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Is the online beauty haul dead?

With the burgeoning power of buy now, pay later apps and the rise and rise of brand loyalty cards that can be used online or in-store, payday and seasonal web-based sales have lost their edge. Why sit tight and wait for something to come down in price, and compete against potentially thousands of others to bag a limited time bargain, when you can snap it up now and spread the cost? Likewise, get a hefty discount with a membership card or app? Which brings me to this question: when was your last all-out online beauty haul?

Having purchasing power, both virtually and literally in your pocket, opens up the possibility of something altogether… well, sensible. Need-based shopping.

A young woman getting advice on makeup products from a sales assistant on the high street

The beauty haul v need-based shopping

I’m seeing not just consumers but influencers taking a much more measured approach to the traditional internet spending spree. In fact, some YouTubers are openly admitting they can’t afford to keep up with new releases and are either ‘taking a pause’ or purchasing products they want to review from other influencers. In other words, buying ‘swatched but not used’ makeup to save money. Secondhand!

I noted a very good example of this just last week when a lifestyle TikToker fawned over a clutch of Oden’s Eye palettes, mentioning in passing that they were someone else’s cast-offs. I felt a pang of sympathy. Oden’s Eye is a respected Swedish cosmetics brand and, while not as expensive as the likes of Natasha Denona and Pat McGrath, its products are much more pricey than those of home-grown brands like Revolution and Beauty Bay.

Very few of the people you see reviewing products online are on PR lists for freebies. Even accounts with 100,000+ followers can hit a dry period. Wannabe influencers or the gift-starved don’t have to miss out, though. Savvy brands have wedged PR boxes in between products on New Collection launch pages, and they ain’t cheap. PLouise’s Come Take a Seat Picnic PR Collection retails at £154. 

It's all a far cry from the, frankly, crass statements I was hearing influencers spout last year. One announced she’d repeatedly told a skincare brand to stop sending her freebies ‘because of the tax implications’ - even though she was quite happy to admit to using the products. While vloggers who make a living online have to declare benefits in kind (because gifts are seen as a form of payment in the eyes of the taxman), giving that as a reason for not wanting future products implied she didn’t think much of the brand. Why part with that information to a not inconsiderable audience? It didn’t add anything to the topic of her video. I note she’s had to put her hand in her pocket quite a bit this year. 

A consumer holding a makeup product to take a close look in a shop

For consumers, the lure of the online special offer still has a place. In fact, there's never a day when there isn't an offer of one kind or another. These deals are great for trying products from emerging or niche brands, especially web-only ones, stocking up on favourites or buying something you’ve had your eye on but needed an added incentive to actually purchase. It’s also the ultimate in convenience if you are shopping for gifts or travel-friendly items during the traditionally fraught time leading up to a holiday. But lurking, very much like the ghost of Christmas past, is an unexpected threat. The high street beauty haul.

Back to... the high street!

While online sales continue to trend upwards, the rate of the switch from physical to virtual purchases has gone through a slow-down. By offering attractive in-store discounts and improving the overall experience of face-to-face sales, retailers with a physical presence on the high street have a real opportunity to regain some ground. And the good, old fashioned beauty haul is a legitimate target.

Buying makeup in person as opposed to via an app has huge advantages. These are just a few:

Try before you buy: Nearly all beauty retailers stock testers. While never a good hygiene choice, they are practical for swatches on the arm. You can physically see if a product suits your skin tone or eye colour before you part with a single penny. You can get a feel for a formula, check out packaging and much more in just a few minutes. 

You can see exactly what you are buying: If you purchase something in person, it’s not going to get lost in the post or arrive damaged. What you see is what you get. And you get it there and then - no waiting around.

Have any questions? There is usually someone on hand to answer any queries you may have about a product. With ingredients, in particular, a common concern, you won’t have to hang around for days - or forever - to receive an email response to a question posed online. 

More informed purchasing decisions: How many times have you purchased something on the web only to discover when it arrived that it wasn’t what you thought it was? By seeing products in person, you can make much more informed buying decisions. You also won't have to shell out for postage and packaging.

Big in-store discounts: Whether it's 20% off everything or curated special offers for loyalty card members, there are huge savings to be made on the high street. 

It’s fun! Going shopping is back in vogue. It may be convenient to have something delivered to your door in just a few clicks, but it’s boring. Physical shopping is an immersive experience that goes beyond the transactional. It’s a social occasion, often combined with meeting friends, going out for lunch and even connecting with new people. Combine all that with the sights and sounds of being in the real environment and it ticks every box for what really matters - living in the moment.

Beauty products purchased on the high street
Just some of the beauty products I've purchased on the high street this week

Massive efforts are being made to breathe new life into dated, sorry-looking high streets. The future looks much more alluring, even entertaining. Expect an eclectic mix of retail and leisure, including pop-ups, not to mention high-tech additions that will make shopping a truly fascinating, lived experience. Will the web be able to compete? 

Currently, electricals and fast fashion account for the most sales online. Makeup sales, by contrast, are only now recovering after experiencing a decline that started before the pandemic.

The online beauty haul is under threat. I base that statement on my own shopping habits. They have swung towards… shops. I truly wasn’t expecting that! As a beauty addict, I spend a lot on cosmetics. This week’s spend, however, has mostly been in person. 

The Beauty Crop’s summer sale prompted my only online purchase - a half-price mini bundle. Conversely, I purchased multiple items on the high street. In Superdrug earlier today, I used my email address at the checkout to get a very generous member’s discount on foundation, dewy and matte setting sprays, moisturiser, and a newly launched own-brand body mist. Ten minutes after the purchase, I was back in the store and spending more. Why? Because I tried the body spray during a pitstop at 'Spoon's - and loved it so much I just had to have it in two other fragrances. Would I have done the same if I’d purchased it online? Possibly. But most probably not. The convenience of being just a few hundred steps away from the point of sale was a huge driver. 

Online purchase from The Beauty Crop
My only online purchase this week

Websites and apps have their place but, if visions for the future of town centres come to fruition, they could face a reversal in fortunes in the coming decade.

What do you think?

  • Opnion piece. Research: Forbes UK e-commerce statistics for 2024, Statista and Mintel.


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