2CV explores the impact of Covid-19 on needs and behaviour within the beauty sector

Apr 16, 2020 |4 min read
impact of covid-19 on beauty

COVID-19 is affecting all sectors across the globe, with many businesses (and consumers) now facing a period of uncertainty for an unknown length of time. The situation evolves daily, making it difficult to predict or plan for what's coming next. Whilst essential work rightly remains the number one priority, people are still looking to leaders, institutions, and commercial businesses to help them maintain a sense level of normality in these uncertain times.

Utilising our existing knowledge and experience, we have been exploring how people are adapting their behaviour across the sectors we work in. First up is beauty - where we've explored how people's needs and behaviour have been changing throughout these rapidly evolving circumstances.

We've been working with beauty brands across the globe for over a decade, so we've seen trends come and go, experimental techniques go viral on Instagram and ecommerce changing the beauty landscape forever. One thing is for sure, and that is the Covid-19 immediate impact is widespread, with the potential to change the way we live our lives for the long-term. Interestingly, in a short space of time we have seen many existing beauty trends further accelerate throughout this period and others evolve to change direction.

We've identified four areas that are evolving in the current environment:

  1. Self-care: Care products are becoming even more valuable during this time as people place greater importance on their wellbeing.
  2. Digital acceleration: The role of e-commerce is growing, as consumers are forced to use online channels to access beauty products.
  3. Resourceful beauty: With an absence of salons, consumers are seeking alternative ways to both maintain their look, and some are using this as an opportunity to experiment.
  4. Communications: In a rapidly changing situation,consumers are looking to brands to demonstrate adaptability, empathy and relevancy.


Wellbeing has been a consumer trend on the rise for some time both within beauty, and beyond. A focus on self and a movement from a FOMO to JOMO mindset highlights the growing positivity associated with self-care. Even before this pandemic, the benefits of beauty have moved beyond just the superficial look to focus on health (as illustrated by the demand for hybrid cosmetics and skincare products) and care sits at the heart of this beauty regime. However, the current situation appears to be accelerating that demand.

As highlighted by our recent video miniseries, consumers primary needs centre around personal health, protection and the wider community. However, in the same way people are looking to Joe Wicks to support their children's physical health throughout this time, they are also looking to brands to support them as part of their own self-care and general wellbeing. Since mid-March Google searches for "self-care" have spiked to record highs worldwide.

As social distancing measures increase, many cosmetics products may have decreased relevance, but consumers continue to turn towards cleansing and care products to support their wellbeing in uncertain times. This isn't just about hand care, where we've all seen how many brands are trying to meet the overwhelming demand for hand soaps, sanitizers and lotions. We're starting to see less of the Instagram style, superficial benefits of beauty products and their emotional benefits come to the fore. Consumers are using beauty as part of their routine to maintain normality and escape the current situation with moments of peace found when pampering at home with luxurious bathing products and face masking.

"I haven't worn makeup since the lockdown EXCEPT eye liner. It's the one thing that makes me feel not like I've been dragged through a hedge"

"I have said to myself almost every day that I am going to put on a mask"

Several brands are already tapping into this space; Lush are offering "Bath time beats" an evening chill-out session with Lush bath bombs. The Body Shop having been promoting sleep through their bath and care products.

Digital acceleration

Whilst there were some signs of growth prior to the pandemic, digital beauty consumption has struggled to convert consumers purchasing online due to the lack of ability to test products, ineffective colour matching and a reduced shopper experience among other barriers. However, in the current climate consumers are having to rethink their usual purchase plans.

"If my foundation/bases runs out, I would have to accept that I need to remain naked faced until the shops open. I am not someone who can purchase bases online, I need to go and see a consultant to shade match. Or I would have to get the same brand and shade as I am currently using, which I am not keen to do as I love trying new brands and products"

New audiences are seeking digital solutions so brands are having to accelerate their e-commerce plans to cater to such demand. Google searches for "online beauty" have been on the increase since the crisis began.

Whilst it's early days, it's very likely that consumers will be more open to trialling digital experiences, as retail touchpoints become more limited. Augmented Reality technology (e.g. L'Oréal's make up genius, Feelunique's makeup live) is also likely to be trialled more than ever as consumers look for support in their purchase decisions that may have previously been sought in store.

Trial represents an opportunity to trigger a longer-term change in behaviour in a more typical climate, but to do this the experience needs to deliver.  Brands are likely to be judged on how easy and convenient the online customer journey is throughout this time. We've seen Google searches for "free delivery" experience an upward trajectory since country wide lockdowns and restrictions began. Already we're seeing many online retailers waive their delivery charge to continue to keep consumers spending with them.

"I think my default in this time would be a mega-retailer like Amazon because I assume, they would still be capable of delivering"

A seamless experience whilst delivering unique products and relevant technologies could provide a reason to come to a beauty specific website rather than rely on the basics of supermarkets to top up their beauty products. This is especially relevant for standalone stores and the luxury brands sold in department stores.

Resourceful beauty

In recent times there's been a huge increase in those looking to professionals to create "beauty perfection" from eye lash extensions to eyebrow threading, manicures and hair treatments. That has now been instantly been taken away from consumers, so how are consumers going to respond? Initial thoughts suggest that consumers are looking to alternative solutions:

"The boys in the house are seeing it as an opportunity to experiment, my boyfriend wants to bleach his hair platinum blonde, a friend has also shaved half his beard off, and another housemate has gone for a truly dreadful mohawk which has made our video calls quite amusing...!"

 "Lots of chat on my WhatsApp groups about fear of not being able to get to colourist and roots being out for all to see. Plus, no manicures, waxing, threading etc... which is concerning some women"

This creates the need for both products and advice where tutorials and online support could become important touch points.


Beauty is an innovative and fast paced market, which leads to shopper expectations growing at pace. The industry is used to being pre-emptive and responding quickly. However, COVID 19 is changing things for consumers daily and timely communications has never been so important.

Deciding on the tone and message to share with consumers, or even whether to communicate at all is a challenge for any brand now. Will it cut through? How can we ensure its relevant when the situation is evolving so quickly?

The decision comes down to whether you have something to say that is relevant to consumers right now, and whether it can be executed and delivered in a timely fashion. Relevancy, empathy and adaptable activations remain the most effective ways to support consumers in this time. 

Many brands have taken this as an opportunity to focus on brand building and CSR, through inclusive and community focussed messaging, mirroring behaviour of the public (beauty companies like LVMH and Clarins are developing free anti-bacterial gel for front line health workers, Superdrug have demonstrated their support to their worked throughout this time).

"I've seen lots of beauty brands doing their bit, with donations of hand sanitizer to the NHS"

Whilst we are in times of uncertainty it is powerful to see how individuals, communities and organisations adapt to this change. When times get tough, we are resourceful, empathic and flexible. Beauty is an incredibly emotive subject, a way for us to represent how we feel about ourselves and interact in the world around us. Whilst we are in changing times this period is no different to any other as people find new ways to engage with the industry and its products.

 *Quotes from 2CV colleagues, friends and family