March 22, 2023


business is good for you

Reset: Consumer Behavior

7 min read
Reset: Consumer Behavior

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Beauty consumers will never be the same.

On the heels of a global health crisis and social uprising demanding true justice for all, everything from how we buy to what we expect from the brands we use has been permanently altered.

“We’ve been seeing remarkable behavior changes across so many categories as a result of the pandemic, and beauty is no exception,” says Kristopher Hull, senior vice president, senior client officer at Ipsos.

“The pandemic has had an impact on what [people] buy, where they buy it, their openness to new brands,” he continues. “Also, it’s having an impact on how they think about shopping after the pandemic eases up and as the economies reopen.”

As confinement is being rolled back in countries around the world, people’s appearance remains important to them. Just under 60 percent of those recently polled worldwide by Mintel reported no change in terms of how that’s prioritized, while 50 percent to 60 percent said they haven’t altered how much money they’re spending on beauty products.

Sarah Jindal, associate director, global beauty and personal care at Mintel, says if you peer into consumers’ beauty bags, they’re as full as before.

“It’s just the composition of what’s in it has shifted,” she explains. “It’s more skin care, more self care. Maybe they are trading down in certain categories with regard to price, but they are still spending.”

“Skin care started to grow to the point where it captured almost half the volume of the total industry,” says Larissa Jensen, the NPD Group’s vice president, industry adviser, beauty, referring to the U.S. market. “This is unprecedented.”

Consumers, adds Jindal, are “still engaged.” Yet the complexion of their engagement differs markedly from generation to generation.

Generation Z

Sales of makeup declined in the U.S. during the pandemic. Jensen pins much of that to younger people wearing less of it.

“Add to that the fact that the younger consumer is more likely to be shopping online, and you stir in the pandemic, where online became the only channel for consumers to use, and you’re starting to see the preferences of the younger generation potentially,” she says.

Additionally, many Gen Zers are missing some of their big life events, such as an 18th or 21st birthday, prom or graduation, due to the lockdowns. In other words, why get dressed up when there’s nowhere to go?

A recent GlobalWebIndex study showed that in numerous product categories, delays for making purchases were led by Gen Z. More than four in 10 said that was the case in buying clothing, for instance. They were also the demographic to most likely delay buying a smartphone, smart device or personal electronic device.

“How are brands going to build these long-term relations over time and actually make connections to keep Gen Z interested, if Gen Z are going: ‘Actually, I’m feeling a bit cautious about what we’re going to spend our money on,” Bishop says.

For a generation that’s somewhat in the doldrums there’s an opportunity today for a brand to connect, inspire and even just entertain. As an example, Bishop cites E.l.f.’s virtual TikTok challenge.

“That tapped into the mind-set of ‘We’re looking for brands to be there for us, even if we’re not buying right now,” Bishop says.

Another key is go “to the places and spaces where Generation Z exists,” in other words omnipresent branding that might involve brands sending text messages to consumers or having them create user-generated content.

“It’s not trying to replicate what you would experience in store, but to use technology to your advantage, to have virtual-reality experiences, gaming experiences that will resonate more with younger generations because they are more open to technologies,” says Michael Nolte, creative director at BeautyStreams.

Well-being is another key focus. Ipsos asked consumers in the U.S. about what matters more to them since the pandemic began. “For both Gen Z and Millennials, safety is the most important; about 40 percent of them said safety matters more to them since COVID-19,” says Hull, adding mental health was second, at 35 percent, followed by family, at 34 percent.

Masks being worn gave the biggest reassurance for all age groups queried. “But Millennials and Gen Z were more interested in how deep [stores’] cleaning protocols were and how frequently [stores were] cleaned,” Hull says.

In keeping with a pre-COVID-19 trend, Gen Z’s being open and vocal on social media about brands’ messaging or marketing is not expected to diminish. They are among the loudest voices calling for change during the protests around racial injustice, and it is clear that they expect transparency from the companies they spend money on. “That will extend moving forward,” Jindal says.


