What’s Next: The evolution of custom beauty
Customizing their kits with magnetic palettes and de-potting methods has long been a trick of the makeup artist’s trade. If it weren’t for the explosion of beauty on social media, it may have stayed that way. Ben Nye cosmetics have been lurking backstage in theaters for decades, but thanks to Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist and social media sharing, women from every corner of the country have their own tub of Banana Powder.
The beauty artistry of the everyday woman is more sophisticated than ever before, and there is a resulting demand for customized products specifically tailored to their needs. MAC has catered to beauty professionals since they began and they have always offered custom palettes. Now just about every high-end brand is marketing custom palettes in some form including Buxom, NARS, Inglot, Make Up For Ever and Anastasia of Beverly Hills. Eyeko and Buxom have introduced custom mascara lines. Cover FX has had a huge hit with their Custom Cover Drops, a range of high pigment drops that can be blended into other liquids and oils to create a unique custom product.
Mass-market brands have not caught up with the trend, but this has more to do with the restrictions of having a retail footprint than price point. Online brands like Makeup Geek and Morphe, who drive most of their sales through social media, have employed magnetic palettes to strip down the packaging and increase affordability. Morphe sells single eyeshadow pans for $2 each that can be stored in a magnetic palette.
High-end brands have the advantage of boutique selling, which allows customers to sample products and be guided through the selection process. Make Up For Ever has released a line of Artist Shadows for custom palettes — over 100 shades of top quality, extremely pigmented and unique eye shadows, including custom products not offered at Sephora whose sales are driven by online and boutique selling. Sarah Barr Battle, Make Up For Ever’s senior manager of trade and product marketing spoke to Drug Store News about the company’s custom product strategy:
“As a professional artistry brand, we have always offered customizable palettes across multiple product categories specifically for professional artists. We are finding, however, that the everyday woman is becoming savvier in cosmetics and standard palettes are no longer meeting her needs,” Barr Battle said. “We were excited to be able to bring a personalized experience to the client by offering customizable Artist Shadow palettes at Sephora. Our goal is to allow every client to be their own artist and express their inner creativity.”
But mass-market brands are not out of the custom beauty game entirely. Both NYX and ELF have custom palette offerings — NYX with its Contour Palette and ELF with its quads for the Studio line. The ELF quads for blush, bronzer and contour have interchangeable pans. The NYX product has a standard configuration available at the brick and mortar level and refill pans being sold online through the brand’s website.
There is a parallel between the growth of digital and the growth of custom beauty products — not just because of social media selling, but also because of unrestricted e-commerce. It goes beyond this with smartphone technology that allows consumers to receive beauty recommendations based on their skin type and preferences. There are even apps with dermatologist-grade scanning capabilities that can identify skin issues. Social media selling, tutorial videos, and advancing technology are all contributing to a climate where custom beauty service is becoming the norm.
Bluemercury’s search for exceptionalism in beauty
WASHINGTON — Sephora and Ulta are successful retailers in their own right, but Bluemercury founder and COO Barry Beck wants to chart a different growth path for the company Macy’s acquired earlier this year.
When Macy’s announced in February it was buying beauty retailer Bluemercury, a lot of watchers wondered what the little-known niche retailer could offer the nation’s second largest department store chain. The answer to that question lies in something the founder of Bluemercury calls “exceptionalism.”
In remarks to attendees at a retailing conference in Dallas, Beck told an audience of about 300 that Macy’s intends to make Bluemercury’s “exceptional” business model a platform for growth and innovation. Beck says Bluemercury offers Macy’s a chance to understand the customer who wants a highly customized and personalized beauty shopping experience, like those offered at competitors Sephora and Ulta.
But Bluemercury isn’t interested in being like Sephora or Ulta, Beck said.
“We have a unique and exceptional business model that competitors have been unable to replicate,” Beck said. “Everything that we do is focused on being the friendly, neighborhood store where you can get expert honest advice. We see retail as personal and emotional and pick products and brands that strike a chord with our customers. We don’t focus on competitors, we focus on our customers.”
Beck spoke at the 30th annual Retailing Summit organized by the Texas A&M Center for Retailing Studies at Mays Business School. He outlined several key innovations that have allowed Bluemercury to grow to nearly 70 locations in 16 years with annual revenue of about $100 million:
- People: Stores are staffed by well-paid full-time “real-life beauty junkies” with friendly personalities. “If our people solve problems for clients, they will be customers for life,” Beck said.
- Product: Curation and development of beauty products is key. “Newness is important. Launching new products drives traffic,” Beck said.
- Place: Targeting busy streets and lifestyle centers. Small and highly adaptable store formats can be clustered in a given market and clients come in frequently. “We have built a mote of convenience for our customers and had no cannibalization of sales,” Beck said.
Macy’s paid $210 million for Bluemercury in March. Macy’s plans to open Bluemercury shops within Macy’s stores, as JCPenney has done with Sephora and Kohl’s has done with Bliss beauty products. Beck said he sees the potential for 300 Bluemercury stores nationwide and Bluemercury shops in many of Macy’s 800 stores.
Beck described an ideal future in which a customer walks into a Bluemercury shop and the store alerts the customer via his or her smartphone of any tips or promotions. The store will know who the customer is and a beauty expert will have access to the customer’s shopping history and preferences. The customer will also have the option to check out via mobile and take a product home, or check out in-store and have a product delivered. This is the kind of innovative thinking that Macy’s may be looking to harness.
“As the fastest growing luxury products retail chain, we are pioneers and innovators. We have a very strong culture of avant-garde experimentation and trailblazing. We don’t listen to how everyone else does things. We want to do them in our own way for our own clients,” Beck said. “I believe that ultimately over time you’re going to have to have retail stores. Because with the continued innovation of the Internet, clients are going to demand more service, more information and more ways to shop.”