Is Beauty Consumer Fatigue Setting In?

Data from the firms Spate and Launchmetrics shows online search volume for beauty decreasing. In its daily news roundup, beauty industry trade organization CEW described Spate’s data as revealing that “consumer confidence is beginning to diminish.” Reporting on Launchmetrics’ data, the publication Women’s Wear Daily determined, “Beauty consumer fatigue is hitting.”

Prompted by the online search data, for this edition of our ongoing series posing questions relevant to indie beauty, we asked 20 beauty entrepreneurs, executives, investors, consultants and other experts the following questions: Do you feel beauty consumer fatigue is hitting? Why or why not? What do you believe brands should be doing given the online search trends and a possibility that consumers’ appetite for beauty content is ebbing?

Yarden Horwitz Co-Founder, Spate

According to search data, there is a decline across all beauty categories. This could indicate the beginning of consumer fatigue in beauty, but it could also just be a signal of diminished consumer confidence due to uncertainties and changes in the economy.

While there is less demand for overall beauty products, it's important to note that there are still pockets of growth within the beauty category (i.e., tweakments and product areas such as clarifying shampoos, contour sticks).

Over the last few years, consumers showed strong interest across beauty. "A rising tide floats all boats,” as the saying goes. Some brands were able to win by just being part of the category.

Now, consumer interest is being focused on fewer areas within the category. For brands, it will be critical to (1) identify areas of growth, and (2) align your products alongside these areas of growth.

For example, with growth in interest for hair gloss, haircare brands should position their products alongside hair gloss routines and relevant claims to stay top of mind for consumers. In the skin and makeup categories, brands should keep an eye on new emerging tweakments and explore their implications for new consumer routines.

Brands should keep a strong pulse on evolving consumer needs and adapt their marketing communications to align with any shifts in behavior.

Consumers will always favor brands that provide true value in any category including beauty. The fatigue sets in when the landscape becomes saturated with copycat products and celebrity brands that do little to differentiate, but this low signal-to-noise ratio (combined with increased headwinds in the consumer category) actually creates an opportunity for brands that can position themselves as genuinely fresh and innovative.

Increased competition and subsequent "fatigue" on the part of consumers thus mean that the bar for what it takes to stand out as an emerging brand has been raised. The brands with strong foundations for success will continue to thrive while the rest will struggle or fail as we head into potentially more turbulent times on a macro level.

Conor Begley CSO, CreatorIQ

With the beauty category more competitive than ever, it’s true that many leading brands are seeing diminished activity among digital creators. Notably, however, this turbulence has predominantly impacted the cosmetics industry, with enthusiasm for skincare and haircare remaining strong.

Our data shows that, while the top 10 cosmetics brands by Earned Media Value (EMV) experienced an average 24% year-over-year decline from September 2021 to October 2022 relative to the previous 12 months, the top 10 skincare brands and top 10 haircare brands averaged respective 4% and 54% YoY growths.

These findings suggest that online beauty conversation isn’t subsiding so much as shifting. As the beauty and wellness categories become increasingly intertwined, creators are looking to products that enhance their natural beauty rather than mask perceived imperfections.

In line with this change, hybrid skincare-makeup brands with complexion-friendly ingredients are excelling. Kosas and Ilia, for example, both posted significant EMV growth over the past year. Cosmetics brands like Kaleidos Makeup that are built around creativity and self-expression rather than upholding traditional beauty ideals are also thriving as creators continue to celebrate avant-garde makeup art.

To succeed in this environment, beauty brands need to accept that the online beauty community is no longer an economy of aspiration. Instead, creators and their audiences are turning to brands and products that help them to embrace and express their authentic selves.

Cristina Nuñez Co-Founder and General Partner, True Beauty Ventures

Spate said it well in their recent report: “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Beauty is certainly not immune to uncertainty and harsh times. We are encouraging our brands to prepare in the event of a potential slowdown.

But what the industry has proven time and time again through past economic recessions and a global pandemic is that it can not only recover faster than other consumer discretionary categories, but that it can sustain that growth for longer periods of time.

All eyes are on the holiday season right now. While online search trends may be down, in-store traffic growth continues to surpass pre-pandemic levels. Prestige beauty is the only NPD category out of 14 tracked to continue to grow in both units and dollars, with no indication that this largest segment of beauty is slowing down.

While we should always be prepared and plan for the worst, my money (literally and figuratively) is still on beauty.

Sonia Elyss Founder and Digital Marketing Strategist, Sonia Elyss Consulting

I would definitely agree that beauty consumer fatigue is hitting. We’re at the intersection of peak fatigue that I think can be attributed to a few things: Celebrity brand launches, a constant churn on TikTok and Black Friday/holiday season shopping pushes.

