Beauty retail in a world pandemic

To stop the spread of coronavirus, confinement has been the rule in most countries since early 2020 in Asia, and March 2020 for the rest of the world. With it, all non-essential retail businesses have been shut down and the beauty industry consequently impacted. The retail experience is forever changed and while challenges are being faced, brands are learning to adapt to our new paradigm. 

With the spectrum of health in mind, almost every experience, product and service as we know them has to be reassessed by companies to ensure the safety of their clients and their new ways of consuming. 
Firm decisions to keep everyone safe 

One of the main concerns faced by retailers is in-store product testing. Trying on color cosmetics to see if a shade match our skin tone or testing product textures on ones hands is a big incentive to visiting a physical store. The risk of contamination from bacterias on testers is too high to allow these habits to continue. As a response Sephora, Ulta and other beauty retailers have announced that their testers are now for display only. And US chains Bluemercury and Nordstrom are now offering vacuum-sealed, individually-wrapped samples for customers to take home. 

On top of not being able to test makeup products, mass retailers decided that all make-up services will be stopped until further notice. These services were a great way to bring customers to the brick and mortar locations and increase sales of products demonstrated. While Sephora France has announced to resumption of the Brow bar service by Benefit on May 25th, it still requires customers to book their appointment online and to come equipped with a mask. As for other services, no decision has been taken to this date. 

Similarly, in-store events gathering customers for masterclass with MUAs or to celebrate product launches are stopped for the foreseeable future. To comply with social distancing rules and prevent gathering of too many people at the same place, events are being canceled or postponed. However with less opportunities to welcome people in-store, retailers have come up with innovative solutions that will surely become the new norm. 

New technologies to strengthen relationships 

Firstly, the development of apps and device to allow virtual make-up try-on is increasing. Ulta is expanding its GLAMlab offerings - a try-on experience within the Ulta Beauty app - and tech-savvy Sephora launched in-store 3D augmented reality mirrors by ModiFace, and an innovative Virtual Artist app allowing users to virtually try on unique make-up products. Being able to try-on color cosmetics before a purchase will always be a must for customers, and retailers know it well. Even before the confinement, brands knew the necessity to reinvent retail and experiment like Dazed Beauty who unveiled the “beauty counter of the future” at Selfridges, merging digital beauty and IRL experiences, last March. 

As for consultations, many companies have already moved them online. By Terry is offering personalized one-to-one online consultations, where a pro MUA will provide product and regimen advice to cater to beauty concerns. French company Jolimoi and cosmetics brand M.A.C are joining forces to offer individual make-up lessons in video fully reimbursed in M.A.C products, in the form of vouchers. These initiatives are a great way to offer advice, nurture a connexion with customers and encourage them to buy online or in-store - mainly through click and collect or even allo and collect (phone service by Nocibé). 

Lastly, building a community has never been more crucial than right now, and if physical gathering are not welcome at the moment, digital ones have been booming in the last few months. The number of Instagram lives, Zoom webinars, social network challenges has been taken over by brands that now see all these methods as a tangible way of conveying their values and communicate on their vision. Indeed, online events are a way for brands to share knowledge, gather link-minded people and encourage conversations.

This pandemic is undoubtably an opportunity for retailers to change the way they approach consumers while being in line with health and environmental concerns. The challenge will now be to find solutions that are optimal, for instance if single use testers are being explored, they can be expensive for both brands and retailers to execute and not very sustainable. As always, thinking out of the box and being creative and innovative will be the key to thrive in such difficult times. 


WeOutWow is a trend and prospective agency based in Paris and Tokyo. Our team help brands get inspired and find new ideas in products, design, retail and digital. For that, we create inspirational booster books that are curated, concise, educational and fun. They read like glossy magazines but also contain actionable business advice. They are covering not only product launches but also events, influencer send-out ideas, interior design, packaging, and customer experiences across different countries (Japan, UAE, Korea, US, Australia, and more). We also offer market visits in Europe and Asia, product shopping, prospective presentations, bespoke books and personalized consulting services.