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Ulta beckons consumers back to buying beauty products

Meghan McCarty Carino Sep 8, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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