Checking In With Stores On The Hottest Products And Trends In Beauty
After coronavirus lockdowns, economic upheaval, political strife and climate calamities, it’s hard to blame people for turning to retail therapy for some relief. The National Retail Federation is convinced they’ll be in a spending mood throughout the year. The trade association has revised its annual retail sales forecast upward from 6.5% to predict retail sales will increase between 10.5% and 13.5% to reach $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion in 2021. Following months of Instacart and Amazon, consumers are visiting stores again to look and touch products that aren’t digitized. According to in-store marketing firm Zenreach, foot traffic at retail, restaurants and entertainment venues in the United States has climbed more than 44% from last year. Consumer confidence has hit a 16-year high, and corporate earnings are showing growth.
But the economic indicators aren’t all ideal for retail. The United States Census Bureau reported retail sales dropped 1.3% in May from the month before, although they advanced a smidge in June with a .6% rise, and there are concerns that inflation could impact the consumer goods market. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the rest of the year will play out and exactly how that will translate into store behavior,” said Ulta Beauty CEO David Kimbell during the beauty retail chain’s first quarter conference call. To check in on the state of beauty retail, and the products and preferences propelling beauty shopping, we touched base with nine beauty stores in North America. Here’s what they had to say about sustainability, skincare, makeup and more.
Founder: Brian Bolke
Well-being editor: Jamie Rosen
Locations: New York, Dallas and Napa Valley
Bestsellers: Heraux Molecular Anti-Inflammaging Serum, Derm Institute Anti-oxidant Hydration Gel Masque, Kate McLeod Body Stones, Royal Fern Phytoactive Skin Perfecting Essence
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: Ease! One-step solutions like Heraux are very appealing right now. No one wants a routine that is too involved or has too many steps. People want each individual item to really deliver on many fronts, especially for skincare.
What trends do you see fading?: Overly complicated, multistep routines. Skin minimalism feels right for the season and the moment. People are not at home as much, and they want to invest in quality products that do more than one thing, not 10 individual items that each do something different.
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: We are seeing a more holistic approach to taking care of the whole body, not just the areas of the body that are usually revealed. Customers are responding to brands like Esker, Kate McLeod and Costa Brazil. They’re beautiful to look at and to use, and they really provide a whole-body benefit. Being inside so long has shifted the approach to self-care.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding to the state of the pandemic in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: We are seeing a return to color, with strong sales of La Bouche Rouge and a heightened awareness of sustainably minded brands.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: We are putting a huge emphasis on beauty with our relocation in Hudson Yards and expansion in Dallas Highland Park Village in September. We are adding new brands and categories, and really creating a beauty environment that sets us apart. In addition to skincare, home fragrance and personal fragrance continue to perform really strongly. There is a desire to shop with intention, and to choose items that add beauty and calm to your whole home, not just your bathroom.
founder: Kimberly Smith
Location: Washington, D.C.
Bestsellers: Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30, Hyper Skin Hyper Clear Brightening Serum, Nuhanciam Anti-Dark Spot Serum, Base Butter Radiate Face Jelly, Shaffali Neem + Neroli Facial Moisturizer
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: A-Beauty or African Beauty. We are all quite familiar with K-Beauty and J-Beauty, but our customers truly recognize the plant-powered treasure that is A-Beauty. Passed down from generation to generation, it has remedies to revive, repair, rejuvenate and regenerate the skin and body from ingredients sourced from the African diaspora. Our customers are ready for A-Beauty to take center stage. Another trend customers are interested in are multiuse products, a color pigment that can be worn as a lipstick, blush and eyeshadow to an exfoliating peel that can work as a chemical peel, physical exfoliant or mask.
What trends do you see fading?: I see the “10-plus steps to healthy skin” trend fading. We are seeing a movement towards minimalism…less is truly more. If a multi-tiered, multistep routine is for you, great, but it isn’t necessary to achieve your best skin—and what a relief that is!
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: Skincare is a very strong category, and I see our customers continuing to purchase treatment serums, cleansers, sunscreen and moisturizers. Our customers are savvy and knowledgeable, and want the best for their skin. That won’t change. But, now that we are back outside, I do see color cosmetics making a comeback. Prior to COVID, we were known for our wide selection of foundation shades, the accessibility and being able to correctly color match our customers. We are noticing this change now that the store has reopened and customers are back outside for work and play.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: Business is going well currently. Our store is open, and we have also resumed in-store activations and events. Customers have expressed excitement in shopping in store and getting their beauty fix IRL, from makeup services to facials. We’ve created an inclusive environment that feels like a sanctuary, and our customers are embracing it once again.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: I am very optimistic about the remainder of 2021. COVID caused many disruptions in business operations, but it exposed our humanity, our need for socialization and our resilience. Despite a seven-month closure and a significant decrease in revenue, we are still here to serve our customers, and we are continuing to add more amazing Black- and Brown-owned beauty brands. We didn’t just survive, we are thriving thanks to our community. So, I am truly optimistic.
