t as conducive to buyer discovery, beauty hubs like Sephora and BlueMercury are trying to encourage exploration by including a few complimentary samples with each order.

Blue Mercury Sample Bag

2. Creating an unique in-person experience

E-commerce success story Glossier opened a NYC showroom to extend the customer experience from online-only to include an in-person component as well. Online retailers and traditional beauty brands alike are developing in-store attractions and physical spaces to create additional consumer touch points. Last year, OPI opened a nail spa in the UK that combines the luxury mani/pedi experience with a retail environment showcasing OPI’s latest products. Subscription box pioneer Birchbox opened a flagship store in New York City and invited Birchbox loyalists to come explore top selling products and hunt for new items to add to their own custom boxes.

Birchbox So Ho October Byob Resize

3. Leveraging virtual reality

For those who don’t have the time or desire to receive an expert makeover, technology has created a new method of “trying before buying.” L’Oreal and Sephora are some of the brands using mobile apps to enable potential buyers to test new products, shades, or looks before making a purchase.  L’Oreal’s MakeupGenius transforms your phone screen into a mirror for virtual product testing, and Sephora’s Virtual Artist applies product filters to your facial images, both providing users with the next best thing to an in-store application

Sephora Virtual

For more on millennial beauty behaviors, customer engagement tactics, and brand case studies, check out our research findings and Millennial Beauty Brief here.