Behind the Curve: Is the beauty industry lagging behind when it comes to retail?

As 360 experiences dominate retail, has the mainstream beauty industry reached its full potential in terms of innovation and customer engagement? 

The world of fashion retail is constantly evolving, with in-store innovation and hospitality crossovers introduced to keep customers excited and coming back for more. But has beauty retail reached its full potential?

Let’s start with digital innovations across the board – compared to fashion, in beauty we see some comparative limitations. Exploring beauty’s AR offerings, innovations seem to be slower since the Kylie Cosmetics lip kit filter or Charlotte Tilbury‘s “magic mirrors”. This strikes a stark contrast to say, fashion platforms Zero10’s newest collection of digital wearables.

Innovations in fashion AR make beauty equivalents seem underdeveloped (Credit: Zero10)

Why then, is there such comparative stagnation in the world of cosmetics first retail than compared to their fashion and conglomerate counterparts? 


It seems strange that the retail element of a market valued at $511 billion in 2022 (source: STATISTA), and expanding dramatically every year, is not being invested in and innovated in the same way. We need only look to the infamous roster of Kardashian brands to see this lack of attention play out in parallel.

The Paris Pop-up for luxury shapewear ‘SKIMS’ are formed of shiny vacu-formed facades in various shades which explore the shapes, curves and skin tones of bodies. This mirrors the brand ethos of inclusivity, and an affinity and understanding for the female body. The changing rooms are sensitively designed, luxe and comfortable, offering carpeted pods within the space for secluded yet comfortable fitting experiences.  Kylie Skin and Cosmetics pop – ups are great at grabbing attention from their target demographic, but in terms of concept seem limited in comparison.

Skims Pop-Up in Paris is a beautifully sensitive retail space and a sensory exploration of human bodies.
Beauty pop-ups from brands like Kylie Skin and Huda Beauty are social media playgrounds.

“A culture that embraces self-expression, identity fluidity and creative freedom combined with a generational love of personal care means the beauty industry has all the ingredients to create a perfect storm in retail.”


Some disrupters are already dipping their perfectly manicured nails in. Trailblazing pop-ups including Huda Beauty’s kaleidoscopic escapes and The INKEY List’s intelligently tech powered offering alongside unicorn brand DRUNK ELEPHANT’s psychedelic Paris activation all showcase what’s possible for beauty – the expectation is now for more traditionally led brands and permanent spaces to follow suit.

The Inkey Lists intelligently tech powered offering and Drunk Elephant’s psychedelic Paris activation all showcase what’s possible for beauty.

Digital brands bringing their offering to an IRL one have been making waves in the world of pop-ups and activation’s.

In the context of beauty and cosmetics however, a world of opportunity and partnerships remain relatively untrodden ground. TikTok shop, allowing creators and businesses to sell merchandise directly through the app, is growing in usage and revenue at a staggering rate with e-commerce revenue expected to reach $470 billion in the next few years.


“Tik-Tok’s commercial superpower is its ability to reach Gen-Z users in an effective, engaging way – who also happen to be the group spending more on skincare than any other demographic.”


Gen-Z users are not only more likely to buy products they’ve seen on Tik Tok, and over half of Gen-z users say they use the app to discover new products. However, the closest we currently have to an IRL ‘Tik-Tok Shop’ might be Superdrug‘s ‘trending on Tik Tok’ POS stands, showcasing an small edit of beauty products popularized on the platform – which still often sell out. An IRL ‘Tik Tok Shop’ beauty concept or marketplace, giving aspirational physical spaces and platforms to small businesses and creators seems like a logical step for online brands to make the all-important jump into the physical world.

An pop-up or marketplace concept for an e-commerce platform collaborating small businesses and creators like Tik-Tok shop would be a great oppurtinity to connect with customers IRL.

Major luxury conglomerate brands with beauty and fragrance divisions have led innovation and expand their reach into all these areas – recently MUGLER‘s Selfridges pop up and Dior’s Christmas cafe concept at Harrods. These create a place for discovery and delight, and lets new customers them take a piece of it away with them. The call now comes for beauty-first brands to do the same.

Dior's cafe pop-up at Harrods and Mugler's multi-sensory takeover of the Selfridges corner shop should inspire beauty first brands to do the same.

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