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The Changing Face of Online Beauty

This insightful article about the evolution of experiential beauty purchasing online was originally written and published by cosmetic journalist and Public Relations consultant Imogen Matthews. To get in touch with Imogen or for more exclusive industry insights, visit or follow @prembeauty on Twitter.

Feelunique is celebrating its 10th birthday with the publication of an in-depth survey into how important online has become within the beauty landscape.

The survey aims to blow away the myths Feelunique believe surround online beauty.

A place that’s empty, soulless and lacking in the sensorial attributes of a physical shop?

Well think again.

The results certainly made me reassess my view, so let me share with you some of the most thought-provoking facts:

  • Online is offering sensorial experiences in unexpected ways
  • Physical stores are no longer as relevant to today’s consumers
  • Beauty consumers are building stronger relationships online than with beauty consultants in-store
  • Minority and mature beauty are becoming mainstream

Let’s look in more detail:

Digital is challenging many of the traditional functions of the store.

The traditional store model is a place where consumers go to touch, feel and trial products, interact with beauty consultants and can instantly satisfy their desire by walking away with their purchase.

But digital is now effectively moving into this space.

1. Consumers are able to experience sensory cues online

For example, in a sample of 25 YouTube beauty videos with over 1m views, 723 sensorial references were made, equating to over 30 a video. And L’Oreal Makeup Genuis App has had over 14 million downloads since launching last year.

2. Online delivers a richer experience than we might expect

Going shopping is an immersive experience and many retailers have responded by upping their game by investing in in-store environment.


…the online experience isn’t purely transactional but has evolved to deliver a total beauty mindset. Consumers visit beauty sites for guidance, inspiration and entertainment, as well as to shop:

  • Guide Me: a place where consumers can research, evaluate opinions and get advice on which products to buy
  • Inspire Me: through new ideas, looks and techniques (e.g. Pinterest, YouTube)
  • Serve Me: a convenient, reliable and fast way of buying product
  • Entertain Me: consumer engagement through enjoyable, entertaining lifestyle content that often leads to impulse buys

The research shows how the immersive nature of online content creates a seamless experience allowing consumers to flow from one mindset to another.

Content is now key –brands and retailers need to be present in relevant formats at all times.

3. Online is the most trusted space for advice

Building a one-to-one relationship with a favoured beauty consultant can lead to long-term customer loyalty. But how relevant is it these days?

Many consumers are building meaningful online relationships and surrounding themselves with an ecosystem of voices that deliver influence.

Some bloggers now have a bigger following than stores:

  • Boots has 80,000 Instagram followers and 808k Facebook likes
  • Zoella has 5.7m Instagram followers and 2m Facebook likes
  • Space NK has 13,000 YouTube subscribers and 29,000 Twitter followers
  • Tanya Burr has 3m YouTube subscribers and 1.5m Twitter followers

What we are witnessing is brands being make famous by influencers, not by stores

4. Online isn’t just for the young and leading edge beauty enthusiasts

Consumers look for identifiable voices and “people like me” online.

Minority voices are being heard, such as:

  • Black hair videos have increased 198% between 2012 and 2015; black skin and hair vlogger Patricia Bright who has 588,300 YouTube subscribers
  • Jazz Jennings transgender endorser of Clean and Clear has 174,570 YouTube subscribers
  • Since the launch of hijabista magazine in 2012, Google trend results have soared: “Hijab make-up” generates nearly 7m Google results

And finally…

…the mature beauty market is experiencing growing engagement and influence, reflecting growing interest in more focused content.

Mature audiences are not just looking on beauty as you grow older – they are looking for inspiration to play and experiment.

  • Melissa55 celebrates growing older with 21,000 YouTube subscribers
  • Look Fabulous Forever has generated over 1m YouTube views and 393 comments for its 10 most popular videos

So what does this all mean for the future of high street retailing?

Of course, consumers will continue to go out to the shops for a very different experience than they can ever receive online, such as:

  • The thrill of discovering a new brand or product and trying it out there and then
  • Immersive brand experiences in-store, e.g. product tutorials, workshops, customising products
  • Being able to buy and enjoy a product they’ve purchased right here and now

In this “brave new world” retail and online must and can work side by side. Personally, I believe there’s room for everyone.

To get in touch with Imogen or for more exclusive industry insights, visit or follow @prembeauty on Twitter.

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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