In this episode:
Wendy Liebmann talks with Jenny B. Fine, executive editor of WWD and Beauty Inc., about the transformation of the beauty industry and how it has and will change over the coming decade.
- Younger, Generation Z consumers and how their beauty priorities are based on not only looking good but also doing good
- How wellness is being fully integrated into beauty, with more to come
- How social media platforms like TikTok and Flip are changing the rules of engagement, especially with younger generations of shoppers
- The explosion of ways to buy beauty that are leaving luxury retail behind, while new experiences are emerging in mass and specialty retail
Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.
Hello, I’m Wendy Liebmann, CEO and Chief Shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, and this is Future Shop. Here I talk to innovators, disruptors, iconoclast and big thinkers who are shaking up the future of retail. Today, my guest is Jenny B. Fine. She is the executive editor of Women’s Wear Daily and Beauty Inc. She is an observer, a recognized guru of all things beauty. Jenny has a unique purview of beauty from around the world – from big, bold legacy companies to TikTok brands, from specialty retail to live streaming. Today we’re going to talk about the beauty world and how it’s been transformed, how consumers, shoppers, brands and retailers are changing the way they do business. And that means changing the future ahead of us. Welcome to Future Shop Ms. Jenny B Fine.
Wendy, thank you. I’m so excited to be here talking about my two favorite subjects beauty and shopping with you,
you have just come off the most amazing week when Beauty Inc. awarded its most innovative Beauty Awards for 2022. I was looking at the extraordinary list of people who won the awards. How has that list of winners changed?
Well, I think that the list has changed fundamentally. I mean, I think that one of the biggest things that happened was social media. And that has now become such a force, obviously, in the beauty industry and retail. And what’s kind of fascinating about that is how that evolved so much over the last decade, and just when we get used to one platform, another one comes up and really changes the rules of the game. hat has changed the winners a lot. I think that another big change is that the definition of beauty has increased what the winners, you know, it used to be really straight beauty, we were very focused on makeup, skincare, fragrance and a little bit of hair also. Now we have this whole wide world of wellness and self care. And that plays a very large part and how we’re covering beauty and how we think about our world of beauty. And they think the final piece is actually the retail piece has changed. As you know, our primary award winner was Jo Horgan, the founder of Mecca, and to have a retailer making such a large impact. We haven’t seen that maybe in a decade, the last great shake up was really the establishment of this specialty retail channel,
as I look through the list and beauty it’s a fascinating view of not just how beauty has changed. But as Jenny says, how the world has changed how marketing has changed how retail has change. But the other thing that struck me about all of that, aside from seeing our dear friend Jo Horgan on the front cover, which was wonderful, I’ve interviewed her here on this podcast, a wonderful experience. But I thought about wellness, you had newcomers with purpose, you had sustainable brands, it felt like all the major themes that we are seeing in our research in the US and around the world have emerged. were redefining beauty in the awards.
That is definitely true. And I think that we’re seeing whereas as historically duty was so marketing driven, I think that now when people come to purchase, there are so many different factors that go into why they buy the products that they do. And I think that as we’ve seen this explosion of retail and ways to buy beauty that we’ve seen a democratization of brands, and that the differentiators now for consumers are very different than they historically have been.
And that put me in mind of big companies like a Unilever that won
they had both Nutrafol, which is a fascinating brand that speaks to the rise of wellness and then science backed results and also just the changing nature of consumer needs. We know that hair loss among women is a major concern. And historically, it really hasn’t been something that the beauty industry talked about. I think that if you were a woman experiencing hair loss, you went to see your dermatologist. Increasingly, we’re seeing beauty play in this area. And I think likewise with Madam by Madam C.J .Walker, which is also a Unilever brand. You know, she was one of the very first female self made millionaires in the US. She was a black entrepreneur in the early 1900s. What’s kind of fascinating about her is that in the early 1900s, she was talking about scalp care and that is now a conversation that again is very relevant as we look at the health of hair, and skin and scalp. And the way in which Unilever resurrected that brand I think is super modern you know, number one they use their science to come up with effective formulations number two they tapped her great great granddaughter and biographer A’Lelia Bundles to oversee this relaunch to make sure that it was true to her spirit. And then they partnered with Walmart as the exclusive retailer for the launch. So they had scale and it just felt like maybe in the past we would have seen one of things happen I don’t know if we would have seen all three at the same time, felt like
a very modern execution of a trusted historical name in beauty in haircare so I found that intriguing to see that beauty beyond the fabulous red lipsticks that some of us love really had moved into such new territory. But it also made me think about you’ve got a teenage daughter and I think about her and her friends. How do they think about beauty?
