Retail brands should make their beauty counters more gender neutral

gender bias in beauty counters - Image by Ray Marsh of Pixabay

Bricks and mortar retailers should revamp their store layouts to be more gender neutral, creating a safe space for consumers.

That’s according to a study by retail innovation agency Outform, which found that in-store shopping still beats social media when it comes to beauty and personal care. 

Six in ten (59%) of us cite in-store as our favourite way to shop for make-up, and experiences like speaking to consultants on the shop floor influences almost four-in-ten (39%) of us.

However, despite the popularity of bricks and mortar shopping, big retail brands have been slow to reconfigure their beauty counters, which have traditionally and overwhelmingly been designed around women.

In an increasingly gender-neutral world, social media and virtual platforms have led the way in removing gender bias from beauty product ranges and interests.

In fact, although beauty consumers are eager to return to shops, some virtual innovations have stayed the course. 

More than a third (34%) of 18-24-year-olds say online skin consultations are valuable to purchase decisions and 33% say the same for virtual make-up tutorials. 

Men find virtual beauty shopping easier

Men are also 2% higher overall (28%) in finding the latter important across all age groups.

Comparison is also a key lever for purchases. More than half (53%) of shoppers say being able to compare products in-store is important, but it matters slightly less online at 48%. Some 45% also rely on price comparison sites.

Simon Hathaway, Group MD EMEA at Outform, said: “Different channels can be connected while making the best use of each one. 

“Virtual consultations and online tools are having a positive impact on how consumers’ shop, particularly on men who are likely to be less comfortable trying and buying make-up in a public setting.

Beauty gender bias 

“But this should also be a lesson for bricks & mortar retailers. Shoppers are eager to experiment with beauty and less deterred by ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ labels. 

“It’s time for store layouts to compliment the brands and influencers who are making beauty more gender-neutral and a safe space for everyone.”

The findings come despite shoppable functions and AR try-ons launched by platforms like Pinterest and show only 15% prefer using a brand’s social media page for make-up. 

Fewer than two-in-ten (16%) also feel that brand updates on social media help to discover beauty products, whereas four-in-ten (38%) say in-store displays are useful for this.

The study covers a representative spread of more than 2,000 global respondents across the UK, USA and Germany. 

It explores how consumer habits are continuing to shift when shopping for beauty and personal care products in a post-lockdown world.

Social influence on beauty shopping

Despite the in-store preference, social does play its part in influencing propensity to purchase. 

Four-in-ten (42%) of 35-44 year-olds say that brands’ social platforms are key to deciding whether to purchase. 

The same percentage of 18-24-year-olds) are also inspired by social media influencers when it comes to make-up, and men are 7% (32%) more likely to feel this way overall.

Simon Hathaway, Group MD EMEA at Outform, said: “Online shoppable functions and AR testers aren’t yet a patch on in-store shopping. 

“But platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are fundamental in engaging consumers with beauty brands’ values and ethos.

“And while they’re not yet the primary checkout tool, social platforms are influencing behaviours, particularly if it’s user-generated content that customers can trust. 

“Capturing online and offline data will help to identify where different cohorts are engaging with products – which isn’t always where they’ll make a purchase – and this knowledge can be used to make browsing and buying seamless through different channels.”