Soft launched in June 2021, Counter Culture Store stocked a range of boutique sustainable and ethical beauty brands covering skin care, body care, hair care and makeup, many of which were independent and female founded. The 70+ brands with more than 600 products, all formulated in the UK, were selected based on a framework that considered overall company ethos and business practices, including sourcing, ingredients and packaging, among other aspects. For consumers using the site, Counter Culture Store provided shopping filters like ‘easy to recycle’, ‘organic ingredients’ and ‘plastic free’ to ease navigation and also offered in-depth detail on each brand and its backstory.
In 2022, the company was aiming to refine its framework with a set of criteria for the onboarding of new “sustainable products from ethical brands”, enabling Counter Culture Store to better turn these into consumer promises, according to Wendy Martin, co-founder of Counter Culture Store.
“The vision is to try and make it easier for consumers to switch from existing products they use today to those that are more sustainable and ethical, and smaller brands,” Martin told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.
Giving shoppers a ‘strong range of choice’ in ethical beauty
“We needed to give people choice,” she said. “We were trying to curate a range of products that would respond and be interesting to people of different age points, different skin conditions and concerns but also across different price points. We wanted there to be a good, strong range of choice there and we wanted to make the journey convenient, discoverable and that checkout experience quick.”
Counter Culture Store remained an indie brand itself, with “a huge, long way to go”, but it had big ambitions, Martin said.
The e-commerce site had initially focused investment on onboarding brands and it would now turn to “doubling down” on making the shopper journey through the site easier, she said. “We’re recalibrating in lots of ways right now, but our focus is on making things easier to find and discover; using technology, whether its chat box or AI, to make discoverability easier. Particularly when some of the brands we’re working with are not high street names.”
“…I think there’s lots of great companies doing some great things out there today, but it’s not always easy to find; you have to spend quite a lot of time searching for this sort of stuff. I’m not saying we have all the answers, we don’t, but it’s about looking at content and tech ideas and marrying that marketing and technology together to push the message,” she said.
The company was also focused on filling gaps on the site in 2022, such as men’s grooming, she said, and providing the widest choice possible to consumers. “I guess it’s making sure we stay ahead of what people are looking at. Sustainability is an ever-moving beast, so the brands we’re working with – we’ll want to be working with those that are continually striving the stretch the bar. It will be about staying aligned and ahead of what consumers are looking for.”
Whilst the target consumer group remained young – aged 21-25 years – Martin said Counter Culture Store held wide appeal and wanted to ultimately target a broader demographic moving forward.
Ethical beauty retail growth – responding to consumer demand
Asked if the company planned to expand into Europe or wider global markets, Martin said that wasn’t on the agenda just yet.
“I guess we are looking at what our downstream expansion plans might be, but we don’t foresee a time when we’ll be shipping products across to the States, for example.”
Instead, she said it was more likely the company would look at how the Counter Culture Store model could be replicated in other markets. “We’re focused on sustainability and ethical business practices, so it’s got to make sense moving across borders.”
In the meantime, Counter Culture Store would continue to expand and widen its footprint in the UK where there was plenty of consumer demand, Martin said.
“There are a number of people doing [ethical beauty commerce] well, but there is a huge desire for consumers to want to make this shift (…) We did quite a lot of research on what’s out there but also how we can make this easier, more discoverable and, essentially, use content marketing to tell the story of what sustainable beauty is and ethical brands are.”
The e-commerce firm, therefore, would continue to dedicate space for founder stories and content that created a “network effect” amongst consumers and industry, she said, intertwining brand stories where relevant.
“Trying to use the power of that community to help educate, inform and inspire consumers on an everyday level is key. I think there are lots of great glossy articles [about ethical beauty] but it’s quite hard to navigate this space.”
“…People buy into the personal touch as well, so understanding why somebody founded something, and the vision behind it, I think, it quite powerful,” Martin said.