Digital Beauty Shoppers Seek Solutions, Not Brands

It’s hard to overstate either Millennials' love for digital commerce or Gen Y women’s enthusiasm for online beauty shopping. But marketing experts say they have barely scratched the surface of ways to make beauty e-commerce more engaging.

“The beauty category is all about discovery,” says Ethelbert Williams, CMO of InstaNatural, a small e-commerce company in Orlando, Florida, with 58% of beauty category shoppers starting their purchase journey online, and 73% using their phones for research while in-store.

Williams, scheduled to be a presenter at MediaPost’s Brand Marketing Summit this week, tells Marketing Daily how technology and content are giving the beauty industry a makeover.



Q. Let’s begin at the beginning. How do women start their beauty shopping?

A. So our core audience is between 18 and 34, the heart of this Millennial group. And she starts online, and while she is very conscious of reviews and ratings, she doesn’t start out looking for a brand. She begins with a problem, and she’s looking for a solution, like “What’s the best way to remove makeup for my skin type?” Or maybe she’s looking for a product made with Vitamin C or retinol.

From there, she goes to Amazon. It’s the catalog for beauty products. It’s the largest player in the beauty space online, because of the assortment. In a category that launches so many new products every year, a catalog is quite helpful. But she may not choose to buy there. Amazon doesn't offer that great a content experience right now.

Q. What role does content play?

A. We’re expanding our content production, but in its simplest format — it’s text and images. But it’s so important — it’s how we engage consumers when they get to the digital shelf. But they want to know about ingredients, they want to know tips and tricks. She can buy many beauty products at Walgreens or Duane Reade, but digital content can offer a lot that she won’t find at the store. The thing is, it has to be fast. We just opened a studio so we can create high-quality images quickly. Working with online retailers like, Jet, and Amazon, we’ve recognized the need to captivate our shopper. We want to meet a need for nimble, agile digital content — to connect with our shopper more real-time. We just did a program with a retailer that went from idea to execution in a few days.

Q. People talk about the Sephora effect, as an example of a beauty retailer combining tech with in-store excellence. How strong is that?

A. Very important — especially the way it used augmented reality, for example. We think live content and streaming will also be big, and hope to get a streaming experience with Facebook Live going by the fourth quarter. We’re experimenting with it now.

Q. Why?

A. In the old world, the personal consultation was so important — women sat down at a beauty counter, and a salesperson showed them products. There’s so much room to do that digitally, using platforms like FaceTime or Skype. We want to do it with Facebook Live, with us and a beauty editor, for example. It becomes a talk-show format, and it’s pretty much free for brands. You just have to be brave.

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