The challenges of online cosmetics sales: how to solve them with conversational marketing?

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By Margot Bonhomme, Marketing Manager @Botfuel

January 20, 2021

€2482. This is the average annual amount spent by French women on beauty products. On average, they spend 19 minutes putting on makeup and 10 minutes cleaning their face every day. Cosmetics and makeup are an integral part of their life.

Selling cosmetics online is proving to be more difficult than expected. How to sell a scent online - perfume would like to know. How do you sell eye shadow without having the texture tested? To do this, brands are taking the plunge and seeking to offer online support similar to the one they offer in stores. What Should I do? What solutions can be put in place? Let's find out together.

State of play of online cosmetics

sales market Cosmetics sales have been falling steadily since the start of 2020. In question? 2-month confinement which reduced the turnover of this sector by 10%. Sales are uneven: -25% for beauty products, +50% for hygiene products. (1) Perfumery is also affected. La Febea (Federation of Beauty Companies) estimates a 23% drop in sales at the end of 2020.

This being said, the situation is temporary. Cabinet Asterès anticipated - before knowing that a second confinement would be put in place - a fall in turnover of - 5% over the whole of 2020. Hygiene products could register an increase of 30 %, against a loss of 17% for beauty products. According to the study's forecasts, the sales volume experienced by the post-covid cosmetics industry will only return to ‘normal’ in 2022.

And e-commerce in all of this? What part does he have? According to a CCM Benchmark study, the online sale of beauty products is occupying a growing share of the cosmetics market. 58% of female Internet users in France say they have already bought cosmetics online. They are 1⁄3 to have done it from their smartphone.

E-commerce can therefore be the savior of the beauty sector. The giant L'Oréal, for example, has just completed a record financial year - a growth of +8%. The reason? The development of its e-commerce part, which “is progressing spectacularly by +52.4% and represents 15.6% of turnover”, as emphasized by Jean-Claude Agon, CEO of L'Oréal. The brand has been able to digitize and take the course of online commerce at the right time.

It is not the only one besides. This is what marks the online cosmetics market. Since 2015, brands have globally all invested in digital and new technologies - such as augmented reality or facial recognition - to create a real e-store and develop a differentiating customer experience.

MAC Cosmetics allows its customers to try all of their lipsticks online using their camera. To do this, simply choose the product of your choice and click on “try it”. You can then choose to use your camera, upload a photo of yourself, or try one of the MAC models. The solution is very quick and works very well.

Sephora has developed its application, “Virtual Artist ”, which uses face-mapping technology to allow users to try out thousands of products. Users can also follow beauty tutorials, with each step animated directly on their faces.

Febea Nevertheless likes to remind you that even if “online sales should continue to be very strong and reach growth of 38%, their weight remains too low to impact the entire sector.”

Why is there still a reluctance to use e-commerce cosmetics?

For a long time, manufacturers have looked for their economic model online. “As in other sectors, digital brings into play intermediation and therefore existing models,” indicates Pascal Armoudom, partner in charge of the French section of the Digital Beauty in Europe study. "In just a few years, between the arrival of Amazon and new pure players, the world of cosmetics relatively preserved until then is being "disrupted". The traditional brands which excelled in market segmentation, selective distribution strategies and mastery of their communication find themselves facing a whole new ecosystem and must reinvent themselves”.

The e-commerce sale differs from that provided in-store. It lacks support and advice. Indeed, according to a Digital Beauty in Europe study, the motivations for purchasing cosmetic products online are the same as for other products, although purchasing behavior is different. In France, what motivates first purchases (70% of respondents) of beauty and hygiene products online are promotions. Then comes the price comparison, at 66% then in third place only, the fact of finding your usual products (at 53%).

What challenges are facing cosmetic brands?

The study Digital Beauty in Europe confirms that the main challenge for brands of cosmetics will conquer or defend market share. And for that, they must invest.

On the mobile.

Users find cosmetic brand sites, not mobile-friendly enough. However, the SEMrush study showed an almost absolute predominance of mobile traffic (94%) on the Yves Rocher site. This all-mobile trend is also found among its competitors: 93% of traffic at L'Oréal, 85% of traffic at L'Occitane ... Mobile optimization is therefore necessary.

In the reception area

Brands have difficulty retaining their customers and experience strong bounce rates. Yves Rocher, with a bounce rate of 36%, is the brand with the most loyal customers. She spends an average of 6 minutes 36 on the site for 4.36 pages viewed. This is double the number of L'Oréal, whose Internet users consult an average of 2.79 pages. L'Oréal is experiencing a rebound rate of 61%. These figures prove that it is necessary to go beyond the acquisition, invest in loyalty, and offer customer journeys that retain visitors to the site.

cosmetic brand bounce rate

In supporting customers

Advice and the need to test products have long been considered a major obstacle to the development of e-commerce in this industry. For fear of making mistakes or choosing products that do not match, consumers are still reluctant to buy online. This is why Yves Rocher has set up his guides to help customers choose their make-up and hygiene products.

