No testers, no touching: What will shopping for beauty products look like in the post-COVID world?

4 months ago 34
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The silken glide of glittery pigments from the latest must-buy eyeshadow palette, the satiny smooth texture of a foundation luxuriously blending into the skin, the lingering scent of a hand cream that follows you around through a long day of shopping… swatching and trying on has always been a non-negotiable part of the beauty buying process. The pervasive popularity of e-commerce platforms have long posed a question mark over the existence of retail stores, but the brick-and-mortar model has managed to hold its own with the one element that advancements in technology just can’t compete with—the ability to touch, feel and apply a formula to see how it sits on your skin before heading to the checkout counter.

But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could ring the death knell on communal makeup testers, potentially changing the beauty shopping experience forever. In the months since the pandemic broke out, a few facts have remained crystal clear. Experts are in agreement that the virus can sit on inanimate surfaces for an extended period of time. In-store swatching involves applying makeup brushes or formulas directly to the face without knowing who has used it before. When you add two and two, it paints a grim portrait for the future of makeup testers.

The argument against makeup testers isn’t new. Studies dating as far back as 1971 have discovered that 43 per cent of eye makeup samples, such as mascara wands and eyeliners, featured microbial contamination. In 2015, a multinational makeup retailer found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from a woman who contracted herpes after testing a lipstick sample at a store. Given the accelerated spread of coronavirus through contact with contaminated surfaces, the conventional beauty shopping experience is poised for some major changes.

The future of beauty shopping in a post-lockdown world

So, is this the end of the road for testing makeup products? Yes and no. A quick check-in with beauty retailers from around the world signals a major overhaul in the traditional shopping routine. With the nationwide lockdown being lifted in a phased manner, beauty brands are adopting suitable precautions to ensure optimal safety for those perusing products at retail outposts. Ulta Beauty, one of the largest beauty retailers in USA, has resumed in-store shopping at over 650 locations in accordance with safety standards. A spokesperson for the brand confirmed, “We’re excited to offer guests a safe, convenient way to find the beauty essentials they love. We know the discovery inherent to the beauty shopping experience includes swatching. However, to ensure our guests’ safety, product testers are on display only to offer guests a truer sense of colours and textures.”

The sentiment is echoed by The Body Shop, that is offering sealed samples instead. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have removed all testers in our stores with the exception of fragrances. We have sealed samples of our bestselling products available in our stores as well as online and we are encouraging our customers to use these. Customers shopping online also have the choice of adding their chosen samples on every purchase,” explains Harmeet Singh, vice president of marketing, merchandising and e-commerce for the brand for Asia South.

In addition to dialling back communal testers, beauty brands are also employing intensive protocols to ensure optimal safety for customers. For Indian beauty retailer, Nykaa, the aftermath of the pandemic has translated into heightened sanitisation measures in addition to a no-tester policy. “We’ve opened over 30 stores in the permitted areas and look forward to opening more as soon as possible. Each store was fumigated 24-48 hours prior to reopening. Once reopened to the public, the store will be sanitised at regular intervals throughout the day. All customers entering the store will have their temperature checked and will be requested to sanitise their hands before entering. All beauty advisors, security staff and housekeeping will be wearing masks and have been instructed to sanitise their hands after servicing each customer. Additionally, social distancing will be practised within the stores with a limited number of employees and customers permitted at any given time,” said a spokesperson for the brand.

Singh agrees that gloves, masks and sanitisation will remain the norm for the near future. “Our new normal means mandatory social distancing of two metres in our stores and warehouses as well as extensive sanitisation as per WHO and government guidelines. Additionally, we are providing fresh gloves to every customer entering the store. We are also requesting our customers to wear a mask inside the store—just like our store teams,” she says.

Virtual experiences find increased popularity during lockdown

With restrictions placed on movement, the world of e-commerce has been eating into physical retail’s lunch share. For a digital-first business model like Nykaa’s, the future looks hopeful. “We are returning to our pre-COVID daily sale numbers and have witnessed great success with some recent launches on our platform, which demonstrates strong consumer demand. Personal grooming and self-care sales have tripled through the lockdown, as customers are investing more in at-home beauty products and services,” the spokesperson added.

This also bodes good news for the world of virtual reality experiences and augmented reality-powered makeup testing tools. The power players have already been making moves to capitalise on the latest in technology, as witnessed by L'Oréal’s decision to purchase ModiFace, a Canadian tech company that specialises in applying augmented reality to the beauty world.

Ulta Beauty has invested heavily in augmented reality as well, and the results are visible in the virtual try-on experience available on its app. The brand’s spokesperson adds, “GLAMlab is an interactive, highly-effective solution for guests who seek to continue colour swatching and testing products. It is an excellent way to virtually try-on makeup products across categories such as eyeshadow, eyeliner, brows, lips, mascara, foundation, false eyelashes and even hair colour—an experience you couldn’t try in-store previously. Not only is GLAMlab a safe alternative to product testers, it’s also convenient and fun while shopping on the go, at home or in-store.” 

Although touted as the next big thing for a while now, virtual makeup aids somehow never managed to achieve lift-off. With physical retail experiences being curtailed for the near future, virtual try-on tools could finally find the momentum needed to become de rigueur for beauty enthusiasts. 

Also read:

Taking a flight during the COVID-19 pandemic? These are all the steps to keep in mind

How will technology change our relationship with beauty after COVID-19?

The beauty industry is trying to be less wasteful. Here’s what it looks like in India

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