Disposable testers and touch-free demos: experts predict what shopping for beauty products may look like in the future

The current pandemic has affected how we do almost everything from trips to the supermarket down to socialising. But how will it change how we shop for beauty? From in-store testers to virtual consultations, Stylist investigates beauty buying after Covid-19.

Some of us have started using the long forgotten products stashed at the back of our beauty cupboardswhile others have taken to online retailers to stock up on serums and moisturisers. Can you even remember the last time you went out and really indulged in a beauty spending spree? But as for real life shopping, can you even remember the last time you went out and filled a basket in Boots?

Walking into a beauty store and taking the time to pick out the fragrance that really represents you or the perfect foundation shade with that elusive semi-matte finish you love is starting to feel more of a figment of our imagination than a recent reality. But when beauty stores are allowed to open their doors once more, will shopping for beauty be the same? Will we be able to try before we buy? Will we get the same level of dedicated service? Will fragrance testers even exist?

Considering the current status of coronavirus, it looks like shopping for beauty won’t quite be the same as it was. Stylist spoke to leading beauty experts to predict the future of beauty shopping.

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Online shopping will continue to reign

Browsing online has become the dominant mode of shopping for beauty and this is likely to continue. According to a recent Cult Beauty report, the online retailer’s sales have increased 175% year on year. Why? Because it makes buying beauty easy, accessible and, even if there are slight delays, safe given the social distancing guidelines.

Delivery services are quickly adapting to the pandemic, laying out their protocols for customers to read. Look Fantastic and Feel Unique have both implemented contact free deliveries meaning there won’t be any need to sign for a parcel. Every aspect of ordering online has moulded itself to suit the safety measures and we’ll only continue to see this happen.

The growth of online shopping is set to be seismic. “There has been a shift from off to online, and in ten months, we will probably be where we might have been in ten years in terms of our digital footprint,” CEO of the British Beauty Council, Millie Kendall tells Stylist.

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Testers will disappear from beauty aisles

Hygiene standards and practises have never been more important. But, when you consider how viruses like Covid-19 spread so easily through touch, it’s not looking good for those trusty beauty testers. When so much of make-up is about testing what feels and looks right for you, will experimenting with beauty be restricted in this sense? “We know our customers want to get up close to the brands and products they love,” a spokesperson for Boots tells Stylist. It’s what helps make beauty fun, but its no doubt going to change.

While testers won’t be permitted in Boots stores in the current climate, testing beauty will return, however it might not be as accessible to us as it once was. “Testers won’t be on public display in our beauty aisles, and will be dispensed by a beauty advisor with strict hygiene and handwashing measures in place,” Boots says. “Perfumes will be spritzed onto an individual fragrance blotter, liquid foundations will be pumped into a disposable pot and powders will be swiped with a single-use sponge and placed into a disposable pot.” But given the environmental impact of all these single use items, testing products in store just won’t have the same charm.

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Virtual consultations may be the future of browsing for now

The digital space is constantly expanding not only when it comes to shopping beauty, but also in terms of beauty tech innovation. Ten years ago the idea of trying on lipstick or eyeshadow without ever physically holding the product seemed ludacris. And the first iterations of VR beauty apps were clunky, unrealistic and garish. But as the tech gets more and more finessed, the newest apps genuinely make trying out beauty from your home that much easier. For instance, cult US brand Il Makiage have designed a quiz which uses specific algorithms to select your foundation shade and they have a 90% success rate.

There are a whole host of make-up giants offering services like this. MAC cosmetics have launched a virtual try on service using augmented reality technology. While it won’t be the exact same as using a tester, you’ll get a pretty accurate projection of what it will look like.

Less hi-tech, but still useful, Guerlain is offering thirty minute Zoom calls or fifteen minute phone calls with one of its beauty experts to answer questions and give make-up and skincare recommendations. Want to try something in particular? Guerlain will send out specific samples so you can test before you invest in a full sized product.

MAC's virtual try on service.

As for fragrance shopping, getting accurate recommendations will be hard, given perfume choice is so personal. However, look into Fragrance Samples UK. For a small cost, this company sends out sample sizes of new and classic scents in 1ml, 2ml, 5ml and 10ml vials, so you can test it on your skin. 

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In-store demonstrations will become touch-free

Going into a store and getting a makeover from a beauty consultant has been a pretty reliable way of testing complexion products like foundation and concealer. Plus, it’s been a primary method of learning how to actually apply your make-up. Now, this too will have to undergo a change.

Touch-free consultations will take over and all demonstrations will be verbal. “Our No7 and Boots beauty advisors are there to help reassure customers when they visit our stores, helping them choose the right products for them,” Boots says. “So that our colleagues and customers can continue to comply with social distancing measures in store, our trained beauty advisors will guide customers verbally.”

There’s no denying that Tik Tok and online tutorials are becoming more popular with Gen Z audiences, and so are in-store demonstrations still relevant? Well, it depends on how you want to learn about beauty.

The sheer amount of beauty tutorials on Tik Tok alone totals up to approximately 14 billion posts. But, how many times have you clicked on a beauty tutorial only to use it as entertainment as opposed to using it as a tool to learn from.

Traditional in store demonstrations allow you to use the hacks and expertise of the beauty advisor, whereas online content is focused around watching and repeating and is devoid of a space to ask questions there and then.

There may continue to be resurged support for small businesses

As the pandemic develops, so does the financial strain on small businesses. From Pai, Nuddy and Green People to Bybi, small businesses have been playing their part in contributing to the relief effort by creating and producing hand soaps, creams, gels and sanitisers. And under these circumstances, it’s easy for smaller brands to fall by the wayside as larger brands recieve continued support from a loyal fanbase.

But, the tide is changing.

When the lockdown came into action and stockpiling for hand sanitiser and soaps increased, soap brand Nuddy became one of the first brands to react and help those in need. They started advertising a free soap, where the only cost was a small post and packaging fee.

“In the space of a week we’d gone from being an eighteen month old startup trying to persuade people to fall back in love with bar soap, to being recognised as one of the very first brands to offer our help to those in need,” says Kassi Emadi, founder of Nuddy. “We’ve received thousands of messages and comments of thanks and gratitude.”

There’s been a genuine turning of the tide in beauty, and we’re wanting products that are authentic about their contents while still being effective and sustainable. “Customers want passion, purpose and authenticity at a time of uncertainty and this has shone through indie brands,” says CEO and co-founder of wholesale marketplace for independent retailers, Curate Beauty.

And the figures prove it. “Our sales have risen over 400% from pre lockdown to where we are right now,” says COO and co-founder of Curate Beauty, Margot Vitale.

The reactiveness of smaller brands is their strength. “We were repeatedly asked to create a sanitizer, which led us to create Clean Hands, a moisturising antibacterial spray, in just 35 days,” say the founders of Bybi, Elsie Rutterford and Dominika Minarovic. “We’re in the unique position to have an in-house chemist, as well as a supportive manufacturing partner who was able to source the required raw materials.” Having also donated 3,000 products to Beauty Banks, there’s endless reasons why independent brands are slowly becoming more appreciated.

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While browsing and testing out beauty may not return to its exact state before Covid-19 took hold, we’ve simply adapted and made changes that needed to be made. “How we communicate, our production schedules, how warehouses are manned, all kinds of things have been altered because of Covid-19, but we did it and we can continue to,” says CEO of the British Beauty Council, Millie Kendall. And over the coming months, it will be interesting to see how things unfold.

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Main image: courtesy of Boots.