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The beauty industry is making a fast recovery, but the same can’t necessarily be said of its consumers. Concealed by the pandemic, new routines, behaviors, and attitudes are redefining the landscape.

As part of our annual trends report, Connecting the dots, we took a deep dive into the lives of beauty buyers this past year, and how 2022 will offer new opportunities – and challenges – alike.

The lockdown “groom-boom”

Lockdown was a chance to experiment. There were no professionals to cater for specific regimes meaning consumers had to take matters into their own hands.

This doesn’t mean people became beauticians overnight (one look at #lockdownhaircuts will tell you that) but it was an opportunity to learn something new. 

One of the most visible signs of this was the shift in purchase behavior. 

In Q1 2020, 18% of consumers purchased skincare products every month – behind the likes of makeup/cosmetics (23%). In this timeframe, consumers now consider both as important as one another. 

In fact, there’s clear evidence that these behaviors have stuck even 18 months since the first lockdowns began. Amazon, for example, continues to see considerable growth for beauty and cosmetics products as consumers keep to their online shopping habits.

For some audiences in particular, this was a long time coming.

Since 2018, the fastest-growing interest among male consumers is beauty and cosmetics – climbing 21% in this timeframe.

Male interest in beauty has exploded in APAC markets such as China, Australia, and Indonesia, but impressive growth in North America and Europe also, shows it’s truly a global trend.

Chart showing groom-boom

There are, however, signs that this trend could be starting to slow down. 

While male interest in beauty and cosmetics has grown female interest has shown early signs of stagnation. Brands have left themselves work to do if they’re to keep pace with the trend.

Let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean consumers will abandon their new routines. Male (particuarly those who are heterosexual) and LGBTIQA+ consumers still continue to pip their pre-pandemic beauty interest and purchase figures, but this is changing – growth is slowing and, without intervention, risks declining too. 

There are several possible explanations for this. For one, there’s always the possibility that there simply aren’t enough products available for some audiences.

As new beauty audiences were brought into the spotlight, purchase behaviors failed to match their level of interest – the onus is now on marketers to change this; reaching new audiences and adapting strategies to their needs. Brands urgently need to match this enthusiasm with product variety in order to avoid a similar pattern of decline witnessed among female consumers.

There’s also a sense that some brands aren’t doing enough to challenge existing concerns within the industry. 

Stigma toward male consumers buying beauty and cosmetic products, for example, is a very real concern and brands have a role to play in changing this – instead of leaving it up to social media users or challenger brands.

Actor and singer, Harry Styles, recently revealed the launch of his own beauty line, Pleasing. Styles joins a growing list of celebrity-owned beauty brands (including the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and Pharrell Wiliams) that offer unisex products, catering specifically to the rise of inclusive beauty.

If you’re not convinced, then figures for people of color should set alarm bells ringing; interest and purchase figures have fallen 15% and 13%, respectively, since 2018 – the majority of which occurred shortly after the pandemic began. 

Scrutiny toward a lack of products suited to darker skin tones is nothing new but extra scrutiny on racial representation has only further highlighted this problem – particularly in the wake of global protests in 2020.

Beauty brands shouldn’t shoulder the blame alone but, as figures with the power to promote diversity, they have a responsibility to address these problems. Moreover, a failure to act will inevitably inspire more newcomer brands to address this matter. 

As the profile of beauty buyers changes, catering to their individual needs will be crucial in 2022, and beyond.

Fostering inclusion

For the most part, we can sum up changes to consumer beauty and skincare preferences as an effort to “ditch the glam” and focus on simplifying things a little. A quarter of consumers say this, with other leading changes to do with buying more products that maintain natural beauty as opposed to enhancing it.

With time on their hands to become more acquainted (or, in some cases, unacquainted) with beauty products, consumers actually had a chance to find out more about their preferences. It was an opportunity to “be themselves”.

