COVID-19

Ulta beckons consumers back to buying beauty products

Meghan McCarty Carino Sep 8, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Consumers are interested in experimenting with colorful eye makeup these days, says consultant Jonathan Greenway. "There's a much larger focus on anything above the mask," he said. Jon Gordon/Marketplace
COVID-19

Ulta beckons consumers back to buying beauty products

Meghan McCarty Carino Sep 8, 2020
Consumers are interested in experimenting with colorful eye makeup these days, says consultant Jonathan Greenway. "There's a much larger focus on anything above the mask," he said. Jon Gordon/Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Retailer Ulta Beauty is hoping to seize on bright spots in the market for personal care products with a new TV ad campaign that touts the restorative powers of self-care during the pandemic. The company had pulled all TV advertising when the health crisis began in March.

The $500 billion global beauty industry has been transformed by the pandemic. With stores closed for months, millions working from home and many barely leaving the house — or wearing face coverings when they do — beauty revenues are estimated to drop up to 30% this year. But not all segments of the industry have been blemished by the COVID-19 downturn.

For years it’s been conventional wisdom in the beauty industry: When the going gets tough, consumers get lipstick.

“It is an inexpensive way to sort of keep up an appearance,” said Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology and an expert on consumer culture at Boston College. She said strong lipstick sales during periods of economic stress have been viewed as a sign of consumers seeking out affordable luxuries. “These are small purchases that can have big psychological impacts,” she said.

Of course, lipstick doesn’t go great with protective face masks, and cosmetic sales have dipped.

“But there’s a much larger focus on anything above the mask,” said Jonathan Greenway, a consumer products consultant with AlixPartners.

Eye makeup has remained strong, with consumers interested in trying out more experimental colorful looks while stuck at home, he said.

Even though people aren’t going out as much, they’re still worrying about their appearance, said Carlos Zavala, a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.

“I’m on camera now more than I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.

He’s now spending more on skincare than before the pandemic. With constant video meetings, he’s been scrutinizing his undereye bags and dry skin. Plus he has more time to try out masks — of the moisturizing and clarifying variety.

And his cucumber-green tea-scented face mist really helps to calm the nerves while doomscrolling the news.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

Are we going to see another wave of grocery store shortages?

Well, public health officials are warning that we could see a second wave of the virus before the end of the year. And this time retailers want to be prepared if there’s high demand for certain products. But they can’t rely totally on predictive modeling. People’s shopping habits have ebbed and flowed depending on the state of COVID-19 cases or lockdowns. So, grocers are going to have to trust their guts.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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