With such an extreme push for communication, content and virality from all of these angles, consumers are burnt out on the beauty industry. Add these things to the current recession, and it’s a recipe for consumers to roll their eyes at the next “you have to have this” piece of content.

I’d suggest brands consider pivoting to communication specifically towards already existing customers instead of focusing on new acquisition. Asking yourself, “How can we maintain the customers we already have into early 2023 and get them to repurchase during this window?” would be my top suggestion. No new flashy launches or holiday gimmicks.

Tina Bou-Saba Co-Founder and Co-Managing Partner, Verity Venture Partners

I think that we should separate diminishing consumer confidence and beauty consumer fatigue. With respect to the former, there is certainly tremendous uncertainty and macroeconomic volatility right now reflecting inflation, geopolitical risks, interest rates, upcoming U.S. elections and more. Recession risk is high, and many consumers may be “hunkering down” as a result.

That said, the data across different consumer groups is still mixed in this regard. Historically, the beauty industry has been relatively recession-resistant as consumers indulge in small semi-discretionary purchases that boost their morale. I say “semi-discretionary” because many consumers, myself included, would describe their beauty routine as a necessity!

As a result, while I am less worried about macroeconomic volatility on consumers’ spending on beauty, I do think that some consumers are exhausted by the pace and volume of beauty brand and product launches, as well as by the industry’s social media dominance. For years, we have been bombarded with beauty-related content encouraging us to espouse ever more complicated and expensive beauty routines.

I expect that we will see a movement toward simplicity, efficacy and fun. More TikTok quick hits, fewer makeup tutorials. Brands should double down on their reason for being—what do you stand for, what is your DNA?

We are laser-focused on this as investors. In addition, we encourage emerging brands to focus on creativity and innovation in their content. Forget the “rules” of beauty content, and instead lean into entertainment and inspiration.

Keisha Pyzynski Founder and Creative Director, Key Design & Media

I think there is some sense of fatigue, and I think it can stem from the immense growth of newly available consumer products. There have been so many amazing new players entering the marketplace giving consumers more options than ever, which could surely cause fatigue.

It now forces the consumer to do more research, make more choices about which products not only work, but also fit easily into their lifestyles, and it requires the consumers to develop trust and confidence that these brands are developing products with them in mind.

I think that brands should always remain true to their origins and be as authentic and transparent as possible. And I believe that investing into branded content that is more relatable, more authentic and more educational to consumers could help alleviate some of the fatigue.

Madeline Kaplan Principal, Selva Ventures

I still think there is a lot of demand for beauty. As we have seen over time, the beauty category is resilient through more difficult macroeconomic times. But beauty is crowded. There are many brands out there trying to capture the consumer’s attention online. It’s more important than ever to be truly solving a problem for the consumer and to be able to articulate that quickly and effectively.

Given online search trends are declining, brands should focus on meeting the consumer where they are shopping whether that’s getting on Amazon sooner or into big beauty retailers where people go to discover new brands. It’s important to remember that brick-and-mortar still plays a big role in the beauty space and is a good place to invest as consumers return to in-person work and travel.

Rebecca Bartlett Founder and Creative Director, Bartlett Brands

Yes, consumer fatigue is hitting. Since search trends are correlated to purchase intent, several factors are driving this change. Beyond beauty, we have entered an economic recession so consumers are purchasing less and spending more cautiously.

On a macro-cultural level, we are seeing how people spend has also shifted. During the pandemic, skincare and wellness products were our accessible salvation. The mindset has shifted with the return to normal life, and consumers are spending on a broader range of products, services and activities.

Finally, as a branding expert who perpetually has new brands pass my desk, I can say conclusively that there is an oversaturation. Given the current challenges of digital marketing, getting "eyes" is more difficult than ever.

Brands have returned to hawking celebrities, paid influencers and other tactics from the content marketing playbook—and the relentlessness of it is exhausting. Consumers are inundated with content from brands that doesn't feel relatable or trustworthy.

The brands that are winning right now are distributing and marketing creatively through alternative channels where authenticity and trust are everything.

The cautious consumer is back, and brands need to work especially hard to balance this trend at the same time as the most promotional time of year. In times of economic downturn, the small luxuries that make a big difference continue to be a priority in the shopping cart. Consumers will continue to buy products that pick them up and help them feel confident, but maybe not as many as usual. The “lipstick index” is referred to over and over again for a reason.