When I look at my daughter, she’s very influenced by TikTok. When I look at what she’s asking me to bring home, it’s usually products that she discovers via TikTok. She loves the candy store aspect of shopping for beauty. So she loves going to Sephora to Ulta with her friends. They’re very skincare focused. They’re very knowledgeable about skincare. And also haircare. I don’t see as much play when it comes to makeup, which I think is kind of interesting, because I think when I was a younger woman, we were much more involved in makeup play. Not so much right now with my daughter and her friends. And she loves fragrance. So she’s super beauty involved.
How much of that is having a mom who has this work closet full of amazingness? Or is it something that she innately…?
Yeah, not very much like I think that she wants what she sees on TikTok. And she will come to me and say like, Oh, I just saw this on Tik Tok, or have you seen that, or this is trending. And I just think that’s fascinating.
Yeah, you and I, we could sort of laugh at this, I suppose I always think that I was entranced by beauty the moment I popped out of my mom’s womb, sorry, everybody. But you’ve probably heard me say this. My mother always said, if you have your lipstick on, you can do anything. And I truly felt that way and feel that way to this day. When you look around the world now, you spend a lot of time looking at beauty and lifestyle trends around the world and social media. What are you seeing in other countries that you think are really going to change the landscape here?
I mean, for me, the most interesting thing that I’m seeing is this younger, more activist voice. And I think that young people don’t necessarily only view beauty in the context of themselves, but in the impact on the overall larger society. And I see a generation that wants to look good and wants to do good. And I think that they have an expectation that the companies that they’re patronizing will do good. I mean, one of the most interesting things that we’re seeing right now is the rise of blockchain technology, to really ensure traceability and products and not just transparency. And I think that that’s fascinating that for a generation who has so much information at their fingertips, they want to know everything. And they will have the means to discover and to find out everything. And I think that will fundamentally change what has been a very marketing driven category.
Yeah, that’s interesting to me too, because I think about you know, all the words that have been thrown around, buzzed around sustainability, clean green, all of the purpose driven, and it feels to me like what we’re seeing is that we have a generation that’s actually willing or demanding that and not just as the word of the moment sort of thing. So do you see that reflected as you look around the world?
I do. And I think that we will increasingly see that you know, and I think that we as an industry are going to have to start to define these terms in a clearer way. Because I guess I would ask, do we look at things in a very binary black and white way like our products clean or not clean? When in reality, it’s very gray and every retailer has a different definition of clean. That’s confusing for me, someone who’s been doing this for more than 20 years, I can only imagine what it’s like if you’re a consumer, and I think that not all chemicals are bad and not all naturals are great, and that as we see the influence of biotech and green chemistry, on beauty product formulation, how’s that impact some of the words that we’re using
you talk about as beauty has been such a marketing driven category. And the big legacy brands that we know have been so brilliant at that. And now we’ve got a generation of shoppers, consumers as shoppers who are challenging that and saying, okay, prove it to me. But on the other hand, it’s not all about clean, because we know that some of the chemically driven ingredients are good. So that whole explanation, that whole story, that whole openness, of here’s what this does for you, and the degree I guess, as you said, of transparency here, but really being able to seriously understand where something comes from, and how it applies for good and bad. But you raised another point, which I think is really interesting when I think about looking at retail today, especially beauty but lots of other categories. And as an educated shopper on my own side, and you literally walk into a store, whether it’s a mass retailer, or department store, or specialty, or even online, the TikTok brands, you just head explodes. How do we make decisions, the variety of products price points. I keep saying to myself, I need a beauty bot, who’s telling me what’s what and who’s who. So, Jenny, how are we going to sort all of that out in a world where all of this is changing so fast?
Well, I do think that what makes Jo so interesting, as when you look at her business, which doubled over the three years of the pandemic, like to me that was kind of astonishing, because here we were in the teeth of the pandemic, which we thought was really going to herald the demise of retail, and Mecca’s business doubled. And I think that when you look at the level of education, that she’s investing in with the store teams, and the experience that she’s bringing to bear in-store that that is fascinating. And I think there’s so much stuff that you do have to explain it to a consumer, there has to be a way to convey what is the difference in jar a versus jar b. And I think that that’s going to come down to the in-store experience.
