Suggested Learning

What customers really want

Beauty is in the eyes of the purse-holder. This article by Nikki Austen, head of insight and strategy at Webb deVlam, will help you to understand what your customers are looking for

The beauty industry has continued to grow and thrive in recent years, with the economic downturn doing little to lessen British consumers’ enthusiasm and thirst for new products and innovative additions to their personal care regimes. But it’s not just products that are evolving. Customers’ tastes and wishes are also constantly in flux.

Beauty as a concept, let alone an industry, has undergone huge changes over the years. What we perceive to be beautiful, fashionable and even acceptable is constantly shifting, sparking trends and styles that are now forever linked with a moment in time. You only have to look back to the glamour of the forties or the stark style of the sixties to see how much changes in just one or two decades, and it is often these looks and trends that we associate with those eras as much as any historical or cultural event.

The drivers behind these changes are often led by the industry, with fashion houses or celebrities dictating a certain style or look which is then adopted and spread by major brands. However, we should not underestimate the influence or potential of customers themselves, and how their preferences and needs can dictate the direction that the industry takes in terms of product development.

Webb deVlam has conducted research on three very distinct groups of female beauty consumers: the confident ager, the new to natural and the perplexed novice. Rather than purely being defined by age, wealth or status, these consumer types are based on attitude and confidence, and each group has clear issues and concerns that they want their beauty products to address and rectify.

The confident ager

Commonly simply referred to as the “over 50s”, there is a tendency to assume that this demographic only cares about anti-ageing and how to eradicate wrinkles. Our research revealed a strong trend of “confident agers” who are perfectly comfortable with their life stage. They are not looking to turn back the clock or reclaim youth, and for them it’s more about achieving skin health.

Many of the women we spoke to felt that a lot of beauty brands tried to over-complicate their products and marketing materials with scientific formulas and claims to make people look younger. However, this is not a priority for this group – they want products which will help them achieve the skin they want, not take them back to what they may have once had. Soft, clear and healthy were words that kept being repeated throughout these conversations.

Brands need to tackle the unaddressed skin concerns that the industry appears to be uncomfortable confronting, from adult onset acne to postmenopausal skin. Those with mature skin are feeling unloved and under-serviced and it’s time that brands and the industry as a whole took the time to understand and cater for the whole range of issues, bugbears and priorities that drive this group.

These consumers are likely to have money and time to spend on beauty regimes and invest in products again and again, but they are also less interested in complex science and complicated fragrances. Confident agers crave simplicity and purity, both in terms of product contents and the packaging and marketing that accompanies them.

The new to natural consumer

This group consists of confident, assured women who know what they want and what suits their skin and their lifestyle. They have well-developed beauty regimes and are starting to look for specific products tackling skincare and ageing. Natural products are very appealing to this group, and they have started to experiment via big high street brands such as Lush and The Body Shop.

Many of these women would like to buy more specialist natural products but need to be educated about what specifically to choose and what truly constitutes natural in the world of beauty. There is an opportunity for brands to reach out to this group and give clear and informative guidance on natural products and help them make conscious choices that fit into their wider beauty regimes.

Brands need to strike a delicate balance here. Although they need guidance on which natural products are right for them, too much information and fuss will put this group off, as they are confident and knowledgeable and looking for a functional, practical solution to their beauty issues.

They are likely to be commuting or working full time and therefore needing quick fix products that will help them maintain their look with minimum effort. In terms of packaging and brand design, clear communication about the product’s contents and origin are essential, and products that serve more than one purpose will always appeal to these consumers.

The perplexed novice

The final group we researched consisted of young women who had little experience in terms of beauty products and establishing regimes, but who were eager and impressionable, and willing to take a leap of faith to get started. Their budgets are limited and their attention spans are short, giving brands a small but open window to make a good first impression and win these women over. This group are of high value to brands, as they are highly connected and vocal, using social media and online forums to share opinions and either recommend or dismiss brands to their peers.

A key concern that our research uncovered with this group was durability. They felt that after spending considerable time and effort applying make-up, it was frustrating that it often faded, slipped, or wore off after only an hour or two. Therefore brands need to consider whether their products are being designed to last, rather than purely making a powerful impression on first application. There seems to be a misconception that these individuals are happy to reapply and touch up their make-up because they are so invested in how they look, but brands risk losing their window of opportunity if they fail to work durability into their product ranges.

A valuable lesson

This research teaches us not to assume that certain target groups care about particular issues or need specific beauty solutions based on general or historic views about what makes them tick. This isn’t always the case, and it’s vital that brands find out what is driving and inspiring their target audience so that they can meet their needs head on. Taking the time to find out what inspires, worries, scares and helps these consumers will enable brands to create products that will actually help them over the long term, and market them in a memorable and effective way.

4 Golden Rules

How to give your customers what they are really looking for in store...

1. Use space wisely: think carefully about how the products you stock look on the shelves or in a display area. “Hero” your star products and make sure testers are easily accessible and well presented. Where possible, use staging and theatre to showcase products and directly engage with customers.

2. Let people play: the fact that your customers are in your store and not at home ordering online proves that they want to see, touch and play with the products, so embrace this and encourage people to interact with the products. They are more likely to buy if they’ve had a chance to try and test the wares first.

3. Get technical: technology is a vital tool when selling beauty products. From digital touchscreens offering product information and virtual customer service to sensory environments using music, lighting and fragrance, these modern touches will elevate the shopping experience for customers and engage their senses.

4. (Let them) Share the love: gone are the days when shoppers would be reprimanded for taking photographs of products. Today’s beauty purchases go hand in hand with a social experience, and actively encouraging customers to snap themselves wearing your products will be great for business.
Webb deVlam is a strategic brand design and innovation firm based in London. 

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