Even though we see a search downturn, this isn’t always an indication of a bumpy road ahead. There are multiple ways to discover and search for products, Google being the most obvious, but ratings and review sites along with multiple social media platforms and apps offer guidance and support at the discovery and decision-making stage.

Small wins and low hanging fruit are everywhere. Brands should be ensuring their SEO is refreshed and picking up on micro-trends that could send traffic their way. They should be writing blogs, social captions and copy with an SEO lens, too.

Brands need to think like the consumer and anticipate what the consumer will be searching and provide the solution. Empathize with the consumer and help them on their journey to make an easy purchase decision. We are in the final countdown to 2022—there is increased competition, heightened consumer anxiety and multiple shopping paths. Make the purchase journey easy.

Charlene Valledor Co-Founder and President, SOS Beauty

There could be some consumer fatigue with regards to all of the new brands that don’t have any real point of view or anything new to offer. However, experts are still expecting annual growth year-over-year.

As we’ve seen from the newfound viral success of tried-and-true brands like CeraVe, I think it’s safe to say that customers are looking for efficacy, content and information that they can trust. Brands need to focus on products that deliver results, and not rely on the endorsements of celebrities or influencers that don’t have any real authority or expertise in the beauty space.

Fiona Co Chan Founder and CEO, Youthforia

Over the long term, no, I don't think the beauty consumer fatigue is hitting. But I do think the beauty consumer's interests are seasonal and many product categories have a longer consideration phase, especially for products that target a specific problem.

I think the way consumers are getting their beauty information has shifted in a way that could decrease online search. There's a wealth of content that's beauty-focused and the consumers are getting more and more informed.

Ashleigh Barker Head of Beauty and Director in the Consumer Group, Lincoln International

I don’t believe there is consumer fatigue for beauty in terms of where consumers are spending income. However, I do see consumer fatigue from the incessant launch of new (often celebrity) brands being launched every week, mirroring those that have come before it.

The “beauty” of this industry is that there are very few barriers outside access to capital to launch a brand in the sector. You don’t need to be a product development expert or seasoned industry exec to launch a successful brand, but the saturation we now see of so many brands entering the market is constant, and they start to lose their cachet.

We’re not only saturated with brands, but we’re also saturated with content. Where and how consumers choose to interact with brands or influencers is what I see evolving most. Consumers previously looked to online brand search for education on new ingredients or product recommendations terms like “hyaluronic acid," [but] knowing that vitamin C is effective at treating hyperpigmentation is no longer foreign to us.

We no longer need to turn to the online experts for these answers. The consumer has become their own expert.

Jamila Bannister Managing Director, JBannister Branding

As a beauty consumer myself, I agree that there is some level of fatigue in the market. Technology has made product creation so easy. In just a few clicks, you can find formulations and packaging. You can even throw up a website without much effort.

However, beauty consumers are savvy. They need brands that are highly differentiated, and brands that go deeper with the problems they solve. They need brands that share their values because it helps them to feel seen, heard and makes them feel like they finally have a solution made just for them.

I think indie brands in particular, should be doing two things to overcome this. The first is getting clear on their brand values and ensuring that it aligns with the values of their customers. The second is becoming more creative in the ways they reach and communicate with their audience because the same old parlor tricks are boring.

Fatigue is there, but I don't think it's from overwhelm, I think it's from the underwhelm of so many brands feeling generic.

DIVYA GUGNANI Co-Founder and CEO, Wander Beauty

I don’t think the consumer is fatigued in the beauty space. I think they’re just being more selective. I believe that brands should really captivate customers with their heroes and really focus on building connections over products that they make best to ensure that their customers are really engaged with them over buying, replenishing and coming back.

I think the customer still wants educational content and a reason to buy, and the customer is still engaged in trial and discovery, which is critical for beauty brands overall. In my opinion, brands have to focus on the flywheel of activities to convert someone to purchase. They should focus on building brand awareness, creating opportunities for trial and discovery, and really leaning in and tapping into this market and to hero products that customers know and love instead of just launching a lot of newness, which can cause overwhelm.

At Wander Beauty, we’ve leaned into activating around our award-winning Baggage Claim Gold Eye Masks. They’re a hero for us and loved by editors, celebrities and influencers across all platforms. I think, in this beauty market, it is really important to know what you are good at and to build your customer base around core products that really work for them.

Aggie Burnett Founder, AB Creative

I don't. I think what the research may be showing is a short-term shift away from online consumption to in-person consumption. Right now, post-pandemic, people are starved for in-person interaction, and sensory shopping and beauty has typically always been very sensory, where consumers want to touch, feel and see the product before buying it.

