Fashion retailers adopting beauty into their strategies is not something that is entirely new. Online department store Net-a-Porter launched a beauty category as early as 2015, which was followed closely by a similar initiative of multibrand retailer Revolve, with the trend then exploding as it began to leak out from e-tailers to physical retail.
While luxury and high-end brands have arguably been at the forefront of interlocking fashion and beauty, fast fashion labels and high street retailers have also started hopping on the trend, in a bid to provide customers with a more holistic shopping experience. Zara, River Island and Primark are among those that have been rapidly expanding their beauty offerings, launching collections that are more complete in their product assortment, to include everything from nail varnish and eye shadows to facial cleansers and body creams.
And it is no surprise that retailers are scrambling to get a piece of the market. According to a report by Statista, the cosmetics industry is set to be worth 758.4 billion dollars (662.9 pounds) by 2025.
When asked about further motivations behind fashion retailers attempting to anchor themselves in the beauty sector, a spokesperson for consultancy firm, Deloitte, said: “There is a lower cost of doing business with beauty – like operating concessions or vendors – so there is less inventory risk.
“There is also a feeling that it is more recession proof, so it could help to guard against a decline in spending in clothing or other categories. On a more positive side, beauty and related services can enhance the in-store experience and drive conversion.”
Who is driving the trend?
For many retailers, the pursuit of beauty is not only centred around financial gain. Brands have often found that it has also allowed them to access a new consumer group. Meanwhile, the typical fashion consumer has their own values, so when confronted with beauty products in a fashion-centric environment they are likely to behave differently to that of a beauty-focused consumer. This factor was noted by Frederica Levato, a senior partner at Bain & Company, a consultancy firm that counts retail among its serviced industries.
Speaking to FashionUnited, Levato explained that fashion customers – a sector that was initially led by millennials – were now evolving rapidly through Gen Z consumption, a group that she said were actively seeking out a 360 degree customer experience in stores. Levato noted that retailers were responding to this shift, stating: “Fashion brands are changing their experiences that they offer through this 360 approach, evolving the role of a store to be more of an experience centre and meeting place, rather than only transactional.”
She added that with beauty being one of the most experiential categories that can be offered, allowing customers to be engaged with in a vast variety of ways, it is a one that can also help to enlarge the pie of potential customers and the business itself, giving retailers something they could possibly be missing through fashion.
One brand optimising this mindset of providing a more collective experience is Flannels. In June, the Frasers Group-owned label revealed a “social-media first” clinic in its newly opened Liverpool store alongside cosmeceutical brand Esho. At the location, shoppers can access a laser suite, injection-free lip products and hydrafacial services. The addition built on Flannels’ already established presence in the beauty sector, following on from the launch of Flannels Beauty in 2021, through which it has also introduced a branded Beauty Bar and Beauty Changing Rooms.
British doctor Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho brand, which has also recently struck up a deal with Asos, said Flannels had approached the brand as it began to focus on its own expansion strategy. He continued: “As Flannels explained their vision of redefining luxury as well as the shopping experience, it quickly made sense to be a part of it. I’ve always wanted to lead the way to change and by creating the first of its kind social media-ready ‘tweakment’ space alongside our products. I think we have done that – as seen by the reaction of both the press and the public.”
In regards to what advantages a beauty company can gain through partnering with a fashion retailer, Bridey Lipscombe, CSO of Esho, told FashionUnited: “It’s the ability to access a ready made consumer group that is already aligned with the same wants and needs of our current fan base. The shoppers in beauty and fashion share many key wants that are provided by both our products and our clinic.”
How is beauty being implemented?
Partnering with an already established and well-trusted beauty brand is just one way that retailers have been implementing beauty into their business models. Lipscombe noted that adding a brand like Esho to their offering can fulfil the needs of the ever growing educated consumer. She added: “They want clinically formulated products backed by science that really give results in both the short and long-term.”
This was an element also highlighted by Bain’s Levato, who mentioned that if a fashion retailer wanted to be deemed credible in beauty, it needed to develop the category alongside specialists. While many brands have adopted licences to enter the sector, the strategy does not allow them to entirely embed beauty into their retail environment. Levato continued: “Companies are instead developing new capabilities and business models to be credible and serve in this category.”
