COVID-19 consumerism: The end to ‘discretionary’ beauty as we know it?

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

There are 11 fewer personal care occasions when working from home versus an office, according to Kantar, and lockdowns may create longer-term impacts on certain categories (Getty Images)
There are 11 fewer personal care occasions when working from home versus an office, according to Kantar, and lockdowns may create longer-term impacts on certain categories (Getty Images)

Related tags: Kantar, kantar worldpanel, COVID-19, coronavirus, consumer behavior, Consumer trends, Colour cosmetics, Fragrance

Despite initial stockpiling of many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) at the start of the coronavirus crisis, subsequent usage patterns reveal many consumers are disengaging from colour cosmetics, fragrances and styling – discretionary categories that may suffer longer-term, says Kantar.

Analysis conducted by Kantar’s Worldpanel division showed a significant purchase surge across the entire FMCG category in the UK and other European markets in March 2020 – now considered a “record month”​ with an unprecedented uplift in purchase behaviour.

And Benjamin Cawthray, global thought leadership director of the Worldpanel division at Kantar, said this was an important measure but “only half the task”​ in fully understanding the consumer during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Looking at how people used products once they had been purchased was the other half; “more important than ever during COVID-19”, ​Cawthray told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

“We need to really understand how consumers use those products and understand if they’ll come back and buy again,” ​he said.

Working from home = 11 fewer personal care occasions

Maya Zawislak, strategic insights director and global personal care usage expert at the Worldpanel division of Kantar, said analysis of how beauty and personal care products were being used during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis had been particularly revealing.

“From the usage side, it’s not as positive as all the surges caused by stockpiling in purchasing,”​ Zawislak said. 

Kantar Worldpanel's most recent purchase panel data for the four weeks ending April 19, 2020 showed personal care products had "dropped down the priority list"​ in the UK, for example, with sales of toiletries down 7.8% in volume terms versus the previous year.

“…We know that when you work from home, you have 11 fewer personal care occasions, compared to someone who doesn’t. And that hits most on cosmetics,”​ she said.

Whilst many consumers had tried to “keep a semblance of a routine” ​– functional categories like deodorant, oral care, body cleansing, hair care and hair removal had stayed “relatively stable”​, for example – Zawislak said many consumers in lockdown were going “multiple weeks without wearing makeup”.

Whether consumers would start to reincorporate cosmetics into their everyday routines post-COVID was hard to say, she said, particularly given downward trends in the category prior to the crisis.

Pre-COVID cosmetics decline exacerbated

Makeup was already in decline prior to COVID-19 (Getty Images)
Makeup was already in decline prior to COVID-19 (Getty Images)

Kantar research conducted before coronavirus indicated around 70% of females preferred the natural look when using cosmetics, Zawislak said, and makeup had been in long-term decline – both from a usage and purchase perspective.

For a long time, she said younger consumers, notably the under-34s, had been “disengaging a lot more from personal care categories”.

“…The younger generations are in an ‘I don’t care’ phase, that’s the simplest way to put it. They don’t see a need to put on this face for other people; it’s all about natural. Natural was the big trend before coronavirus, and that applied also to the ‘natural look’ of not putting on makeup and focusing on skin care and having that dewy, radiant glow.”

Whilst some consumers had continued to put on makeup for web calls and video conferencing during coronavirus lockdowns, Zawislak said it hadn’t and wouldn’t offset the average trend. “I don’t think there’s much of a silver lining for cosmetics.”

The long-term effect? ‘…Hard to predict what people will do’

It's likely some shifts away from discretionary beauty seen during coronavirus will continue (Getty Images)
It's likely some shifts away from discretionary beauty seen during coronavirus will continue (Getty Images)

Zawislak said colour cosmetics had, and would continue to be, hardest hit during this ongoing crisis, along with other “discretionary”​ categories like fragrance, styling and men’s shaving – areas that had also been struggling to maintain weekly occasions in the years prior to coronavirus.

“The lockdown has hit these categories most severely, with occasions reaching all-time lows. …The really worrying thing is once we learn we can get away with not using some of these products, there may be a more long-term effect,”​ she said.

Whilst it was “hard to predict what people will do”, ​given the market had never gone through any kind of scenario like COVID-19 before, she said there was a likely direction.

“The general feeling is, because categories were already in decline in terms of usage and this is almost a trial period of stretching this further, there will be underlying long-term trends that will continue to have an impact.”

Kantar findings showed that reduced use of beauty and personal care products had been seen most widely amongst women, Zawislak said, and Spain had seen “the biggest impact to occasions” ​when comparing European countries.

Natural focus and skin care promise post-COVID

Post-COVID will present plenty of opportunities in skin care (Getty Images)
Post-COVID will present plenty of opportunities in skin care (Getty Images)

Of course, Zawislak said there would be some bounce back – with certain groups of consumers putting on a full face of makeup again and returning to being highly engaged in discretionary beauty products post-lockdown. But, for the vast majority, Zawislak said the focus would remain on natural beauty.

And this presented plenty of opportunity for skin care, she said. “Manufacturers and brands will really need to tap into that a lot more; they’ll have to find more synergies with skin care (…) It might be going back to things like BB creams and foundations and moisturisers in one product.”

Plenty of the beauty majors were already active in skin care, she said, but for those who were not, it would be an important segment to consider. And within skin care, she said the product attributes – being light touch or creating glow – would be as important as product messaging around things like radiance, she said.

‘Self-care’ beauty and personal care products would also likely do well, she said, though whether consumers could find time for these post-COVID was another matter.

Cawthray said that for any aspect of beauty looking to recover from this ongoing crisis, attracting more shoppers would be key to growth. “Whilst usage occasions will be down, and that can impact the whole sector, brands can still win within that if they’re winning at the point of purchase; if they can still attract more shoppers,” ​he said.

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