Rise Of The Anti-Amazons: Five E-tailers Shaking Up The Online Beauty Scene

A latecomer to the beauty segment, e-commerce is biting off a bigger piece of the global beauty sales pie than ever before.

Online sales accounted for 6.9% of the global beauty market in 2016, more than double the 3.3% share online sales captured back in 2010, according to Fung Global Retail Tech. Sephora and Ulta Beauty command the lion’s share of online beauty dollars, but there’s an emerging crop of online boutiques knocking on their virtual store doors. These anti-Amazons aren’t looking to sell everything to everybody. They focus on niche markets, such as women of color, vegans or beauty junkies eager for the latest imports, and partner with like-minded beauty brands on specialty retail experiences electrifying consumers’ many screens.

Here are five sites attracting shoppers for their unique takes on beauty e-tailing: 

Kindred Black

Jennifer Francis, Co-Owner

When did you launch? October 2015

Where are you based and where do you ship to? We are based in New York, but ship anywhere in the world. We get a surprising amount of international orders from Asia and Europe.

What’s your core mission? We started Kindred Black because we love fashion and beauty, but so much of it is so bad for the environment — packed in a ton of plastic. We wanted to focus on things that are desirable and beautiful, and also responsibly produced.

What is your best selling brand? Kjaer Weis. When you buy their compact once, you can then buy paper-wrapped product refills.

What are your bestselling products? Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum is expensive, but sells extremely well. A lot of our offbeat products do really well: An Organic Damask Rosewater and our own Creosote Salve, which is handcrafted in Arizona.

What’s your hero product line? Botnia. It was created by an esthetician in California who works with a Stanford-trained biologist. Everything I’ve tried from them is excellent. She gave me a regime, and it completely changed my skin.

What’s your onboarding process like? We definitely cherrypick what we want and what works best with our not overly packaged, no plastic ethos. We’re very flexible if you need a longer turnaround time. We do our own photography and copy for all products on the site. We try to get beauty up right away because of shelf life.

“We wanted to focus on things that are desirable and beautiful, and also responsibly produced,” says Francis of Kindred Black.

How do you discover new brands? We are always looking for offbeat items you can’t find everywhere else. We travel a lot and talk to a lot of people. We also get a lot of submissions. Brands can always email us at [email protected]. We look through everything that comes in. We like to find people going above and beyond — using glass and reusable packaging, easily recyclable, etc.

What’s your minimum order quantity and lead time? Quantities totally vary. We start with a small order to see how it sells. We’re very flexible.

What’s your customer profile? It’s a pretty broad range. A lot of younger women, 18 to 25, for clothing. For beauty and home, 18 to 45. We get a ton of people from New York and California, but we’ve been surprised at how spread out it’s been, too.

Where do you stand on Amazon? In general, things that are on Amazon are things we wouldn’t go for. We look for things that aren’t on there — we want something special.

Any special considerations being online-only? Scents can be hard to sell online. Makeup can be a little more difficult, too, but a lot of people do buy lip color.

What are your plans for holiday 2017? We approach holiday in June. As soon as the summer is over, you’re head first into holiday. We like to stock up — especially new items — by mid-October to get them up [on the site] by November.

Marjani Beauty

Kimberly Smith, Founder and CEO

When did you launch? January 2017

Where are you based and ship to? In Washington, D.C. We ship internationally. We just got an order from Sweden.

What’s your core mission? To be the number-one beauty destination for women of color.

What is your bestselling brand? Urban Skin Rx. They call themselves “the melanin expert.” It’s a great brand for women of color and to treat skin issues: dryness, acne.

What are your bestselling products? True Moringa Black Soap and Gleam by Melanie Mills.

How do you discover new brands? I found a lot of the brands I launched with at IBE LA. I also ask my friends what they use and, of course, what I myself use. Now, brands come to me. I ask brands to send me their top sellers and always look to fill any gaps I see on our site.

