COVID-19 Consumer Shifts Close-Up - Part II

Beauty can expect ‘two waves’ of sustainability interest post-COVID

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers have made a link between the singularity event of COVID-19 and planetary change; propelling sustainability concerns to the fore (Getty Images)
Consumers have made a link between the singularity event of COVID-19 and planetary change; propelling sustainability concerns to the fore (Getty Images)

Related tags: Consumer trends, Accenture, Sustainability, Environment, planet, COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has accelerated consumer focus on sustainability and planetary change, with a first wave of dominant interest set to splash over the next 18 months and drive sentiments mainstream by 2022, says an expert consultant.

Many experts and industry leaders outlined last year that COVID-19 had carved out a fresh importance around sustainability, across all consumer goods categories including beauty, as consumers became more concerned about the health of themselves and the planet. And in June 2020, beauty brand owners jointly said innovation had to now be centred around sustainability​.

Oliver Wright, managing director and global lead on consumer goods and services at corporate consultancy firm Accenture, agreed: “People have clearly made a link between the singularity event of COVID-19 and the fact this is linked to planetary change.”

“We are seeing a lot more interest in understanding questions around sustainability and the impact on people’s health,”​ Wright told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

The crisis had “definitely accelerated”​ consumer interest and concerns around sustainability in the broader consumer goods category; interest that would inevitably “bring some really positive changes in consumption”, ​he said.

“…That’s one of the silver linings to this whole process.”

Sustainable beauty focus to come in ‘two waves’ of consumer behaviour

Wright said it was important to note that the rise in sustainability concerns would be seen in the short- and long-term agendas of beauty consumers.

“What I’m calling out, in effect, is two waves. A wave over the top that’s going to be dominant for some time, and conservatively we’re talking about this for 18 months’ [time]. Underpinning that, you will see some of this second wave starting to emerge of people who are very much more concerned about this long-term agenda. It’s already there in parts amongst those who have not been as negatively impacted financially by the crisis,”​ he said.

The second wave of long-term consumers concerns had already started to show “green shoots emerging”​ but the first wave set to drive concerns mainstream would firmly hit in 2022, Wright said.

Consumer concerns included interest around the provenance of ingredients, the contents of a final product and its overall environmental impact from start to finish, he said, with many actively seeking out certain “characteristics of beauty products”​.

Sustainability and planetary change, he said, was set to become “the most dominant conversation for the next decade”​.

But sustainability had long been on the agenda of beauty consumers and industry, so how were things set to change?

Sustainable beauty in 2021 and beyond – ‘two-way dialogue’ to become the norm

“I think there’s a few pieces here,”​ said Wright. “Most interesting is the question around consumer engagement. I think one of the things that this era has driven is a much clearer sense of consumers wanting to understand and feedback on product.”

Consumers will increasingly expect a two-way dialogue on important beauty issues, including sustainability (Getty Images)
Consumers will increasingly expect a two-way dialogue on important beauty issues, including sustainability (Getty Images)

The sustainability conversation, he said, would become very much a “two-way dialogue with consumers”​, particularly in beauty because it was such a “high engagement category”​ already.

This transformation in how beauty brands, manufacturers and retailers engaged with consumers would take on many forms, he said, including more digital engagements and interactions, but importantly it would also become much more authentic and sophisticated.

“Really, it will be about making the relationship with the consumer as sticky as possible. And obviously there will be a bit of a battle for eyeball that goes with that,”​ he said.

Caution – sustainable storytelling in beauty remains a ‘real challenge’

However, Wright said this two-way, authentic dialogue around sustainability would not prove easy for the beauty industry.

Why? Because “right now there isn’t alignment in industry on how you tell that story”​, he said.

“About 30% of consumers are just not engaging in that conversation because they find it too confusing to engage with. That is serving a disservice to industry. As a result, shifting consumer sentiment towards that more responsible consumption – better for them and the planet long-term – is a real challenge.”

There were plenty of conversations being had amongst industry players, he said, because all businesses recognised the importance of sustainable storytelling and consumer engagement on the issue, it’s just that industry was still working out “the best way to do it.”

“…There is definitely a growing level of interest on what techniques you can authentically use to create those right sorts of nudges so you can raise this sort of awareness, and that’s something we’re going to see across every category but I think beauty is going to be the frontrunner.”

Authentic, Wright said, was the operative word within all of this because “consumers will see through greenwashing”.

Collaborative beauty ecosystems must emerge to drive ‘critical messages’ forward

“…I think the question that is going to emerge is the degree to which industry can come together to describe some of this in common ways – the degree to which you can see ecosystems really emerging. It’s an unfamiliar muscle, but as you’ll have noticed from some of the actions some of the players took to help support COVID-19, there were some examples of companies working together,” ​he said. And the larger beauty players certainly had a role to “orchestrate”​ all this, he said.

“It’s only going to be by working together that it’s going to be easiest to get consumers to understand some of these really critical messages,”​ Wright said.

EMEA beauty trends to watch in 2021

Late last year, CosmeticsDesign-Europe highlighted Green Beautyas a key trend to watch in 2021​ - a movement that would see renewed focus on more sustainable packaging options, certified ingredients and transparent and honest insight into everything behind a brand. And as Europe aimed to become carbon-neutral by 2050, noise around this topic would only continue to grow.

*​For an in-depth look at how the importance of the home will also endure over the next ten years​, read Part I of our feature with Oliver Wright.

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