As we’re heading into the end of 2018, the state of the online beauty community has really been on my mind, and a lot of it relates to the current product release cycle and the different parts that feed into the ever-growing beast that new products and launches has become. The question that keeps roiling around my brain is whether the current pace of beauty is sustainable for consumers (most importantly, to me), brands, and influencers. Considering the pace of product releases, how many products get released, how they’re marketed, and how much faster they seem to be developed, I wonder if we’ll ever see a slow down or an adjustment to fine-tuning launches that look more curated.
I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts since August, when I read an article on WWD questioning whether “beauty’s sale mode [will] mimic apparel’s discounting spiral.” In many ways, I felt like the article touched on the different moving parts in beauty that drive it, and this is a high-level summary: the emergence of niche and fast beauty brands, rise of influencers, increased direct sales by brands and more retailers in the space, and increased competition between retailers. Established brands have had to respond to those elements in their own ways.
In the last few years, I’ve felt more pressure to “cut through” some of the hype that gets built by certain brands or products or launches. As a result, I’ve also been more and more cognizant of avoiding hyperbole like “you need this” in a way that I wasn’t a decade ago. I’m increasingly aware of wealth inequality and just how deeply that impacts every aspect of someone’s life. There are moments where I have felt like a cog in the hype machine, and over the years, I’ve found ways to counter-act that feeling. I try to be hyper-conscious of how I review and recommend products, how I respond to readers on if they “need” this or if it’s “worth” it, and create ways for readers to use Temptalia so they can make smarter, better, and more enjoyable purchases. I want someone who is on a no-buy to use the site as a resource as much as someone does when they’re looking for a review on a new product.
“There are signs we’re on the back side of a hyper consumption curve,” said [Stephanie] Wissink [Jefferies analyst]. “[The customer] needs a little bit more flirtation and incentive to engage at the same degree, and…she’s looking for beauty to be more affordable.” (WWD)
As much as we’ve seen an increase in popularity of luxury-priced brands like Natasha Denona and Pat McGrath, we have seen an emergence of many niche and indie brands that are more affordable, more filling the gap between mass and prestige. They’re also being held more accountable for product flops; consumers are expecting and demanding high quality if they’re paying a high price. Brands like Coloured Raine are addressing gaps in the industry while entering a more mid-end price point and leveraging social media to grow their business. ColourPop’s ability to develop and release quality products at an affordable price point at an insane rate has been disruptive for all brands. The landscape has changed significantly in the last few years, and it seems like new brands emerge all the time–I personally find it difficult to keep up with the newest Insta-famous brand, and I live and breathe beauty!
A lot of commentary that I’m exposed to, whether from readers on this blog or on other platforms, reflects a sub-sect of the beauty-loving population. Sometimes that can result in minority opinions being louder than the more silent majority; surely when we’ve seen what feels like the umpteenth warm-toned neutral palette released and selling out, it’s because enough people out there keep buying it. That being said, the fast-paced cycle of releases seems like it is often catering toward the online community and its own demands for new, interesting, and current. We are the ones paying close attention to each and every launch by all the myriad of brands from mainstream to niche to up-and-coming. Someone who occasionally pops into Sephora on a whim is likely seeing new-to-them products no matter where the rest of us are in the product release cycle.
As someone who has been deeply involved in the online beauty community for over a decade, I speak from that perspective sprinkled with experience behind-the-scenes working with brand owners, brands, retailers, and PR firms. Five years ago, I rated ~2,285 shades/product across 75 brands and spent just under $6,000 on products to review. In 2017, I rated 4,652 shades/products across 75 brands and spent over $51,000 on products to review. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the differences over the years, not solely a result of an increase in products released. Here are a few reasons that I feel led to 103% increase in products reviewed in five years that I experienced personally:
I’m more efficient today than I was in 2013. I’m about as efficient as I can be testing products almost every day throughout the year. I have attempted to improve any bottlenecks in my review routine on the back-end, and the first major strides were done in 2013 and another chunk done in 2016. As they say, practice makes perfect, and I’ve been practicing a lot on writing my product reviews and have streamlined the way I do it.
In 2014, I decided to start purchasing much more aggressively because relying on press samples became more and more unreliable, so instead of maybe getting two shades out of 30 released a month later, I just started to buy products outright. I double downed on this in 2015 and going forward as the holiday season was particularly less stressful as purchasing products allowed me to know what I was going to review and when I was going to get it so I could pace out reviews. It allowed me to deliver content more quickly and better timed with releases overall. I still receive plenty of support from mainstream and niche brands, both from brands I’ve worked with going on 10 years and from brands who have emerged in the last few years.
