Benefit Cosmetics—known for its eyebrow-related makeup, tools and in-store services—had to revamp its strategy when the pandemic hit the U.S. in mid-March, forcing it to close its stores.

“Rethinking how our customers shop beauty without stores or product testers has been the area we’ve been ideating around the most,” says Cindy Shen, vice president of ecommerce and customer relationship management at Benefit.

Thus, the retailer began conducting one-on-one virtual consultations and its Benefit Beauty Artists or Brow Experts moved online to teach digital masterclasses. Benefit also posted live tutorials on Instagram that integrated the social media platform’s shopping feature so consumers could purchase items used in the tutorials without leaving the app.

“Very early on, we saw that everyone was bored at home, and we experienced huge increases in reach and engagement on our social platforms—particularly around [Instagram] Stories—and watching makeup tutorials, so we quickly pivoted toward that need,” Shen says. “Content is so foundational to our relationship with our customers.”

Personalization is a core online marketing feature for many cosmetics retailers. Cosmetics are often tailored to a shopper’s skin tone and facial features and, therefore, require advanced online tools to help guide consumers to the right selections. Stores allow shoppers to test these products in person. To replicate that store experience, ecommerce sites are employing tactics, such as quizzes and augmented reality, to boost sales and increase customer loyalty.

Without stores for consumers to sample products or receive high-touch services from beauty experts, cosmetics retailers have moved to selling primarily online due to the coronavirus pandemic and are finding other ways to deliver personalized services. Some, like Benefit Cosmetics, Sephora and Ulta, have bolstered or launched new technology, such as augmented reality and virtual reality tools, so shoppers can sample products at home. Others, like online subscription beauty bag retailer Ipsy, are using its shopper data to make the online shopper experience more personalized.

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