Connecting with the COVID consumer: can luxury survive lockdown?

Connecting with the COVID consumer: can luxury survive lockdown?

With stores still shuttered across much of the world, and those which have opened facing reduced footfall and draconian safety measures that will preclude testers and makeovers for some time, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all over for luxury beauty. But luxury beauty is doing its utmost to ensure that isn’t the case.

And while shoppers the world-over have taken the crisis as an opportunity to reflect and reduce with a McKinsey & Co survey revealing that some 20 to 30 percent of Chinese shoppers plan to buy slightly or a lot less going forward, there is still a market out there ripe for the tapping. Or so says a recent study suggests that more than a quarter (26 percent) of global consumers have purchased beauty products since the start of the outbreak and some 32 percent of global consumers are buying more ‘little luxuries’, with 24 percent saying they are likely to continue to do so going forward. The lipstick effect is in action.

L’Oréal and Lauder’s results bear this out – both noted a significant uptick in digital sales over the last quarter while LG Household & Health Care reported that its luxury lines Summa, O Hui’s The First and CNP all grew in the double digits. No wonder, with social media use up 40 percent, according to Kantar, engagement is at an all-time high. The new challenge, therefore, is reaching this ‘captive’ audience.

Of course, AR has really come into its own in this situation. From Dior’s 3D online beauty boutique to Gucci’s revamped AR-powered App, try-on facilities are helping to drive sales for luxury brands. Online consultations have also started to boom. Space NK launched a remote make-up advice service back in April, with one-on-one consultations available via Zoom while Shiseido-owned Bare Minerals has redeployed its team of make-up artists to recreate the in-store experience at home. L’Oréal-owned YSL Beauty, meanwhile, has been busy producing tutorials and issuing challenges to keep make-up fans busy in quarantine.  

In China, there’s been a noticeable redoubling on marketing efforts since lockdown was lifted, but initiatives are still very much concentrated in the digital arena. Be it appointing high-profile celebrities as brand ambassadors – luxury e-tailer Wan Li Mu, for example, named five actors as spokespeople, all of whom made appearances on the online platform’s TikTok account over Golden Week and Victoria’s Secret drafted in Zhou Dongyu – teaming up with a popular local brand à la Fenty Beauty and Hey Tea or MAC and Tencent’s Honor of Kings, or getting creative with online retail per Chanel, who last week unveiled an ‘online pop up store’, it appears that habits formed in lockdown are expected to persist. A case in point is LVMH-owned Sephora’s listing on Meituan.

What is certain is that the coronavirus outbreak has accelerated changes in consumer behaviour, particularly digital adoption. More than half the respondents to the survey said that they were likely to increase their usage of voice-enabled digital assistants, online recommendation apps, self-service apps, intelligent home devices and wearables. And with the ‘less is more’ movement snowballing, luxury brands will need to justify their price tag. It’s no coincidence that several – Loewe and Prada among them – have been busy emphasizing their artisan roots and creative credentials in their lockdown communications.