It’s the beauty buzzword of 2018 and appeals to consumers who are tired of the “one size fits all” paradigm that has dominated the cosmetics and toiletries industry for so many years. Customization as a concept originated among high-end brands that could offer their customers a bespoke service, but is rapidly being adapted in a variety of ways within the mass market.
It may seem obvious that consumers are individuals but for too long beauty brands put global concerns above the specific needs of their customers. Commercially, it makes sense to develop products that appeal to as wide a customer base as possible, but in doing so, the danger is that the brand becomes featureless and less appealing to the consumer. Beauty brands are waking up to the realization that consumers are looking for a connection with the products they use. “Customization is evolving in the category to reflect this,” maintains Andrew McDougall, global beauty analyst, Mintel. He argues that consumers are showing their frustration that they are not being properly represented or cannot find products for their specific skin or haircare needs. “The engaged beauty consumer doesn’t want to be labeled or follow the concept of ‘one size fits all’, so brands must reflect the diversity of their customers. They must be welcoming and caring for people of all shapes, ages, colours, genders and lifestyles.”
The number of brands offering customization options through personality tests and skin and hair analysis is increasing, with online offering the biggest opportunities. In haircare, the Function of Beauty website features a “hair quiz” to determine the right combination of shampoo and conditioner based on hair type, hair structure and scalp moisture together with an individual’s specific hair goals, such as curl definition, thermal protection and oil control. Another is Cloud 10 Customized Hair Care, whose website matches shampoo and conditioner formulations to customers’ distinct hair profile as well as their lather and scent preferences.
The surprise success story of 2017 was Fenty Beauty whose large appeal was based on its “shades for all” concept, offering women everywhere a wide range of hard-to-match skin tones in formulas that are designed to work for all skin types. Music, fashion and beauty icon Rhianna launched her make-up line after detecting a void in the industry for products that performed for all skin types and tones. Fenty Beauty’s 40 foundation shades are among the largest on the market with each matched to a picture of a different model on the brand’s website.
Customized products account for a small percentage of natural UK beauty brand Beauty Kitchen’s business because they are so resource intensive. However, founder Jo Chidley, insists it is an important part of the brand offer and offers customization in two different ways. Firstly, there are Invent Your Own product workshops, held at the brand’s flagship Glasgow store, where consumers are taught about ingredients and how to make their own “raw inventions.” Secondly, “raw inventions” kits are sold enabling consumers to experiment and make their own concoctions at home. In larger UK Holland & Barrett stores customers can invent their own body scrub product. “We decided to pursue customization as part of the Beauty Kitchen offering as it’s a massive trend and one that is a potential differentiator for us,” explains Chidley. “The more important reason was to try and simplify and demystify the complex world of beauty products and their ingredients to consumers. In a market full of marketing smoke and mirrors, green washing and big promises, we felt that consumers, while become more knowledgeable about ingredients, were actually becoming more detached from their beauty products.”
Louise Barfield, head of marketing, Two by Two brand design consultants, talks about the personalization of beauty brands, which is another aspect of the customization trend. She maintains that personalization is more than online product curation or a monogrammed box and says: “It’s a marketing discipline that’s underpinned by data, driven by science – but fundamentally lies in building a relationship between brand and consumer.” In her opinion, luxury brands understand this superior level of service, such as creating dwell time in-store, to delivering a sense of “bespoke”. Tom Ford’s UK beauty store, for example, offers customers a one-on-one environment by combining sensorial services with interactive mirror AI technology.
However, it is the mass market that provides abundant opportunities for customized beauty concepts. “The mass market is constantly evolving, so for engaged beauty consumers (or heavy users) there will be an extra demand on tailored solutions,” maintains McDougall, who sees that internet digital technology and data will make it easier and more accessible to offer customizable options. “This customization will not be as bespoke or detailed, but still provides the consumer with an element of this.”
Customized products will never be more than a small percentage of total beauty turnover, but for some brands this will be more significant than others. “We foresee customized products and experiences growing rapidly to about 15% of total sales over the coming years as we launch some innovative ingredients and consumer experiences,” reveals Chidley. “This percentage doesn’t sound much but we have grown 300% annually for the last two years and growth will remain in triple digits for the next three years.”
How far bigger brands are prepared to go in providing a customized experience remains to be seen. Chidley believes for most it will take the form of a personalized service and packaging, rather than customized formulations. McDougall advises brands to regard customization as something that is consumer led that gives people a hand in the process. “It should be continuous as consumers seek products that can be modified over time.”
Ultimately, customization will be about brands being more responsive to consumer needs, particularly as their beauty needs change over time as they age. It could be a significant marketing opportunity for those brands prepared to be flexible to customer demand.
Mintel, Two by Two Brand Consultants and Beauty Kitchen presented at the Marketing Trends presentations at in-cosmetics Global, 17-19 April 2018.