Founder: Dara Kennedy
Location: San Francisco
Bestsellers: Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Balancing Hypotonic and Barrier Restore Serum, MyHavtorn Liquid Hand & Body Wash, Ayla Sea Soak
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: I’ve always been interested in the intersection between beauty and spirit, and I think the pandemic has hastened our community’s interest in it, too. More than ever, we recognize the effect that our emotions have on our health overall—and that’s reflected in our skin. The Bach flower-infused products and elixirs we carry from Paris have been so helpful to so many people who shop at Ayla over the past year.
What trends do you see fading?: I’m not sure I see any particular trends fading within our community, but I can speak to what I see overall—across beauty and other categories, too. What’s interested and encouraged me is that I see less frenzied buying and, instead, more mindfulness about product usage. We’re remembering to just buy what we need, when we need it. And we’re asking that our products do as much for us as they can instead of assuming that our regimens require multiple one-dimensional products. These are all great changes that I hope will stick around.
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: Skincare has always been our strength, and I don’t see that changing!
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: I’m really proud of our team and our business for having grown stronger than ever through the pandemic, and much of that comes down to our supportive community—both our brand partners and our customers. I’m grateful that our customers not only trust us to offer great products, but also genuinely care about supporting a small business that’s entirely women-run, minority-woman-owned, and very careful about the health and safety of our team members all the way through the fulfillment process, which is not always the case in e-commerce!
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: I’m very excited about what’s next. We have lots of new product and brand introductions planned that I think will delight new and longtime customers alike. This month, we’re introducing Dara’s Water. It’s a product made for us by Twelve Beauty, one of our most beloved brands. Dara’s Water is a remarkably gentle, good-for-you-and-the planet, non-micellar cleansing water designed to make the cleansing process simple, easy and effortlessly effective. I’ve been looking for a product like this for the past ten years, and there’s nothing like it on the market—and I’m so proud to partner with Pedro Catalá, the founder and master formulator for Twelve, to bring this unique, game-changing product to our community.
Founder: Dixie Lincoln–Nichols
Bestsellers: Jacq’s Organics Healing Face Cleanser, Golde Original Turmeric Supergood Latte Blend, LaBruna Skincare Nourishing Face Oil and Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm, Karité Shea Butter Hydrating Body Cream Cream, Inside Outer Beauty Market Castile Body & Multipurpose Cleanser
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: One of the pillars of this business is promoting the benefits of products that support the body inside and out. Customers are increasingly interested in ingestibles that optimize health. They are looking for multifunctional. If it can support gut health and the skin, they want it. If it can support sleep and the skin, they want it. If it can support liver and less stress, they want it. It’s great to see our customer base embrace their inner health as much as they do their outer. It’s amazing for vitality and longevity.
There is also increasing curiosity and interest around less waste beauty products and sustainability. We decided to explore that, so we’ve introduced a small zero waste section within the store called “The Stripped Beauty Bar.” The conversations that we’ve been having with customers in store have been exciting and insightful, particularly because the Black and other minority communities have been largely excluded from this movement, which is very complex and layered, but, nonetheless, important for us to be a part of. We’ll be working on ways to incorporate this into our e-commerce offerings in the near future.
We also carry a few CBD products in store. They’ve been very slow to catch on, but, recently, we’ve seen a bit more curiosity around this category. So, we’re paying attention. Given these observations, the hope is that customers make beauty ingestibles and sustainability a part of their long-term goals and lifestyle.
What trends do you see fading?: They are not disappearing, but I think facial tools like the jade roller, gua sha and dry face brush are beginning to take a back seat. I’ve noticed trend-chasing folks getting into hand-to-face treatments, for example, facial Qigong, and facial yoga. I must say, as a Qigong instructor, I’m low-key excited about this because self-touch is so therapeutic.
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: Currently, skincare is the strongest, and that includes ingestibles that supports skin health. Women are obsessed with their skin and outer appearance, and I don’t think that will ever change. The world is obsessed with the outer much more than the inner. However, if the inner can guarantee support for the outer, it’ll sell. It’s a win to be able to experience wholesome health, from the inside out.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: We’re standing. That’s good, and we’re grateful, but our goal and vision is to thrive. We had huge increases in e-commerce traffic in 2020, which resulted from increased online shopping due to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Compared to last year, online traffic has decreased while in-store is beginning to pick up again.