To achieve this, there are a lot of factors that fashion retailers need to consider, Levato added, as she went on to say: “Beauty is also one of the most advanced sectors in terms of sustainability and the values it conveys to consumers. It is often that the customer is more conscious than in fashion, not only towards the environment but also for the involvement of animals.”
Retailers have seemingly taken note of this factor, with recent launches by the likes of Boohoo and Primark dedicated to the debut of “eco-friendly”, “ethical” beauty products under their own labels. While Boohoo released a “vegan” line of products alongside its developed brand line, Primark partnered with Fairtrade to release a collection of cosmetics that aimed to present a cleaner image for its shoppers. The launches built on both the retailers’ efforts to introduce more “sustainable” practices throughout their fast fashion models, adapting their environmentally-conscious strategies into beauty drops too, as shoppers become more aware of what they are purchasing.
Primark is among the retailers for which beauty isn’t an entirely new domain, with it first introducing cosmetics and make-up lines to its store in 2014. Over time, the British retailer has expanded its offering in line with consumer trends and beauty essentials, which Paul Baldwin, trading director, home, lifestyle, health and beauty, said had gone from “strength to strength”. This has included the introduction of in-store concessions for nails and the addition of beauty studios developed in partnership with Rawr Express.
Baldwin added: “We have invested in our extensive beauty department, which now sits in a standalone space within our stores and offers a wide range of beauty products to our customers at affordable prices. We see our beauty department as a key part of our customer offering.”
The brand’s current focus on beauty stems from a “really strong response” from customers on its beauty ranges, Baldwin noted, with the director also stating that he believed the category perfectly complemented its fashion offering.
What other strategies can be followed?
Dedicated stores have also become increasingly popular among fashion retailers, seeing the beauty category launch under a separate banner in a new environment that often still ties in with the retailer’s own identity. Brands like H&M, which opened a H&M Beauty flagship in Copenhagen last year, have begun to explore this strategy as an alternative way to explore the industry.
Similarly, Harrods also expanded its presence in the sector through this method, opening up stand alone beauty destinations under H Beauty. While the initial concept first launched in 2020, the luxury retailer wanted to continue growing its experiential shopping experiences, and now boasts five H Beauty stores throughout the UK. The locations house a curated portfolio of brands and products that aim to cater to local customers.
On the concept, Harrods head of beauty, Mia Collins, told FashionUnited: “The ethos of H beauty stores encourages customers to play, experiment and celebrate their identity through beauty.” To build on this idea, the luxury department store further introduced a Men’s Sunglasses, Grooming and Fragrance space in its Knightsbridge store, again cementing its attempt to become a “one-stop-shop-shopping experience”. Collins added: “The vision behind this new space was to bring together an easily accessible, highly curated edit of the best grooming, fragrance and eyewear products on the market all in one place.”
How can retailers still enter the segment and where will it go in the future?
For retailers that have already implemented beauty, the category is proving to be an important part of their ongoing growth strategies. This reigned true for Primark, for which Baldwin said there had been a “significant growth” in the brand’s beauty product lines over the last few years, leading to exciting future expansion plans.
He continued: “This is informed by knowing our customers’ needs and wants in the beauty space; with our young customers shopping the latest cosmetic trends and picking up fake lashes and nails, to the more mature customers looking for skincare products. As a business we are constantly investing in our in-store experience, which includes making shopping for beauty in Primark even more convenient for our customers into the future.”
Similarly for Harrods, the department store chain is looking to expand its presence in beauty by building up consumer loyalty and providing shoppers with incentives to purchase products. Through the retailer’s new MyBeauty programme, which is linked to its Harrods Rewards initiative, customers can access a range of member-only benefits, such as first access to launches, events and promotions. Harrods’ Collins said on the programme: “The launch of MyBeauty allows us to connect with our passionate beauty community on a more engaging level; offering experiences and benefits uniquely tailored to their interest in beauty and wellness.”
While beauty is a heavily saturated industry, it is still an area that fashion retailers are attempting to get a foothold in. To do so, Bain & Company’s Levato said that brands need to start with considering possibilities that are close to their DNA and the core of their business. She added: “Start with products that can be cross-sold to customers and use the category to enlarge your consumer base. Really focus on a strategy that is both consistent with the brand DNA and the customer group.”