Times are hard. There’s no denying that. But we’ve seen hard times before; the 9/11 economic contraction and the 2008 Great Recession to name a few. And while these decade-defining moments have caused untold financial woes, there’s one item that has remained steadfast – the much-loved lipstick. Indeed, the so-called lipstick index was coined by Leonard Lauder, Chairman of Estée Lauder Companies during the aforementioned 2008 recession, highlighting that in times of austerity, women often look to the item as a small pick-me-up. That year, lipstick sales were up 11 percent in fact.
However, COVID-19 is nothing if not cutthroat, leaving long-term trends and previous fail-safes in its devastating wake. While lipstick sales have historically bucked even the most savage of recessions, depressions and economic downturn, the current global pandemic we’re all riding has seemingly bucked that trend.
While some companies such as Amorepacific, JD.com and Henkel have reported solid sales during the Great Virus Crisis (GVC), according to Tokyo-based market research company Intage Holdings, YOY sales of lipstick fell 69.7% in the second week of May within Japan, with the beauty product coming out as the second least consumed item in the country during the coronavirus outbreak. Now if that isn’t a certain indicator of its fall from grace, I don’t know what is.
So why has this pandemic bucked the trend? Well, it doesn’t really need spelling out I’m sure – frivolous low-cost pick up items are one thing, but when the official guidelines are to wear a mask when outside of your home, the need to brighten up one’s mouth, hidden away under cloth, I’d imagine drops down in the priority list when applying make-up.
Of course, with lockdowns loosening, and people starting to steadily step out of their homes, make-up will inevitably see a rise in demand once more. However, while that may be the case, lipstick may not be part of that demand. With masks now very much a part of a global ‘new normal’ their contact with the skin could also herald an upsurge in demand for other products – step up longwear foundation.
Chris Ventry, a Vice President of the Consumer and Retail Practice of management consultancy SSA & Company, agrees. Speaking to the NY Times, Ventry predicted that COVID-19 is set to herald a new era, stating that rather than the Lipstick Effect, we will now see the rise of “the Longwear Foundation (or Mascara) Effect.” According to the paper, Ventry stated that fabric rubbing against the face has instigated the longwear foundation category in Asia.
He continued, “As more and more people are wearing masks, they’re emphasizing other forms of makeup. People might get very creative with how they accessorize their eyes.”
Ah, the eyes. Long a make-up artist’s blank canvas for ingenuity on every catwalk at fashion weeks the world over, could the newly coined coronavirus-created Mascara Effect instigate even more consumer creativity when it comes to their daily make-up routines? As a result, bolstering eye make-up sales further? Will salons and therapists see an upsurge in demand for false lashes as buyers try to compensate for the lack of colour on their mouth? Well, according to Alibaba, it’s already happening – CNN reported that the Chinese e-tailer saw sales of eye cosmetics increase by a whopping 150% mid-February, while YouTuber Theodore has created a Mask Make-up clip. Likewise Lotte Shopping stated that eye cosmetics from brands such as Bobbi Brown and Dior saw sales growth of 40 percent YOY, as opposed to just a 2.2 rise for lipsticks.
With the stats already highlight the clear winners in the COVID-19 make-up battle, the question is what happens in the next months, or even years, as we are released from the pandemic’s vice-like grip? It seems if predictions are correct, lipstick may suffer long term. Indeed, with analysts foreseeing a changing professional landscape, with home working become the norm rather than the exception, the Lipstick Effect may just lose out to the Mascara Index post-coronavirus too. As Mitsuru Watanabe, a Researcher at Intage told Asia Nikkei, with less face-to-face meetings happening, “sales of consumer products such as makeup and shoe cream would not return to previous levels even after the coronavirus crisis ebbs.”
Product developers – we’d get working on those eyeshadow palettes quick sharp.