There are more products being released and hyped up now than there were five years ago. The beauty industry has been growing year after year for the last few years, and the makeup category has done particularly well in achieving increases in sales in US prestige beauty (more on that below). Many brands have embraced digital marketing and have much more robust strategies in place along with an increased social media presence, and similarly, more beauty consumers are becoming part of the online community, whether casually or more avidly. The amount of information available online and is being accessed by consumers is only growing, so it is a lot easier to be “in the know” without having to head to the beauty counter and hear it from a sales associate in person.
How did we get here?
In 2014, the US prestige beauty industry sold $11.2 billion, which was a 3% increase over 2013 sales per The NPD Group, and makeup, as a category, had the greatest growth at 6%. At this time, NPD also reported that brand loyalty still existed but consumers were “always on the hunt for products that will perform better.” ColourPop was founded in 2014, and I first purchased products in late 2014 with a few reviews popping up in December but the majority going live in early 2015 (from their core, Super Shock Shadow range). 2014 was also a record year for MAC releases and reviews here with 751 ratings given (up from 542 in 2013 and down to 534 in 2015).
Makeup, as a category, continued to grow in 2015 with 13% growth per The NPD Group. One of the big, incoming brands in the industry arrived in late 2015: Kylie Cosmetics, which was valued at $800 million just a few months ago by Forbes. The emergence of new, highly competitive brands seems to have set the tone for 2016 as mergers and acquisitions increased significantly in 2016 and continue into 2018. Larger brands are also pursuing incubation strategies in developing new brands (one that we saw this year was Flesh Beauty from Revlon). One that has been around for awhile is Kendo Brands, which is under LVMH (which also owns Sephora), and they’ve developed popular brands like Fenty Beauty, Marc Jacobs Beauty, and Bite Beauty.
In 2016, NPD reported that makeup was “the big headline” in the US prestige beauty industry with a 12% increase in sales growth compared to 2015, and they noted that “top-performing brands today are social and community-driven.” 2017 seemed to mark a slight shift in the beauty industry as skincare grew by 9% and makeup only contributed a 6% increase in sales in the US prestige beauty industry per The NPD Group. A detail worth repeating was that part of makeup’s growth in 2017 was attributed to 13% increase by eye shadow.
At last check-in, The NPD Group was reporting that growth in makeup (for US prestige beauty) sales have slowed to a 1% increase for Q3 2018 over Q3 2017 where eyeshadow sales have declined by 6%. The bulk of the increase in US prestige beauty in Q3 2018 came from skincare, which was up 15% quarter over quarter. It’s no wonder that with the upswing and trend in sustained growth from skincare brands that brands are feeling the pressure, like with Sunday Riley resorting to having employees write reviews on Sephora (read my post for more in-depth commentary on this) and the rise in business models like Influenster that result in a flood of reviews when a product launches.
Retailers have been pushing brands to develop more products and deliver them faster to answer current trends, which are shorter lived now than they used to be. According to this article by the Chicago Tribune, in 2017, Ulta was pushing brands to deliver products to meet a new trend in “no more than nine months” compared to the 18-month turnaround in 2015. I have heard from a few brand owners about the pressure to answer to retailer demands over the last couple of years behind-the-scenes.
Shifting from an 18-month to a nine-month turnaround time on developing, creating, and producing a new product sounds grueling and intense, but it’s not a surprise that product development cycles are shrinking. The rise of brands like ColourPop have made it harder for brands to bide their time; in order to answer consumers’ needs right now, they need to release product right now and not in two years. ColourPop sees you talking about duochromes, and they’re releasing a set of six duochromes in weeks.
But based on what The NPD Group’s been seeing, the focus in beauty might shift to skincare given that the growth in the makeup category has softened. It’s interesting that it feels like we’re seeing a constant flow of new palettes releasing and now eyeshadow sales have declined. Maybe we aren’t just feeling like we’re maxed out on eyeshadow palettes. I don’t even mean just how much we own but how many eyeshadow palettes are available at any given moment for new people just discovering the beauty world.
It will be interesting to see how brands with stronger color ranges (who are not known for skincare) react and tweak their offerings to recapture consumer’s interest in makeup. Will we see color take on lighter, sheerer textures or more makeup-with-skincare-benefits type offerings? Will brands we think of mostly for makeup start fleshing out skincare ranges? Will the industry merely shift its attention to rather than away from new-new-new?
Where are we going?
In the last few months, I’ve noticed more push back from influencers and readers/viewers along with increased popularity in content about decluttering or shopping one’s stash. The whole concept of decluttering felt like a niche topic a couple of years ago and now seems to be present in the community’s vocabulary. I have also seen the Dupe List increase in its popularity over time on Temptalia (whereas other aspects are staying the course). I’ve noticed that individual products seem to have less of a splash than they used to; like the newest Urban Decay Naked palette is more interesting than the average new launch but not earth-shattering–the reactions, the buzz, and any intent to purchase just seem to burn hot and fizzle out fast. I struggle to think of “earth-shattering” level launches these days.