Society is even changing to reflect this. Some workplaces have loosened dress codes to relieve some of the pressures that existed pre-COVID – an example of how expression and uniqueness can be promoted in the future.

But there’s still work to do.

chart showing society is too concerned with appearance

The number of consumers who say beauty standards are changing for the better sits at 19% and brands can help to raise this by listening to what consumers want, and adapting their messaging to ensure beauty standards are inclusive of all types.

This mostly has to do with representation. We’ve seen a steep decline in interest and purchase figures among people of color and LGBTIQA+ consumers but our data also revealed distinct calls for more diverse models from either of these groups too.

There are challenger brands like Fenty Beauty that already do work to address this, but others are following suit, doubling down on commitments to support inclusive beauty.

In the last month, just 1 in 5 of those who purchased any beauty products say they feel represented in the advertising they see, falling to as low as 13% among LGBTIQA+ consumers in this group. 

In response, marketers can be more representative in their casting; featuring models with disabilities, skin conditions, and of different sizes to expand their appeal among these disengaged audiences.

Once again, the onus isn’t necessarily on beauty brands alone to change this, but calls have been growing for some time now; ignoring them is becoming less of an option. 

There’s also a need for models that look like regular people – 35% say this, climbing dramatically among people of color and LGBTIQA+ consumers. Steering away from filters or retouched images on social media is a budding trend which not only makes campaigns more authentic but relatable.

Diversity and representation can extend far beyond advertising, provoking food for thought among retailers of all kinds. For consumers coming in-store, speaking to employees who can reciprocate their concerns and suggest products they use themselves will make a massive difference.

In some cases, it means rethinking terms that could be polarizing. Take “normal” for example, with several brands having opted to remove the word entirely from their packaging. 

If beauty brands want to encourage consumers to keep to their beauty routines, they not only have to listen to their needs but show they’re willing to adapt to them too. 

After all, if they don’t, then challenger brands will.

Keeping the momentum

A change in attitudes may have brands scratching their heads about how these apply in the future. Will consumers care less about appearance going forward, and how will this affect their routine? Moreover, what does this suggest about the products they buy?

Consumers may certainly be calling for more accurate standards of beauty in the media they see but this doesn’t mean they’ll spend any less time on their own appearance in turn – if anything, they’re anticipating taking longer.

chart showing consumers will still prioritize appearances

For starters, it’s been a long time since March 2020 – many of us don’t look the same as we used to. Now’s the time for consumers to showcase the new styles, looks, and techniques they picked up during the past year. 

Time spent getting ready for work is expected to be a lot longer than elsewhere. This makes some sense; employers may be reevaluating their dress codes, but not their standards.

We also need to consider the context of who consumers spend their time with. 

Appearance is seemingly more important in the company of colleagues than it is among family and friends – given estimated time spent getting it ready falls ahead of a social gathering or a night out. The bottom line for brands is to think about where consumers will be spending their time and how their specific needs are likely to change in context, ensuring they have access to products that cater to these varying routines. 

We also need to consider social attitudes and behaviors in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Many consumers will still have reservations about attending social gatherings – perhaps for some time.

As a result, products that improve or maintain appearance in the long-term should be considered just as important as ones that enhance it. There’s still every opportunity to look your best, and plenty of time to do it.

Keeping up appearances in the year ahead.

2022 has a lot to live up to; you can thank hopes of a new “roaring 20’s” for that. 

While the idea of a new Jazz Age likely has businesses in the retail, hospitality, and nightlife sectors giddy with anticipation, marketers need to wise up to a change in consumer mentality. There’ll certainly be a resurgence in appearance-based behaviors but, this time, it’ll be on a much larger scale. People don’t necessarily look at beauty products in the same way they used to, granting new opportunities for brands and doing away with pre-COVID challenges.

This means drafting campaigns that speak to everyone; levelling the playing field through tailor-made products, and utilizing campaigns that highlight everyone’s individuality.

Let’s be clear; beauty standards won’t change overnight, but enthusiasm for these kinds of products can.

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