What are your minimum order requirements and lead times? I stick with a brand’s minimums and see what sells. I like to know lead times before they even send me product to try. So far every brand but one has been really fast, two weeks or less. Some I’ve even gotten in a few days.

What does your onboarding process look like? From initial contact to approval can take four to six weeks. Currently, we have a waitlist.

“We want to create a special, boutique experience on the site. We don’t want brands that are sold on Amazon or at CVS or Walmart,” says Smith of Marjani.

Do you have sample requirements for your brands? While we do include samples in every order, we don’t require brands to provide samples. We also use samples for our live events.

What’s your customer profile? Women of color ages 25 to 44: educated, loves to travel, tech-savvy and into pop culture.

Where do you stand on Amazon? We want to create a special, boutique experience on the site. We don’t want brands that are sold on Amazon or at CVS or Walmart.

What about events? I can do events anywhere. I love doing these events because it gives women the chance to feel, touch and see these products.

What are your plans for holiday 2017? It will be our first holiday season. I’d love to have an event or pop-up shop and will probably do a free shipping deal. I’m also working on a quiz for the site that will help people build their own gift sets.

Mindful Luxe

Melanie Grieco, Marketing Manager

When did you launch? June 2015

What’s your core mission? Our mission is to provide safe and inclusive beauty products without compromising standards or efficacy.

Where are you based and ship to?  MindfulLuxe USA (mindfulluxe.com) is located in Miami Florida. Ships to US, Canada, and Europe. MindfulLuxe Canada (mindfulluxe.ca) is located in Toronto, Ontario. Ships to Canada.

What’s your bestselling brand? Kari Gran.

What are your bestselling products? Kari Gran Radiant Lip Whip; Thoughtfully Magazine; Siam Seas BeCalm Twilight Serum, The Glow Giver, The Skin Tone Evener; Sircuit Skin Savior+ (Problem Skin Cleanser); Honua Olena Serum and Aloha Serum; Innersense Organic Beauty Color Radiance Shampoo and Conditioner and Sweet Spirit Leave-In Conditioner.

How do you discover new brands? We actually have a team whose job it is to research the current and upcoming trends, and find products that fit those trends as well as our mission. We also make sure that the brands we work with don’t have any ingredients on our never list.

What are your minimum order requirements and lead times? It’s very rare that we carry an entire line, unless the brand requires it. Lead time is usually two weeks. We understand that an initial order may take longer than reorders, but it’s very difficult to work with lead times over a month.

What’s your onboarding process like? We try all the products we carry first. It could take anywhere from five days to two-and-a-half weeks. 

Do you have sample requirements for your brands? We do have a sample program where customers can buy samples. We don’t require them from brands, but they’re definitely very helpful. If brands offer testers, we will create our own samples from those testers.

What’s your customer profile? Women 25 to 50 mostly living in big cities. We have seen our demographic change, though, with more women of different ethnicities shopping.

“We actually have a team whose job it is to research the current and upcoming trends, and find products that fit those trends as well as our mission,” says Mindful Luxe’s Grieco.

Where do you stand on Amazon? Amazon is not a no-go for brands we carry. We already have a really solid customer base with a lot of repeat customers that we understand well.

What about events? We partner with local companies now to do events, but would like to do more. We have pockets of customers in certain states we’d love to meet.

What are your plans for holiday 2017? We started planning [in July] and are relaunching the site the beginning of the fall. Our current site definitely works, but there are now more brands and trends to consider.

Reed Clarke

Fiona Stiles, Owner and Founder

When did you launch? August 2014

Where are you based and ship to? In L.A. We ship to anywhere in US. No international at the moment.

What’s your core mission? There are a lot of little guys kicking some serious ass in the beauty world, and we exist to find them, test them, support them and keep our hungry beauty-junkie customers in the know.

What is your bestselling brand? Astrea V. Lashes.

What are your bestselling products? Reed Clarke Gold Hair Pin; Surratt Eyelash Curler; Takeda Brush Purely Soap.

