As someone that has worked in fashion for quite some time, I’m going to say something controversial: I’d rather buy new lipstick than a new dress. I guess if you knew me you wouldn’t be surprised (I’ve been known to look “naked” without a red lip), but it made me wonder: is this a choice consumers are really making in the current industry? Is the apparel industry really in competition with the beauty industry? It is easy to look at the worlds of beauty and apparel as two separate markets with little in terms of overlapping end-goals and competing customer bases. But in actuality, both are small cogs in a greater lifestyle that customers are buying into. By recognizing the lifestyle branding that speaks to millennial customers in particular, we can ultimately see the relationship between beauty and fashion in the retail industry to understand where they overlap, where they diverge, and also where they compete with one another.
So where’s the overlap between fashion and beauty?
Going back to my first example, apparel, accessories, beauty - they all complete an outfit. One is thought of with the other in relation to an entire “look” such as my red lipstick complementing my leather jacket and vice versa. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that beauty and fashion weave in and out of trends together, influencing, supporting, and complementing the other market. As a result, lifestyle trends are not mutually exclusive to a single market. Take for example “athleisure”. While the trend manifested through more fashion-specific influencers, it was quickly picked up by beauty brands like Tarte Cosmetics who offered makeup for the “athleisure” lifestyle.
Aside from trends, beauty acts as an entry point for the luxury market. Much as trends represent a lifestyle that customers want to engage and be a part of, the luxury market is often a lifestyle out of reach for traditional customers. Beauty provides the point of accessibility for customers into luxury who desire the name without the pricetag. Love the Chanel look but don’t have a couple grand to splurge on a bag? Why not get Chanel Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum for a cool $72? You can still say, unequivocally, that you are wearing Chanel.
Where do fashion and beauty diverge?
When looking at lifestyles and trends the two markets are often found in harmonious cohabitation. But outside of the world of trends, fashion and beauty definitely live separate lives - and this is significant for retailers to understand. One significant difference is within promotions. The retail landscape for apparel, fashion, and accessories is often inundated with promotional activity that customers have been trained to navigate for the best deal. In beauty? Not so much. The market for beauty is largely void of discounting and promotional codes, at least at the cadence that has affected pricing and discounts. Take for example the comparison between makeup and dresses at major US department stores. Across a comparable 24,000 skus, less than 0% of the makeup assortment was discounted compared to 38% of the dress assortment.
Another significant difference is the relationship between brand and customer. Beauty relies and thrives on brand loyalty, especially in a digital space that doesn’t allow the opportunity to “try on” products. A customer may be more apt to wear “only Benefit makeup” but have a diversified wardrobe of Asos, JCrew, and Anthropologie (you just got a glimpse into my “look”). Capitalizing on the large presence of beauty “brand-fans”, influencers have guided the business with their avid-fan base and active engagement on social media. Taking cues quickly from the fans themselves, the products and not the discount or deal at hand becomes most exciting (and engaging) for the customer. As a result, new launches and editorial content become the focus of the digital beauty space as a way to connect to customers, so they know what is happening with brands they already know, love, and trust.
So what is the retail world doing about this relationship?
So who seems to be catching on to the relationship between fashion and beauty? Department stores who have a heightened emphasis on their beauty business seem to be onto something. J.C.Penney, for instance, brought stand alone Sephora shops into their locations in 2006. In 2017 alone they plan on adding 70 more, bringing the beauty shops to 650 total J.C.Penney stores. Macy’s also has been pushing further into the beauty business with their acquisition of luxury beauty retailer Bluemercury, focusing on expanding the line both within the physical retail locations and in the digital space.
Ultimately, it isn’t about embracing one market over the other but understanding that retail must be about lifestyle - which includes the beauty business. But not just embracing and offering beauty - it’s recognizing the differences between each market on the retail level. In a troubled retail environment, the key may be understanding the nuances between categories and their specific market needs - like the differences between beauty and fashion. But maybe the key is just the right shade of lipstick, because as a customer, I know that would make me happy camper right now.