The Return of Makeup | BoF Professional, The Business of Beauty, News & Analysis

Lancôme had planned to launch its Drama Ink liquid lip colour, one of its biggest lipstick launches in years, in July. Instead, the L’Oréal-owned makeup brand debuted the product in May, two months ahead of schedule, with all 13 shades of the $28 lipstick now available on Lancôme’s site, with wider retailer distribution still rolling out as planned.

The last-minute change came in response to a sudden increase in demand for makeup, the brand said. With US vaccination rollout going more quickly than expected and mask restrictions loosening, people are raring to go out, giving beauty consumers a reason to wear colour cosmetics again.

“Skincare had its moment over the pandemic, now we’re seeing the pendulum swing back to makeup,” Lauren Malecha, Lancôme’s senior manager of omni activations, told BoF. “We need to be super flexible … and adapt to our consumer in real-time because of how rapidly things are changing now.”

Lancôme isn’t the only brand experiencing a colour cosmetics comeback. Maybelline, MAC Cosmetics, Ulta Beauty and Shen Beauty, a Brooklyn-based boutique, and more are seeing their makeup businesses start to pick up again. Last year, prestige makeup sales in the US declined by 34 percent, year-over-year, according to The NPD Group.

But even as consumers warm to the idea of foundation and lipstick again, their habits have changed since before the pandemic, both in what they’re buying and how they’re buying it. Brands are adapting their assortments and strategies accordingly.

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In a sign of current trends, at Ulta Beauty, pre-pandemic favourites like complexion and lip products, as well as more colourful eyeshadows are selling again, said Maria Salcedo, the retailer’s senior vice president of merchandising.

“The pandemic helped reset and reignite the opportunity for this excitement around new launches and new brands and new opportunities of usage to come about,” said Salcedo.

An ad Lancôme's for Drama Ink liquid lip colour, the launch of which was moved up ahead of the pandemic. Courtesy Lancôme

An ad Lancôme’s for Drama Ink liquid lip colour, the launch of which was moved up ahead of the pandemic. Courtesy Lancôme

Jessica Richards, owner of Shen Beauty, is seeing similar numbers. She said Shen’s makeup sales in May increased by about 75 percent, year-over-year. Shen’s current colour business is even outpacing 2019 by 40 percent. Richards credits products like lipstick, foundation and blush for the sales lift, and added that in-store services, including facials, are already booked eight weeks out.

But lipstick, which practically became extinct during the pandemic thanks to mask use, is seeing a particular resurgence. Richards called lip colour Shen Beauty’s “real winner.”

It’s proved to be a powerful item even for brands that aren’t known for their lip products. Benefit Cosmetics, for example, is best known for its suite of eyebrow products — eight of its top 10 products last year were for brows. But now, the brand is seeing success with its new pigmented lip balm. Launched in May, California Kissin’ Colorbalm performed 2.5 times better than Benefit’s last lip product, which was released in 2017, said Christie Fleischer, the brand’s chief executive.

However, though excitement for colour cosmetics has returned, more specific pre-pandemic makeup trends likely won’t make a comeback. While consumers will never forgo makeup altogether, it’s unlikely they’ll return to that signature “Instagram makeup” look popularised by brands like Huda Beauty and Anastasia Beverly Hills.

“It’s not a super defined brow, contoured moment [anymore],” said Manola Soler, director at Alvarez & Marsal Consumer and Retail Group, a global consultancy.

More than what makeup people are buying, it’s where they’re buying it that has changed.

According to Accenture’s Covid-19 global consumer research from March, consumers are now four times more likely to purchase makeup online compared to before the pandemic. Additionally, 20 percent of those surveyed said they had a virtual hair or beauty consultation since March 2020, and almost half will continue to do so even with stores and salons open.

“The fact that consumers have switched their mindset and are willing to buy makeup online opens opportunities,” Depraeter-Montacel said.

This isn’t to say that brick-and-mortar sales won’t bounce back. Consumers increasingly feel safer returning to their favourite stores to test, touch and feel products in person (albeit with enhanced safety protocols). In beauty, the tactile experience traditionally wins. Brands retailers should expect the growth of online sales to decelerate in the coming months, though e-commerce will remain a larger part of their overall business than it was pre-pandemic.

“We know that online will continue and, ultimately, we do expect there will be a mix of online and offline because they’re playing different roles,” said Alanna McDonald, president of Maybelline, Essie and Garnier.

Making Marketing Shifts

In marketing, brands aren’t just pushing product launches, but building up this makeup renaissance. Maybelline’s newest campaign tagline is “Makeup For Everything You Missed,” while MAC Cosmetics is preparing to launch “MAC The Moment,” a multi-platform content strategy focused on showing people how to re-introduce makeup into their life.

“It’s to remind people of when they go out, when they go on their first date, out to the movies to see ‘Cruella,’ whatever it is they’re doing … to bring people back into the world of wearing makeup,” said Drew Elliott, senior vice president and global creative director of MAC Cosmetics.

MAC will pair different “moments” with a corresponding trend and product suggestion, like new “Love Me” liquid lip colour for a date or items that give a “Golden Glow” for the vacations people can finally go on this summer.

Lancôme took consumer’s updated beauty habits into account when developing its marketing strategy for a new concealer that comes out this month. The formula is the same one that was developed pre-Covid, but the brand talks about it differently than it might have if it came out in 2019, accounting for the consumer desire for “multi-purpose” products, said Malecha.

Lancôme won’t just focus on masking signs of fatigue under eyes, but will also highlight the concealer’s other attributes, such as its ability to highlight and contour.

To promote new launches, brands will continue to utilise digital tools. During the pandemic, brands were forced to introduce new items online in lieu of splashy, in-store launches, such as window takeovers and in-store events and activations. Now, they’ve realised the value of an online approach.

Tim Coolican, chief executive of Milk Makeup, said introducing products online allowed the line to achieve scale with online exclusives (the Melatonin Overnight Lip Mask and Melatonin Overnight Serum), as well as removing the friction of time-consuming in-store processes like conceptualising and updating gondolas. Content online can be updated and pushed out as frequently as the brand wishes.

“It creates an unrestrained launch environment,” Coolican said. “It used to be that you would not launch something in a big way online only.”

Maybelline’s most successful mascara launch to date (in terms of sales) came online in January with the debut of its Sky High mascara. The product sold out five times online and the hashtag “skyhighmascara” has almost 255 million views. One unit is sold every three seconds, according to the brand.

“As people began normalising whatever the ‘new normal’ is, women began wearing lipstick again and heavier coverage foundation.”

Following Asia’s Lead

Brands have been able to forecast trends after witnessing what was happening in the Asian market, which overall, recovered more quickly from the pandemic than the western world. John Demsey, executive group president at Estée Lauder, said the company saw makeup sales pick up in China last October, but it took until March to see a “pretty broad swing” back into the category.

“If you want to see the future of what’s happening, look at where Covid had its first strike,” Demsey said. “As people began normalising whatever the ‘new normal’ is, women began wearing lipstick again and heavier coverage foundation.”

Audrey Depraeter-Montacel, global beauty lead at Accenture added that makeup sales in China and the APAC region — which she described as “back to normal, even increasing” — are a good indication of what’s to come in the rest of the world. Already, she’s seen brands adapt their media plans, including a return of TV commercials, which disappeared during the pandemic.

“As we move from confinement to something more open, it’s not yet visible in consumer habit but it’s going to accelerate fast,” said Depraeter-Montacel.

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