I know that I have been reevaluating my own processes for determining what brands and what launches to cover in preparation for 2019. I review tons of products and that’s the bulk of what Temptalia has always done, so having lots of products to choose from is a good thing — but all things in moderation. Feeling like there are 10,000 products that readers want me to cover and only being able to get to 4,000, though, is far from ideal. There are changes I have to employ in order to continue to serve my readers the best that I can in the current environment and pace of product releases because my output this year is about as much as last year–I am at my limit.
I have been reviewing products for over a decade, and I’ve been reviewing not dozens, but thousands, for many of those years. In the past, the holiday season was a grueling period of time for me; it meant consistent 16-18 hour days, seven days a week with little room to breathe. Typically, the holiday season spanned about two months where that level of intensity was required and then slowed, but spring of 2018 felt just as intense and I don’t feel like it’s let up much since. There’s a part of me that feels like the buzz is spread out across so many brands and products, instead of just a few major launches a year, and is driving that feeling of perpetually being behind the ball for me.
2017 wasn’t a quiet year by any means with plenty of brands and launches to review, but I’ve had more days where I’ve mentally struggled with disappointing readers by not reviewing enough for them fast enough in 2018 than in previous years. Several years ago, when I balanced blogging and going to school full-time, I often felt like I wasn’t good enough, but when I officially started to blog full-time (after I graduated school), I felt like I got into a groove. I was steadily becoming more efficient and streamlined, and generally, was in a good place mentally about the work I was producing.
This past summer, I started to notice that how I felt day-to-day was shifting, and I felt more behind, more discouraged, and more… like I was letting readers down because I wasn’t covering all of the hyped up launches or all of the new or interesting brands on the market. It wasn’t that I did less but that I could not do more. For the last half of the year, I’ve been struggling to accept that I’ve found my limit on how much I can do and whether that’ll be good enough. I love what I do in so many ways, and I’m extremely privileged to call what I do a job, and this is a new, unexpected, late-stage growing pain that I’m learning from. This is the context surrounding why I’m so interested to see whether the industry can sustain its intensity and if it shifts or changes.
It’s been the increased push back from influencers that has given me pause–and perhaps a little hope–that there will be a shift in the industry over time that will, hopefully, benefit customers a little more. Kathleen Lights recently touched on how YouTube is often focused on the new all of the time and personally feels pressure to put out content focused on new products/releases. Samantha Ravndahl announced last week she was no longer going to accept press samples in an effort to reduce waste and hoping that it would “make makeup fun again” for her. Lauren Curtis just announced that she’ll be significantly reducing the number of press samples she accepts. I am curious to see whether these conversations and choices ripple through the community at all. I recall when anti-hauls became more popular content, but I feel like it ended up being a trendy video topic for a hot second rather than a shift in thinking in most instances.
There are also signs of brands trying to do better about reducing waste and unused products in press packages, like Smashbox who has been including pre-paid envelopes/boxes that influencers can use to send unused/unwanted product to charity or NARS who sent out a full range of sample-sized bottles of the Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation (instead of full-sized bottles that are often sent instead). There’s also a tremendous response through viewers/readers showing appreciation for brands who think more critically about exactly what they’re sending out and how they are doing so. One brand sent a gift card so that I could purchase my shade match in their new foundation after trying some samples.
What happens if influencers change how and what products they cover dramatically? Influencers who reach a certain level of success have the financial wherewithal to purchase products they need to produce content and who end up doing so – how will that ripple through the community and the content that gets created from that? Will we see a greater diversity in brands and products covered? Will there be less first impressions and more in-depth reviews? Will it be the same but with less waste for the individual influencer? But what will brands do if sending over-the-top press packaging and full product samples don’t capture an influencer’s attention? Will the consumers of that content support or resist change?
Where do you fit in?
Do you feel like there’s an increase in releases in the last few years? Are you keeping up? Have you opted out? Are you opting out because you can’t keep up for whatever reason(s) or because you’ve already been part of the community for awhile and have acquired all you “need” for the most part? Have you been caught up in the more aggressive marketing tactics used in beauty (more often than I recall before)?
Or are you enjoying the thrill of new launches and releases or the variety that so many brands provide? Has the volume of limited edition releases devalued the whole concept of limited edition instead? Have the more obvious marketing tactics made you more immune to them?
I wonder how someone who is newer to the online beauty community feels; how they manage their budget and how they make purchasing decisions. It makes sense that someone who has been buying beauty products for several years may feel at least somewhat tired or starts to move on from new releases. I wonder how those who have been more entrenched in the community feel about the future and whether their interest in makeup as changed over time because of how products are launched today compared to years ago.
Here are a couple of interesting articles/reports I found along the way for more reading:
- Beauty and the E-Commerce Beast (A.T. Kearney)
- Sephora, Ulta, and the Battle for the $56B US Beauty Retail Market (Forbes)