I think you’re absolutely right. I have followed Mecca in Australia and New Zealand. And now as Jo has expanded through Australasia, those of us who come from that part of the world. And I think about that what I call laying on of hands experience and the information. We talked about it when Jo Horgan was on this podcast, earlier in the pandemic, when she had just opened her flagship store in Sydney in the middle of the pandemic, four floors of amazing, 16,000 square feet, right and about to open Melbourne, right, which is 40,000. But the thing that struck me about that was the fact that her suburban stores, her core stores, were not left adrift. In fact, they became the heart of the connection between the shopper in the community.
I think that you’re absolutely right. And I think that maybe that use of community is key. Like I think that we’re actually kind of entering a period right now, where the founder story is less compelling. But the community aspect is more compelling. I’m thinking of a brand like Beekman 1802, Flamingo Estate, where you’re really you’re getting a sense of place, you’re getting a sense of people making product you’re getting you feel like you’re joining something, that you’re apart of something and I think that Jo achieves that at the retail level. So
I think the other thing she’s done using her speaking of Beekman that using her as a beacon of the future of beauty and other things because I certainly think she reflects a lot of trends that really bring the physical experience to life and connected with the virtual experience. But I think about how she’s integrated health and wellness. I was absolutely gob smacked as we say in Australia, by the fact of when she started including the services of a naturopath when they opened the flagship in Sydney, when they started having a fertility expert. Her view and I think it’s what you were saying upfront is very much that when women think about beauty today, they do think about their whole beauty inner outer all of those things we’ve talked about for years. They don’t just think about injectables, they think about this next evolution. And the way she’s integrated that into both her flagships but also into the suburban stores I think makes it feel like again, very contemporary, very relevant, very modern. Your thoughts on that?
I think it’s so interesting, and I think we’re seeing the rise of new services. You know, we’re seeing IV drips for example, and further out there even like a ketamine lounge. but it does feel like all of these different things are coming together and coalescing where we definitely understand now, we as consumers understand the impact of our inner health on our skin on the way that we feel. And we’re looking for an approach that treats all of it. We just did a story where we were looking at the investor community. And where we see the most activity is in the medi spa and wellness spa arena, which is fascinating, much more so than brands right now.
I was reading something recently about football players and cryotherapy. And I remember going to a place called Next in the Century Plaza Mall in California about five or six years ago, and there was this whole place, we went in and froze yourself for three or four minutes. And the players are now using it to reduce inflammation. But there they also had early beauty services that freeze yourself or whatever.
I mean, we’re seeing that at spas, you can do cryotherapy at Harrods, I believe or Harvey Nichols. And I think people want those experiences. It’s fun. It’s entertainment, as well, right? Like to go into a minus 150-degree chamber for three minutes. Like it’s just, it’s fun.
Well, I laughed at that, because the story about the football players was, what music do you want to hear while you’re in there, so you can sort of dance around a bit. But I think you’re also right, when I can click online and order reorder my Mac Red lipstick, or my L’Oréal foundation, then what’s going to get me to buy something to try something new to spend some more money beyond the sort of what I would consider everyday essentials. So I think you’re absolutely right. And in all of that experience, you mentioned Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London. As you look at the different channels of retail, we’ve talked about specialty, and you’re talking about new services, you talked a little about department stores. What do you see physical retail in the traditional spaces, the drugstores, the mass merchants,
they think about retail, I think in certain markets, it feels more evolved than others. Right now I feel like the United States has been an interesting inflection point in beauty retail. We have a lot in this specialty channel feels like we don’t have so much in pure luxury. And we’re not necessarily as experiential as we’re seeing in some other markets. And it feels like it’s become very promotional as well. And I wonder how we’ll see all of this play out in the next 12 to 18 months, obviously, we’re seeing a blurring of channels and the way that historically the distinctions that we’ve made, that certainly not meaningful to my daughter. And I think, you know, it’s interesting to look at Ulta’s recent redesign and to see, you know, another merchandising by category, leading with prestige and to masstige and to mass price points. That’s going to be fascinating to see how people respond to that. And to having service and animation. And really having much more of a retailer point of view.
I interviewed here a couple of weeks ago, an OBGYN doctor who has a practice called HerMD, and we were talking about sexual health and wellness for women. She was talking about how they’re as they’re expanding their practices, they are actually putting those practices when they open in strip centers where there might be an Ulta, a great coffee place or an eating place. Because they saw it as sort of a total experience. They were looking for their real estate offer, or their community that they were wanting to build in places that are much more social. And I do think about, as you talk about even what Ulta has done, I mean, they broke the rules by saying we’re going to be in strip centers, basically easy to get to accessible. That’s really interesting what they’re doing after all these years of trying to convince brands that shoppers buy across price point. So let’s all organize it that way.