In the online experience

The Experience of purchasing cosmetics online seems to be convincing since 90% of buyers say they are satisfied. However, the CCMBenchmark study reveals a few points to be reinforced, such as delivery costs still considered too high or loyalty programs too low. “Our loyalty program, the Club Nuxe, is highlighted on our website, precisely to meet the expectations of our customers, whom we would like to thank for their loyalty,” explains the spokesperson for Nuxe.

In the economic model of their e-commerce

The economic model of the sale of cosmetics online is the same as for all e-commerce sites. To be successful, brands must take into account the following 3 elements: product catalog management, logistics management, and sales promotion.

As in stores, the product catalog must be constantly updated (new, sales, special events, etc.). One of the major challenges is to succeed in positioning its innovative products before its competitors on the market and to appear as the precursor. For example, Gaultier and Guerlain saw the fashion of men's make-up before anyone else. “When Jean-Paul Gaultier and Guerlain launched in the early 2000s with make-up for men, I felt authorized to go to the store without shame,” explains Ivan, artistic director of 31, for example. Cosmetic brands are facing an emergency. They must respond to the time-to-market if they want to stand out from the competition.

On the logistics side, e-commerce leaders have accustomed their customers to a delivery time no longer exceeding 72 hours. Most orders made in the morning leave the warehouse in the afternoon. These short delivery times require distribution warehouses to absorb very significant variations in the activity. This is all the more true with the increase in e-commerce sales following the first lockdown.

It is of course the animation of sales that we will dwell on here. The latter has also experienced big changes. Consumers are no longer looking for the same products and the same shopping experience as before.

How to offer a unique e-commerce shopping experience to its customers?

The Advantage of e-commerce is the information that it is possible to collect about its customers to understand their expectations, be able to segment them, and offer a personalized experience to each.

The trends today are natural/organic and connected beauty. “Personalization and connected beauty make cosmetics more efficient and provide consumers with a new experience. Often, moreover, innovations work on both counts simultaneously to deliver connected personalized beauty," Explains Kévin Da Fonte, Startup Innovation Manager at Cosmetic Valley. “Paradoxically to personalization and connected beauty, more natural and organic cosmetics are also a fundamental trend,” he adds. “In beauty too, we are witnessing real democratization of what was until then reserved for professionals. Beauty diagnostics, initially reserved for affluent clientele in institutes, can now be performed at home, online, or in-store.”

This beauty diagnosis is carried out by many brands: Yves-rocher, Oh My Cream, Laboté… More or less complete, more or less clear, they nevertheless forget everything: the interaction with the customer. The latter must fend for himself on the answers to the questions, without sometimes having a concrete idea of ​​the answer. Many people drop out and do not complete the questionnaire. This is why setting up a beauty diagnosis based on conversion will allow you to have a higher completion rate and to offer products that correspond to the needs of your customers.

Kévin Da Fonte also notes “major upheavals in the communication and distribution circuits which are perhaps becoming digitized even faster in cosmetics than in other sectors.” This, therefore, validates the omnichannel strategies put in place for several years by cosmetic brands. They must therefore invest in all of their communication channels and deploy an omnichannel strategy:

E-commerce site Sephora's Site is now its second point of sale after their store on the Champs-Élysées. Online sales rose to 162 million euros in turnover in 2019. How is this possible? Each visitor can access many online tutorials and beauty tips reminiscent of the in-store experience (beauty advice tab with blog articles, the possibility of making an appointment for various services, access to their loyalty card, and their balance of points…). You can do the same online.

Click and Collect has been deployed since May 2015 throughout the entire French network of Sephora. Customers can thus pick up their product in-store within 2 hours. Many brands, such as Yves Rocher, have also bet on hybrid marketing, offering home delivery or point of sale.

Mobile applications, such as “Virtual Assistant ”, help sellers and buyers. Sephora has provided all of its in-store teams with an application called My Sephora and a mobile terminal allowing them to access the customer file, take care of credit card collections anywhere in the store, as is done by Apple example. This application is also useful for customers who can use it in-store. In particular, they can access product sheets, prices by scanning the barcode, their loyalty card, their previous purchases (online and in-store), and hyper-personalized promotions.

By using a Digital Assistant Shopper, you can offer your customers the same services online.

Clarins also offers its application. It is called "My red thread Beauty" and allows you to benefit from beauty advice and tips, to learn to put on makeup but also to scan your skin and receive a selection of products and information to adapt your sun protection accordingly. UV rays.

Social networks and beauty influencers, which offer additional visibility to brands. “Some YouTubers do incredible things with makeup, and it makes you want to buy everything!” Says Jennifer Gérard, owner of Gerard Cosmetics. And in this game, Instagram is the big winner. “Even though we rely on SEO a lot, Instagram is a very important social platform for several reasons: it allows showing authentically how to use cosmetics, and influencer comments play a very important role," explains Laura Byington, CEO, and co-founder of Omiana.


Despite a decline in sales due to an exceptional health situation, e-commerce in cosmetics has ahead of it. Brands have been able to invest in digital, mainly in-store. They must now apply what they have learned online if they want to stay ahead of their competitors. In this race, several things to remember: the ability to adapt, the change in customer behavior, the adoption of new trends and technologies such as voice search

1. study Asterès carried out on behalf of the federation of beauty companies FEBEA

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