While the U.S. was in lockdown, about 15 percent of Millennials told Ipsos that they’d tried a new beauty product, and that was split pretty evenly between cleansing items and facial care.

“They were three-times as likely to have tried a new product than Gen X or Boomers,” says Hull, adding such behavior tends to have stickiness. “Probably on average 50 percent to two-thirds of people who have tried a new brand are willing to continue using it after the pandemic.

Many expect to see Millennials trading up when it comes to beauty. “Maybe they want premium experiences, like taking an appointment with a brand and experiencing new items in a very small group,” Nolte says.

“A holistic approach to life will probably resonate a lot among Millennials and the Gen X — so everything that is healthier, cleaner, has an approach from inside-out, body and soul is key, without excluding the other generations,” he continues.

Kathryn Bishop, foresight editor at The Future Laboratory, says the pandemic has been a massive period of digital connection for Millennials, who have embraced connection with beauty brands over platforms such as FaceTime and Zoom in their quest for a personal experience, education and guidance.

With Millennials’ mind-set skewing toward wellness, brands might focus more on self-care products and services.

That was a takeaway for Hershesons, for instance. While the company’s salons remained shuttered in the U.K., it introduced Zoom appointments for clients. Many Millennials who signed on for those didn’t actually want hair-related advice, but instead to chat with a hairstylist.

“It turned into a bigger mental-wellness and well-being conversation, and that says a lot around the potential future services we could start to see from beauty and wellness brands. There is an opportunity to tie wellness, layer that conversation, that human layer back into digital service,” says Bishop, who also expects Millennials’ penchant for DIY products probably to continue post-pandemic.


Generation X

During the pandemic, Generation Xers have tended to turn to their trusted brands.

“They do trust advisers from brands and also word of mouth, like with their peers,” Bishop says. “For brands who want to speak to Gen X [nowadays they] need to be thinking: ‘How do we tap into the kind of word of mouth of this generation?’”

When Ipsos asked older U.S. consumers about what matters more to them since the start of the pandemic, while safety remained important, physical health entered into the discourse.

Mintel’s numbers showed that Baby Boomers became increasingly concerned about their risk of exposure to COVID-19 as the pandemic continued.

“So that fear factor, especially for the older Gen X and Baby Boomer generation, is going to stay for a long time, and that will have an impact on how quickly they are ready to get out in the world and get back to ‘normal,’” Jindal says. “Starting to think about how to cater to some of those consumers from a retail and a brand perspective is going to become really important.”

“[Gen Xers] are going to be the ones who really champion the return to stores,” Bishop says. “Most of them are still very much focused on this idea of browsing and buying in store.”

There, Nolte suggests sales people might take on an even more important role for the demographic that might be sensitive to the added value of speaking with an expert.

Bishop suggests Gen Xers will be looking for products with greater benefits in sync with positive aging and renewal.

“It’s also going to be around an emergence of antibacterial claims woven into some products,” she says. “Gen X has this quite cheeky, fun, ironic, sarcastic streak that is sometimes overlooked, and actually brands need to play into that a little bit.”

Baby Boomers

Ipsos reports that during the pandemic, Baby Boomers in the U.S. went from buying about 14 percent to approximately 44 percent of their high-end beauty online.

“The older consumers were more likely to stick with [such online purchases],” says Hull, citing 38 percent of Boomers, 53 percent of Gen Xers and approximately 26 percent of Gen Zers and Millennials.

Still, for older consumers, visits to brick-and-mortar stores will remain paramount.

“A lot of these older Boomers — or even older elders — are often a little bit isolated from the other generations, so shopping for them is also a way to get in contact with people,” Nolte says. “To have real trained salespeople, who are good communicators, who are not just there to sell you something but also exchange, will have a real added value in offline retail.”

Industry experts are noting a hankering in Boomers wanting pampering in hair salons post-lockdown.

Bishop cited a Mintel report saying that the 65-plus set was the demographic most likely to first race to British salons once they reopened.

Regarding product preferences, she says: “They want formulations that are going to be tailored to their skin, the changes in the way that they look and how they’re feeling.”

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