As far as shopping habits, we’ve noticed an uptick in pampering products. During the pandemic, this was not the case. And, as I mentioned earlier, there is sustained interest in skincare both via topical and ingestibles. So, evidently, wellness is still at the top of a lot of people’s minds.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: Overall, I’d say that customers are excited to get back into stores and interact with people and products. They’ve missed that. We’ve missed that. Our area is still not back to full working capacity. Some businesses brought back more employees in June, and some are slower to move back to in-person work. Hopefully, the worst is behind us, and we can begin to ease out of this pandemic-sphere.
Founder: Brittney Ogike
Location: Los Angeles
Bestsellers: RastaFri Freed’m Silky Braid Pre-stretched and Lulutress Water Wave, Adore Semi-Permanent Hair Color, Edge Booster by Style Factor, Black Panther Strong Pomade
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: Textured clip-ins as well as quick hair attachments and enhancements (i.e., ponytails, clip-ins, headband wigs) are trends that are here to stay. Our lives have gone back to becoming busy seemingly overnight. These styles are easy to maintain and allow customers to skip the trip to the salon and achieve a trendy look at home.
What trends do you see fading?: Sew-in weaves are fading because people are more accepting of their natural hair. Also, they want easy DIY hairstyles. During the pandemic, when women couldn’t go to salons, we were forced to learn our hair. We experimented with new products and different hairstyles and learned how to manage it on our own without relying on the salon. This time allowed us to better understand our hair and, now that we are coming out of quarantine, I think women are comfortable with maintaining their hair on their own. They are throwing away the bundles, and picking up textured hair stylers for wash-and-go’s, textured clip-ins and other DIY styles.
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: The strongest categories in our store are weaves and extensions—specifically, braiding hair, textured haircare (shampoos, conditioners and stylers), and quick hair attachments (ponytails and clip-ins). Braiding hair is always really popular during the summer months. It’s an easy, low-maintenance hairstyle perfect for traveling and when you want to give your hair a break. The rise in the textured haircare and quick hair attachments categories indicate people enjoy styling their hair at home. Our customers, for a multitude of different reasons, are now embracing their natural hair and trying different styles. We are all back outside now. So, for the busy woman, the flexibility to throw in some clip-ins for a fuller look or slick back your hair into a sleek ponytail is driving this increase in sales. I don’t see this trend changing in the near future.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: Thankfully, our foot traffic has increased tremendously over the past few months. Customers are continuing to spend the same amount even during the pandemic. However, the types of products and categories they are spending on is shifting. Skincare is down, but makeup is on the rise. We plan on always meeting the needs of our customers and are looking forward to what other trends arise over the next few months as we move away from the pandemic and back to normal life.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: I believe business will continue to grow. We had an incredible Q2 with huge success from our in-store Beauty Bar. We are excited about expanding that area of business by bringing in new services. We’ve seen a direct correlation in an increase in sales as pandemic restrictions are lifted. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we can be back to normal and deliver the best experience in multicultural beauty to our customers.
Founder: Jennifer Tinsley
Bestsellers: O’o Hawaii Golden Nectar, Lake & Skye 11 11, Bitchstix Rose Lip Oil, Soap Distillery Beer + Cigarettes Soap Bar, Field Smell My Feet
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: More customers are concerned about sustainability and packaging waste. We’ve had an uptick in sales of UpCircle, Meow Meow Tweet and Captain Blankenship, all sustainable brands that are either plastic-free, plastic-negative or are making strides towards that goal. More customers are conscious of the fact that, just because a product has a recycling code on it, doesn’t mean that it will have a circular life and, more often than not, ends up in a landfill. We’re really excited to launch a certified B Corp cosmetics brand at the end of the month in our efforts to partner with brands that prioritize sustainability and their carbon footprint in both packaging and ingredients.
What trends do you see fading?: Fragrance was a strong category for us during COVID, which I think surprised us all. We carry only phthalate-free fragrances, and that’s a word that we see more customers using and understanding what it means. What’s now passé are signature prestige gendered fragrances. Now, customers want clean and sustainable ingredients and gender-neutral scents. They want more dynamic fragrance and like to change up their scents often as a form of self-expression. A.N Other is one of our biggest sellers in that category.
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: Skincare has always been and continues to be our strongest category. I don’t see that changing as long as we continue to source effective quality skincare. We just brought on our first clean clinical brand, Dr. Loretta, and we’re so pleased with the positive reception it’s received.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: This year, we’ve seen a lot of growth both in-store and on our e-commerce site, which we’ve really expanded and made more robust. We’re still doing curbside and in-store pickup, and don’t plan to stop offering it, if only for convenience for our customers. So, I guess you could say we’ve diversified our distribution to meet customer expectations and, while there are quite a few fulfillment challenges as we expand our e-commerce reach, overall, it’s been very beneficial. We’re seeing consumer spending increase, but, along with that, more conscientious shopping.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: If growth continues strongly upward as it has been since Q4 2019, I feel very good about the remainder of the year, with just a bit of reservation. The vaccination hesitation worries me, especially being based in the South where we have relatively low vaccination numbers.
