With non-essential businesses such as cosmetics retailers and hair salons shutting down amid the coronavirus pandemic, shoppers are turning online to purchase cosmetics products and do-it-yourself hair coloring.
One beneficiary is hair color retailer Madison Reed Inc. This unprecedented time is a boon to its sales and customer acquisition, says a spokesperson for Madison Reed.
Consumers unable to head to salons, which are deemed “non-essential businesses,” they are now trying their hand at dyeing their hair at home. “We immediately began seeing a surge in demand,” says a spokesperson for Madison Reed.
Sales to new customers were up “twelvefold” for the week of March 29-April 4 compared with the week prior, the retailer says. And when comparing April 4, 2020, to February’s average, sales to new customers increased 15 times and website traffic increased four times. Madison Reed’s February traffic was about 488,000 visitors, according to web measurement firm SimilarWeb Ltd., which means April 4 traffic hit about 1.95 million visitors. (March traffic came in around 646,500, a 32.5% boost from February, according to SimilarWeb.)
“We have seen women who have never colored their hair at home turn to us now, and we’re doing everything we can to try to make it easy for them,” the spokesperson says.
Madison Reed also operates physical salons, called Color Bars, in which consumers can get their hair colored or receive a color consultation, in New York City and in the California Bay area. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, these locations are closed. The hair color retailer transitioned its entire Color Bar staff to its customer service team—dubbed the “Color Crew”—who are also licensed hair colorists. The Color Bar employees were trained to assist customers virtually in lieu of the physical store.
Pivoting these workers to the customer service team allowed it to also grow its customer service team from 30 to 115 to support an increase in customer demand, Madison Reed’s spokesperson says.
In addition, Madison Reed introduced a twice-weekly Facebook Live event every Saturday and Wednesday called “Colorist on Call,” which gives customers the opportunity to ask questions and receive tips about at-home hair coloring.
“I have three priorities at Madison Reed right now: keeping our employees safe, supporting the needs of our customers, and planning for a future when we emerge from this crisis,” says Madison Reed’s founder and CEO Amy Errett. “I am humbled that so many people are placing their trust in us.”
Madison Reed is No. 1402 in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Next 1000.
Online beauty sales are up across the board
Data from fraud protection software vendor Forter finds a 107% increase in transaction volume—the total number of transactions processed—for beauty and personal care retailers for the week ending April 2, compared with the 5-week period of Jan. 3-Feb. 6.
“Consumers are increasingly buying skin care products, as they have more time to invest in skin care routines while home in quarantine,” says a spokesperson for Forter. Forter’s data is based on an analysis of the Forter Global Merchant Network, which annually protects more than $150 billion in global commerce transactions, but does not disclose the number of merchants it works with.
Data from personalization software provider Qubit paints a slightly different picture: cosmetics product sales were up just 0.4% year over year from March 17-23. However, Qubit finds that while sessions for cosmetics retailers were down 3%, conversion rates were up 18%. The data is representative of more than 75 Qubit customers when comparing revenue and conversion rates of 2019 and 2020. (One thing to note is that the sales from Qubit’s analysis took place a week earlier compared with that of Forter’s, which could account for the difference in beauty-related purchases.)
“For any retailer, focusing on your existing customer base is the key to bridging the gap between now and normal,” says Qubit CEO Graham Cooke. “In beauty and cosmetics specifically, we’ve seen the number of on-site visitors remain flat, but conversion rates improve dramatically. This tells us that beauty brands shouldn’t focus on acquiring new visitors but create strategies to increase relevance, engagement and trust with the existing customer base as they are the ones who are increasing spend and average order values.”
App downloads increase for cosmetics retailers
One of those strategies is pushing customers to the web and to mobile apps.
Going to a cosmetics store often gives shoppers the opportunity to try on makeup before they commit to a purchase. But with massive store closures, cosmetics retailers like Ulta Beauty and Sephora encourage shoppers to use their makeup try-on apps instead. In an email, Ulta promotes its virtual try-on feature GLAMlab via the Ulta mobile app. Sephora also on its website recommended shoppers to use its mobile app tools such as its Digital Makeover Guide and Virtual Artist until it reopens.
Ulta’s iOS mobile app downloads grew 9.4% in March 2020 compared with February 2020, according to data from SimilarWeb. And downloads spiked for Sephora’s iOS mobile app to 25.0% growth in March 2020 compared with the previous month, according to SimilarWeb.
Additionally, online traffic to Ulta.com grew 7.1% in March 2020 compared with February 2020, according to SimilarWeb. Online traffic to Sephora.com also increased 4.8% in March 2020 compared with February 2020. It’s unclear how this will correlate to sales and conversions as of yet, but it could give both retailers a boost.
“One of the positives for retailers that has come from the coronavirus has been app downloads as shoppers find themselves with time on their hands, taking advantage of these tools and learning tasks virtually,” says Lauren Freedman, senior consumer insights analyst for Digital Commerce 360. “One can only expect that their comfort now will pay dividends down the road. Additionally, retailers can get creative and encourage omnichannel behavior, incentivizing app usage in conjunction with in-store behavior. I don’t believe there will ever be a substitute for those in-store interactions but getting customers interacting with products has no downside, especially in these times. They will be hungry to visit stores when COVID-19 turns a corner. ”
Ulta is No. 91 in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000. Sephora is owned by LVMH, No. 20.