Also, some beauty search terms may be categorized under wellness like "adaptogens and nootropics" so it skews the data.

DIAMOND HAWKINS Founder, Pothos Beauty

Beauty consumer fatigue I believe is a real thing. We are living in a time where there is a great deal of brands in the space and entering the space. I could really see how there is a fatigue growing, especially since information consumption is at a high. As both a brand founder and consumer, I think about this often as well as thinking of ways to find balance not only for myself, but our platform as well.

I think brands should really think deep about the industry as a whole. I think there is space for disruption, disruption in the way of how we are defining the narratives around beauty. In the context of content, brands can get innovative with the messaging. I think consumers are looking for new, refreshing content that is real and authentic and from real people because that is beauty!

For us at Pothos Beauty, we are going outside of the normal barriers of beauty and incorporating elements like storytelling from real people, pairing products outside of beauty with beauty products and focusing on technology.

Rachel Martin Founder and CEO, RemCal Insights

As far as what we're seeing in the qualitative consumer space, there are a couple of factors that are influencing consumer's relationship with the beauty category:

Skin health is up: Over the last couple of years, consumers have had time to let their skin breathe while working from home and not wearing makeup. They've also paid more attention and put more money into their skincare routine.

Remember when we saw skincare brand sales go up? Consumers are proud of the routine they've established and the results they're seeing. There's an overall sentiment that they don't want to cover it up and when they do, it's the “less-is-more” mentality.

At the beginning of the pandemic, consumers had the time to have a 12-step skincare routine, but now there's a need for a more simplified routine. Consumers want multifunctional products.

Recommendation: I think we're already seeing makeup brands recognize this behavior with products that serve a dual purpose: skincare plus coverage. It's important for brands to continue to recognize the hard work consumers have put in and celebrate their skin health.

Trend and product fatigue: Consumers are overwhelmed with the number of products out there and trends they have to keep up with. It's hard to know what to try, how to do it or the latest beauty news to believe. We've been seeing this for a while.

Some consumers get really excited by all the new products out there and never want to stay loyal to just one brand. Others find it exhausting and just want to stick to their tried and true.

I think we might be seeing a bit less of the drive to buy, buy, buy because consumers are looking to streamline their products. Part of this is due to being busy, but another part is sustainability and just wanting to consume less.

Recommendation: With the product and trend overload, there's a level of education that consumers feel they need, and to the average consumer, they don't have. There's an opportunity for brands to educate their consumers more about the need for these products. If there's a true need, consumers will listen.

Tik Tok and Instagram are the search platforms now: I'm not sure if TikTok and Instagram were included in the online search research, but we're seeing that consumers are still looking for beauty content via TikTok and Instagram. This ties into the education recommendation.

Consumers go to TikTok and Instagram to find relatable experts (think micro influencers who may be experts in the category or just relatable lifestyle experts) touting the product or the trend.

Recommendation: I think most brands are already doing this, but keep creating content for Tik Tok and Instagram that's relatable, educational and, of course, entertaining. Consumers have more heart for TikTok because there's a perception that they're not paid posts.

I think the rawness of the videos comes across as though influencers are just posting their opinions of a brand versus being paid to do so. This will be interesting to continue to observe.

DANIELLE GRONICH Co-Founder and CEO, Clearstem Skincare

I do feel that beauty consumer fatigue is a thing—and with good reason. Every celebrity has started a skincare line, and every influencer promotes at least one (sometimes multiple). It makes it very difficult for people who are struggling with their skin to find real answers and receive legitimate information.

After a while it all becomes a blur of smoke and mirrors, and consumers are bombarded with too many choices and don't really know what will work for them. So, they try a new product and usually wind up disappointed. I think brands need to exist first and foremost with a purpose and then deliver on it.

At Clearstem, we live to solve acne in the healthiest way possible and our core product is education. Brands need to be the hero for people, not just a marketing machine. They can do this by providing real education for skin concerns and addressing the internal triggers of skin issues, even if there's no immediate revenue in that activity.

Beauty brands who do not spend a healthy ratio of time and resources on thoughtful education are driving the fatigue problem and need to structure their efforts around value versus just valuation.

Brett Gallagher Chief Brand Officer, Glo Skin Beauty

With an ever-increasing list of brands hitting the market and digital marketing targeting consumers on every platform imaginable, it would be hard to argue that consumers are not feeling beauty fatigue.

With increased options, brands more than ever need a differentiated position that aligns and resonates with their target consumer.

It’s no longer enough to just be “clean” or “influencer-/celebrity-founded” as these have become too widespread to be a point of difference in the market.

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