How do you discover new brands? I have always been a beauty hunter, even before it was a thing. I go into stores wherever I am. [As a makeup artist,] I have a lot of resources: stylists, other makeup artists; we constantly discuss product on set. I quiz all my friends and am always looking in their kits.

What’s your onboarding process like? I have to personally try something for four to six weeks before I would consider putting it on the site. If I don’t fall in love with it, I don’t carry it. I’m not in a hurry. We take original photos of every product, and I write all the copy, so turnaround time could be long.

What are your minimum order requirements and lead times? Order quantities depend on three factors: If the vendor has an opening order minimum, price and if the item is perishable. I’m much more likely to place larger order if it’s a tool versus an organic product without a traditional preservative system.

Do you have sample requirements with your brands? No, but I send samples out that brands provide. Goldfaden is really good about providing them. We put samples in any order of $75 or more.

I have to personally try something for four to six weeks before I would consider putting it on the site. If I don’t fall in love with it, I don’t carry it,” says Stiles of Reed Clarke.

What’s your customer profile? Women 28 to 52 who are thirsty for knowledge, info and advice.

Where do you stand on Amazon? Amazon is not a deal breaker, but we have to look at margins. I have to sell products within a certain price point, and it might be a lot cheaper on Amazon. We never jack up prices, but a bargain hunter is probably not our customer.

Any special considerations being online-only? One con is that you can’t smell how amazing some of these products smell online! Also color cosmetics can be hard to sell unless someone is re-buying a product.

What are your plans for holiday 2017? I don’t like to send too many emails, only when we really have news. I will do a Black Friday discount, though. I also like to create exclusive products with the brands I carry. I’m working on one with Yuzu soap for this holiday season. Also, once a year I commission six new designs for our Reed Clark Loves You cards. I love supporting illustrators.

The Stell

Carol Hu and Joshua Marksberry, Co-Founders

When did you launch? September 2015

Where are you based & where do you ship to? Josh: We’re based in New York and ship to US, but will do international shipping on a case-by-case basis.

What’s your core mission? Carol: I’ve had skincare issues my entire life and found there was a void in the marketplace for clean, luxe beauty and skincare. Josh: We thought it would be a good opportunity to open up a store.

What is your bestselling brand? CarolKosas Lipstick. They have great branding and ingredients and less wax than normal lipstick. We launched with four colors and now carry eight. Josh: Cleansers, moisturizers and every day essentials sell really well.

What are your hero products? Joshua: Agent Nateur Holi(man). It’s all natural, works really well but has a subtle scent. Carol: Peet Rivko Daily Daily Moisturizer. It’s new.

How do you discover new brands? Carol: Trade shows and social media. Instagram and Tumblr are great ways for brands to display their portfolios.

What’s your minimum order quantity and lead times? Carol: We definitely cherry pick. We test the products and offer an edited selection. Lead times are short, two to three weeks. As brands grow, the lead times often get longer. Josh: Part of our value proposition is offering the products we think are the best so we cherry pick SKUs.

Do you have sample requirements for your brands? Carol: A lot of independent brands don’t provide samples. We don’t have requirements to provide samples, but its nice and helps with sales. Maybe not right away, but down the road they will buy a product from a sample.

Amazon? Josh: We will still carry a brand if it is on Amazon. We don’t use an Amazon storefront because you can’t control the user experience, which is a piece of our core value proposition.

What’s your customer profile? Female, 20 to 40. Savvy shopper concerned with wellness who likes to indulge in accessible luxury.

“We don’t use an Amazon storefront because you can’t control the user experience, which is a piece of our core value proposition,” says The Stell’s Joshua Marksberry.

Do you manage your own social channels? Carol: We don’t do all the photography but we do most of it. We believe in managing our own social and not outsourcing it. Our audience is mostly millennial and likes to engage directly with us. It’s the best way to connect with them. I like that.

What are your plans for holiday 2017? Carol: No big changes as we were really happy with what we did last holiday. We offered a few curated gift boxes. Price points ranged from $30 to $100, and there were two to five products in each box.