Founder: Melissa Lenberg
Bestsellers: Agent Nateur Holi Trinity, Tata Harper Super Kind Radiance Mask, Ilia Super Skin Tint, Kosas Air Brow
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: Definitely more wellness products. Also, products that are not only sustainable sourced, but using high-vibrational ingredients.
What trends do you see fading?: The overdone makeup look, especially contour and highlighting kits.
What beauty product categories are the strongest for you?: Skincare is always our strongest category, especially facial mask and serums. I believe this is because consumers are doing more at-home self-care and really focusing on the health of the skin. This is a trend that will never go away!
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: Thankfully, we were set up for online and virtual consults even before the pandemic. Even though we saw a dip in traffic both in-store and online, we are now seeing that coming to an end. Our in-store clients are loving coming back in to shop and get their mini facials or makeup applications. Our virtual consults are also booming for online.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: Our in-store business is already picking back up, and we are prepared to have a thriving Q4 and holiday season.
Founder: Cayli Cavaco Reck
Locations: Los Angeles, Locust Valley and Bridgehampton
Bestsellers: Medical Beauty Research Face Cream Smooth 100, Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, Environ Gold Roll-Cit
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: Our clients seem to be interested in hair at the moment. What we saw over the last year and a half with our clients was increased levels of stress and anxiety, which leads to adrenal and hormone disruption, which can result in hair loss. With the rise of beauty tutorials on TikTok, we have seen increased interest in teen skincare.
What trends do you see fading?: Face oils and homegrown beauty. There was once a moment when face oil was flying off the shelves. The at-home alchemist seems to no longer hold my client’s interest.
What product categories are the strongest for you?: Skincare because that’s our expertise. I can’t imagine that will change.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: We are growing across all categories and verticals. When analyzing consumer behavior, it seems people are returning to pre-pandemic ways.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year?: All signs point toward growth.
Founder: Jennifer Freitas
Location: Waterloo, Ontario
What emerging trends are your customers interested in?: Sexual wellness seems to be a category that continues to surprise me. I have found that, within the pandemic months, there seemed to be a lot of exploration when it came to sexuality and pleasure. I brought in Dame Products—toys engineered to heighten pleasure—and continuously sell out. As an extension of this category, I have added many lubricant options. They are all strong sellers as well. Additionally, based on conversations with some of my clients, these products are also used for vaginal dryness. To me, it seems there are not a lot of “clean” options as far as intimate care goes, and it is why my clients are using these products.
What trends do you see fading?: Makeup overall I continue to see decrease in terms of sales and, although not necessarily a trend, I do see makeup as a category shrinking. Clients are looking for options that work in more than one way and also for products that contribute to their skin health. A product that can be used as a cheek tint, lip tint and even a shadow are the sort of multiuse clients are after. Within this space, products that are “too showy” I think we will continue to see less of—less highlight, less contour. I also think we will continue to see the move to less and to lighter foundation use. Skin is in, and we are beginning to embrace our individual nuances, and this trend highlights that, which overall is a very excellent thing.
What product categories are the strongest for you?: Skincare is definitely my strongest category, and that encompasses moisturizers, cleansers, toners, masks, serums, eye creams and so on. I believe we will continue to see growth and expansion in this space. I believe, as we continue to uncover ingredients, clients will remain interested in what is new and will want to try new products. Even with brand loyalty at play, consumers will want to see innovation.
With the pandemic, where do things stand for your business now? How are consumers responding in terms of how they are shopping and what they are spending or not spending on?: The pandemic has created a constant state of flux for me as an entrepreneur. I feel I have lived through about 16 months of riding a roller coaster—all the ups and downs. I found we were able to grow our online channels easily at the start of the pandemic as the support local movement was strong. It did feel like that waned as time went on, but that was somewhat offset by the blip moments when we were allowed to operate to in-store shoppers.
How do you feel about the beauty business for the remainder of the year? I feel really great about business continuing to grow and increase as we close out the remainder of this pandemic year. We are in the throes of summer here, and sales always dip a little as everyone’s skin is not as dry as it is in the winter months and most people also rock a bit of a sun-kissed glow. So, less makeup is sold. I also find cozy activities like baths are traded for days at cottages.
All this being said, I do feel the pandemic really encouraged us to take moments for ourselves, more moments of peace and tranquility, which bathing is really good for, more moments to ensure we are feeling our best selves—so more moments doing proper skincare routines—and I don’t think any of us are going to give up on that! I feel business will continue to blossom as more and more individuals begin to feel comfortable going out again. Truly, just positive things to look forward to.