And they think also, you know, what does community look like at retail? And we’ll get a slightly different way to use this space. Can we take out some of this stuff in the store? Like that’s all online? We know that we can get in and is there a way to bring to use this space to bring people together?
Yeah, I mean, you could look at what Target’s done with Ulta and kept it as a pretty true Ulta experience. Obviously they’ve followed somewhat of the Sephora JCPenney now Sephora Kohls, but those places that where people may be as you say order online pick up in store. They’ve got the essentials off their list. We’ve seen it in all our research for about five years, get the essentials off the list, park the car and then go into the store. What is that about? Well, either they forgot something, or now they have time to spend time in categories they want to spend time in. So beauty is that one of them? So I think there’s a lot there any thoughts about high end luxury stores now? I mean, I’m a big lover of Selfridges and other places. But what are you seeing there around the world,
I’ll be in London for the first time since the pandemic. I haven’t been in Europe. I was in Tokyo over this summer and was surprised to see that the model was still very much as it was pre pandemic. I think that there’s a dearth of luxury experiences in beauty retailing, where you know, you have a very choiceful selection of beautiful brands where you have just platinum star service, and an experience I not seeing that that much right now.
I think you raise the point about promotional, especially here, not just over the holidays, but really over the holidays. It’s been stunning looking at stores, at the degree of promotion. Now, I get it. I mean, you know, we’ve got inflation in our brain, we’ve got what will next year look like in our brain, but I like you am I’m looking at, actually across the board, not just in beauty, about what is a luxury experience look like, including sort of aspiration, because one of the things that was so beautiful about the luxury beauty business was there are a lot of aspirational shoppers who couldn’t afford the designer clothing. But really, wanted that $60 Chanel lipstick, probably more than that now, but whatever it was. So I do think that it feels like when I think about retail at large, where are those sort of special aspirational experiences, whether it’s in food, or whether it’s in beauty, or whether it’s in fashion or other places, I think
about the demise of Barneys and Barneys played such an important role and discovery for those beautiful niche brands. And I think especially in the US, we’re just not seeing that right now.
So also, you brought up a brand like Beekman and I think all the work they’ve done. And actually, it’s funny at that area of upstate New York is where I go sometimes in the summer, there to visit friends, so they are across the road from our little B&B. And so I’ve watched them when they go to develop, and I think about how they built this brand through streaming through of world QVC HSN. How do you see beauty and startup brands coming through all these new places as we move forward, either direct to consumer, streaming in some way social media? Are we still on a rise on that? Or do you think we’re starting to go like, Okay, that’s
enough. No, I think that we’re still on a rise. And I think that it will just continue to expand exponentially like a pebble in a pond, especially with Gen Z, right? They’re used to shopping everywhere, and they like all of it. They like to shop in real life, they are happy to shop via livestream. I think like when I look at other categories, and some of the newer live streaming platforms, the “drop model” is so interesting in the collabs that are happening, and you can only get product X on platform Y? And I think, you know, it creates this real sense of excitement. And it feels very multi-dimensional in a way that I would anticipate would definitely come to beauty.
Yeah, and urgency, right. Like just to think about that
drop model and how the model of beauty has changed. Haley Bieber with Rhode. When you look at her products, I think that for the first year when she launched like there were maybe 12 days in the year when they were actually available on sale, and I’m probably getting the exact number wrong. But my point is, it’s not stuff on a shelf. It’s super limited. And obviously you know, she will get bigger and she will go into retail. But I look at that model. I look at somebody like Trinny Woodall from Trinny London and how she’s programmed her content to build her community. And then all of that is fueling both her DTC business, as well as her in-store business. You know, she attracts huge crowds when she goes to a market. And I just think that’s fascinating.
