As the U.S. population barrels into summer 2021 and all that the season brings, there isn’t much time to reflect on where we all were at this time last year. But it sure is interesting to speak to one of beauty’s key merchants to analyze consumer buying habits over the past 17 months, and where we are now. Recently, CEW Beauty News had the opportunity to chat with Ulta Beauty’s Monica Arnaudo, a CEW Beauty Creators Ambassador who is supporting the industry’s marquis beauty awards event, and who will participate in CEW’s July 13 Beauty Creators Finalists Reveal, where for the first time an entire (virtual) event will be dedicated to sharing this year’s Finalists. Here, Monica talks about what consumers gravitated towards in 2020, what they’re craving now and what’s moving the needle.  

Beauty News: What were consumers buying in 2020? How have these needs changed over the past five months, especially as lockdown restrictions have loosened?
Monica Arnaudo: Beauty enthusiasts have always had a physical and emotional connection with the category and those connections were incredibly present throughout 2020. Our guests relied on beauty to empower self-expression, self-confidence and self-care. There were various trends throughout the year but some specific needs came to the forefront prominently. In the beginning, necessities and essentials like hand soaps, anti-bacterial gels, shampoo and conditioner were especially popular. As time progressed and quarantining was in place, interests in DIY and at-home solutions, such as treatments for skin and hair, hair color, nail care and hair removal products, were significant. Self-care and wellness categories thrived all year and continue to see strong engagement, especially in regard to all things skin care and hair care, fragrance and bath and body products. Over the past five months we continue to see these categories thrive and we are very encouraged by the increased trends in makeup; specifically lip and face products as mask mandates are relaxing. Overall, the ways guests found and embraced beauty shifted but the passion never waned.

BN: Did consumers turn to brands they knew as opposed to discovering new brands, since she couldn’t go in-store?
MA: At the onset of the pandemic, many guests purchased beauty essentials to maintain routines at home, often shopping their ‘stash’ and relying on what was familiar. We know our beauty enthusiasts crave newness and seek to discover exciting new beauty brands. Balanced with safety and convenience, we had a solution in place for guests to still explore, experiment and enjoy the thrill of shopping for beauty products with GLAMlab, our virtual try-on capability within the Ulta Beauty app. Guests virtually explored thousands of products from their phone with GLAMlab and other Ulta Beauty digital tools like SkinAnalysis and Hair Color Try-on.  In addition, we were able to showcase our existing trusted brands, as well as introduce new brands on through our virtual mags and tabs and in our stores when they re-opened.  We continued to highlight new brands through Sparked at Ulta Beauty, Conscious Beauty and our Credo Partnership.  Some of the new brands we launched in the last several months include KVD Vegan Beauty, Hourglass, Briogeo, Innersense, Beekman 1802, Urban Skin RX and Kinship.

BN: Which categories were the most popular? Within skin care, make-up and hair what types of items sold the best?
MA: Throughout 2020, beauty played an important role in our guests’ wellbeing. We anticipated strong momentum for skin care and hair care and 2020 accelerated these categories in meaningful ways. Within skin care we saw great traction in targeted serums such as brightening and vitamin C, masks and peeling solutions.  Beyond the huge increases in all things hair color, many guests leaned into texture products for curly and natural hair, and we saw increases in scalp and hair repair products.  Within makeup, ‘above the mask’ items were more popular – such as false lashes, mascara, brow products and concealer.  Fast forward and now we are seeing traction in long lasting, transfer resistant products within lip and face, in addition to two-in-one products. The Fragrance category is on fire predominantly driven by juice sales across all luxury and designer brands. And finally within bath and body we continue to see guests pamper themselves with body scrubs and targeted lotions and creams.

BN: What about DIY, like nail and hair treatments, how did these categories perform?
MA: Not only did these categories perform well, they also gave way to exciting new content from our Pro Team to help those at home execute their DIY skills well. While salons were temporarily closed, ‘do-it-yourself’ products such as at-home hair color and root touch up kits to maintain color were guest favorites. Many guests embraced their natural texture, giving hair a break from heat styling and increasing care for curls – and beyond treatments, various shampoos and conditioners saw strong momentum. Repair masks and solutions to promote hair growth have been popular for those seeking to improve overall hair health. As for nail care, nail polish, nail art and manicure sets continue to be a creative outlet for guests seeking an easy way to have fun and add color.

BN: Overall, how would you describe your consumer during the past 17 months? Was she frugal focusing only on the basics? Was she indulgent and seeking all the self-care?
MA: While no two beauty enthusiasts’ needs or passions are the same, we all experienced a challenging year and we saw our community embrace self-care, self-expression and self-confidence in unique and exciting ways. Throughout the past 17 months, beauty has provided an outlet for creativity, care and routine in uncertain times. In fact, 65 percent of beauty enthusiasts believe beauty is significantly connected to wellness and 87 percent link the category to self-care. There has been consistent, strong engagement across categories to meet these important needs and Ulta Beauty has been honored to continue bringing beautiful possibilities to guests, meeting them where they are with our exciting, accessible and fresh assortment throughout every stage of the pandemic but more importantly, throughout their individual journeys.

Monica Arnaudo is a 2021 CEW Achiever Awards Honoree. Please click here to learn more about this year’s Women’s Leadership Awards event, which will honor Monica and other women in beauty.