The beauty industry is giving the UK high street a much-needed makeover

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Beauty products still have the ability to tempt shoppers into high street stores.

The past decade has seen many of the high street brands of our childhood entering administration. With the likes of Woolworths, BHS, Toys R Us and most recently HMV now missing from our streets; and House of Fraser only narrowly escaping this fate thanks to Mike Ashley of Sports Direct.

The rise of online shopping has offered consumers the choice, convenience and control that was never previously available and brands which didn’t adapt to this movement got lost in the noise. Many have dubbed this period as the death of the high street, but are there markets that are avoiding this fate? Perhaps so.

The Opinium Retail Tracker of 1,000 consumers, shows 50% of shoppers prefer to head in store for their beauty/grooming products; with only 16% claiming to mainly shop online. Even among the ‘most-connected’ consumers aged 18-24, 55% claim the store remains king when finding products to help them look their best. This is in comparison to the growing trend in fashion, where 37% claim to mainly shop in-store, dropping to 26% amongst the younger generation of 18-24 year olds.

So, what is continuing to draw the British consumer out of their homes, off their phones and in to stores to buy their beauty/grooming products.

Try before you buy

The tactile appeal of these products is still a huge draw for women, with 42% saying they prefer to test out beauty/grooming products before they commit to buying them. A phenomenon typically unique to a bricks and mortar experience and very difficult to replicate virtually – at the moment.

While innovations such as virtual trying on, online size guides and try before you buy finance options have ensured that online fashion retailers are well equipped for the transition to an online focused shopping experience; the same cannot yet be said for beauty retailers.

Online pureplay retailers such as Feelunique have made efforts to overcome these physical barriers, by offering schemes such as their ‘basket bonus’ – which allows customers to choose two free samples when they place an order over £40. However, they are still relying on consumers willing to take that initial risky purchase to benefit and with 58% online shoppers claiming to spend £30 a month or less on beauty/grooming, this may be a risk that is a little too high to take!

As a result, these online only players are yet to gain much penetration in the market, with only 3% of shoppers having claimed to have ever bought from one. Whereas, online shoppers are still being drawn to those stores with physical presence, to allow for trialling products pre-purchase – 33% at Boots, 31% at Superdrug and 29% at Tesco.

It will however be interesting to see how established fashion online retailers fare as they start to dabble in the beauty/grooming market. Will brands such as Next and ASOS, manage to challenge these pre-conceptions of shopping online for beauty/grooming, with their already well-known and convenient try before you buy and delivery initiatives? Time will tell.

Convenience and inspiration

The expanding range of delivery options available have made the online experience of fashion more and more convenient, with 46% of shoppers claiming that online is more convenient than going in-store, even higher amongst 18-24 (60%). However, in the beauty/grooming market, what consumers want from a ‘convenient’ offering doesn’t quite seem as clear cut.

The relevant shopping demands and expected experience differ greatly by gender. So where do marketeers start? It seems it is providing convenience in an aspirational way that is currently working in-store.

Reflected in the store repertoires between genders, a quick and easy shopping experience appears to be most important to males. Whilst Boots and Superdrug are the clear go to destinations for women, their male counterparts are buying in supermarkets. This does not to mean that men do not put thought in to their purchases, as 63% claim that personal care is very important to them, but it does suggest that focus should be on ease for this group - make it easy for me to find what they want, when they want it.

Women on the other hand are much more active within the beauty/grooming market, with 51% claiming to browse in-store at least once a month, vs only 38% of men. Whilst convenience will still be a huge driving factor for this group, the experience needs to be providing more excitement and inspiration to keep their interest. The beauty/grooming market are ahead of the game in this area; with the likes of By Terry Palette Factory offering over 5,000 possible combinations of products in Selfridge stores to Too Faced stores opening across the country, offering 15-minute slots for personal tutorials on their products. All giving British women a reason to drive to a high street on that dreary Saturday!.

Online influences

Despite, current bias towards purchasing beauty/grooming in-store, the influence of technology on the customer purchase journey is still apparent. Shoppers are more likely to browse online (26% browsing at least once a week) than in-store (12% browsing at least once a week). Therefore relying on a solid bricks and mortar footprint won’t be enough to guarantee success, equal effort in maintaining a strong online proposition will be vital to ensure shoppers are retained and engaged throughout the journey to purchase.

Although, it’s not just online retailer browsing that is having an influence on the beauty/grooming category, as it is also becoming an increasingly important channel for information and tips. 23% of consumers are looking to social media channels as a source of advice on how to look their best. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is highest amongst the youngest generation, with 45% of 18-24 year olds relying on social media for help.

Leveraging these channels in the most appealing and credible way will be crucial for marketers, as it doesn’t appear quite as simple as relying on a vlogger or celebrity to do the hard work for you. Only 8% claim to look to these for advice and at its peak this source reaches 17% amongst 18-24 year old females.

Instead, peer recommendation plays an important role as 22% look to family/friends for information in this area, rising to 36% amongst 18-24’s. A third of shoppers admit that that they rely on online reviews/ratings of beauty/grooming products to shape their purchasing decisions. Is this further aiding the markets stability from a bricks and mortar perspective, as it allows peer groups to go shopping together? Or indeed provides a trusted brand advisor to recommend what is best?

Susan Bello is research executive at Opinium

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