Yeah, and you do see that model in other categories like sneakers, I always marvel at the sneaker drops. And I can always tell when there’s a line around something some place, not a store with a regular sign outside, but some place in lower Manhattan near where I live. And you think, ah, that must be some exclusive sneaker something going on because there’s the drop and sign up or just show up and all of those things. So I think you do feel like there’s a lot of excitement in physical retail that often traditional retailers are not really adapting to or adopting. But I think to your point, there’s a lot of excitement in all of that as we move forward into 2023 and beyond. Just one last question. I mean, we’ve been talking about Gen Z. But I remember when your colleague Emily Doherty interviewed me about Gen X, that we so focused on Gen Z, that we’re not thinking about older millennials, Gen X. I mean, we used to talk about skincare and hair color, right? And that was like, okay, and then you’re off the list. But are you seeing areas of interest that, you know, people are starting to say, yeah, there’s a lot of people out there with a lot of money who aren’t 18
I think that we are seeing a profusion of products that are geared towards all different generations. And I think that as Gen X has come of age, menopause is now a very talked about topic. It was something that was once taboo. Now we’re talking about it, and we have seen an explosion in products. I think that what we haven’t yet necessarily seen is have we seen sales follow suit? And I think it’ll be interesting to see how it all nets out, because is there true differentiation in a lot of the products? And are they really talking to the consumer in the way that the consumer wants to be spoken to? And I think that what’s really interesting and we see it in wellness, as are you talking to the right benefits. I was interviewing Jostein Solheim, the CEO of Unilever, Health & Wellness, and he was talking about how the vitamin and ingestible category, for example, is evolved from letters and ingredients like magnesium and vitamin D, and all the things that we take into benefits. So sleep, energy, collagen production, and it feels like beauty and skincare and haircare in particular will follow suit.
I do think that’s true. I mean, we’re seeing a lot around the world too. And all our retail innovation work that we do, where we have our scouts around the world, looking at what’s bubbling up, and the best retailers, I think in the space are now organizing those things differently. You know, it is about energy or immunity.
I feel like we’re seeing that, especially in the mass market also, that the big US mass players are becoming increasingly creative with the way that they merchandise and that they’re breaking out of the box a little bit, which has been a great thing to see. And I think that as we have ever more sophisticated diagnostics, at our fingers as well, and beauty tech, and you know, we can measure the hydration levels in our skin, our hair, our sleep levels, and we know exactly what we need at any given moment that beauty will become much more prescriptive as well.
I do think that ability to take advantage of all of that and make it experiential, as well as simple and easy. And then that place that we meet, where we love to sit next to somebody and say, Wow, look at that. I had that experience over Black Friday and in a Walmart where a woman and I started talking because we’re admiring each other’s hair color. And then we moved into other things. But she was another shopper and we were just great hair color, great hair color. And there you go. So she was another shopper like me, she wasn’t somebody working there. But you know, you could have hired both of us. And we could have done a really good job selling lots of things there that day. But anyway, last thoughts about hope for beauty in the coming two or three years. What do you see on your 2023 awards stage?
As we looked at 2023 for beauty, like, you know, I think that we’re gonna see continued relevance, I think people are going to have to move faster and faster and faster to keep up with the consumer, and to keep up with each other. And I think that true differentiation will win in the end. You know, we see a lot of me too, and we see a lot like if one thing is working all of a sudden, we see a lot of that. And I think that a true point of view will continue to win. I think that it’s the companies that take risks and that experiment and that go beyond their traditional parameters. And I’m thinking from of everyone from Estée Lauder, naming Amanda Gorman to be their global change maker slash beauty ambassador to E.l.f. experimenting on BeReal and they just go for it and I think you have to
when you’re you those two examples from your award winners, I realized that we had not talked about E.l.f.. And a brand, you know, used to be just a cheap and cheerful right affordable, and then built a huge platform through social media and a unique voice, that people are just proud to showcase that product. And on the other side, you’ve got the Estée Lauder experience. So I think that very much defines that new space. Let’s toss our friend Jo into that and think about what Mecca has done and what comes next in that space, I think just feels like there’s a lot of excitement on the horizon. But you’re right, it’s not more of rolling out the me too the proverbial cookie cutter in this space. Boldness is required. Yes, big thinking. Thank you for this. I know, it’s been a long, long, few weeks. It’s just great to see you. And thank you for what you do. And I’m always impressed by the social, technological, even political viewpoint that you weave into beauty in all you write. Thank you, Jenny, be fine for joining me today.
Thank you, Wendy, for having me. What a great way to wrap up the year. And it’s truly my honor to join you because you are so plugged in to everything that’s happening. And I love hearing your point of view. So this has just been fascinating for me as well.
Well, mutual admiration society. So I look forward to seeing you soon.
See you soon.
So here’s the thing, beauty like so many sectors we study at WSL has seen massive change. Shoppers and are challenging big brands to move beyond marketing to be more relevant, more innovative, more responsive to new generations of shoppers, generations of shoppers who define beauty more broadly, who get their information from social platforms like TikTok and Flip that barely existed a decade ago, and shoppers who expect to shop either on one click or by immersing themselves in places that are more experiential. As Jenny said, there’s lots of excitement on the horizon for beauty, if only we look and we will. See you in the future.