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How pandemic has changed the beauty industry


Ivy Bochaberi, of Bochabery Beauty at her business in the Central Business District on February 16, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

When the pandemic hit and Kenyans started wearing masks, the grooming routines and the beauty behaviours changed and so did the businesses.

Ivy Bochaberi, a law graduate, had just been in the make-up business for two years. She had clients ranging from walk-ins who came to her small stall in Nairobi’s Veteran House. On some days, she would go to people’s homes to apply the make-up, especially when they had weddings, baby showers, or birthdays.

“I apply make-up, fix eyelashes extensions and also sell different beauty products,” she says.

Given the realities of working from home, physical distancing, and mask-wearing, it became less important to wear makeup and fragrance.

Her sales dropped by 30 percent from April 2020.

“Since my job involves touching people’s faces, some feared being applied makeup. And not many customers wanted strangers in their homes,” says the 25-year-old.

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Sellers of skincare, coloured cosmetics which include face powder, foundations and lipsticks, haircare, fragrances and personal care have been the most affected by the mask-wearing and a majority of consumers working from home in pajamas.

But the Covid-19 shock seems to be easing. Spending is gradually bouncing back, thanks to generations of loyal consumers now over-reliant on beauty products and the shift to online shopping platforms.

However, the spending is on a different segment of beauty products. For Kenyans, the sales of colour lipsticks and foundations may have fallen dramatically but it coincided with an increased demand for eye products, lip and skincare products.

More Kenyans are buying face cleansers, toners, serums, moisturisers, night and day creams.

For the lower end of the market, business is back in retailers such as Best Lady Cosmetics, Super Cosmetics and the tens of sellers stocking knockoffs in Nairobi’s Dubois Road.

The new consumer priorities hold to what Leonard Lauder, one of the heirs of Estée Lauder companies once said during the 2001 global recession. He coined the term “lipstick index” to describe the increase in lipstick sales seen during the recession.

Dipping sales

“The principle is that people see lipstick as an affordable luxury, and sales, therefore, tend to stay strong, even in times of duress,” a McKinsey report noted.

This is the same with skincare, eyeshadows and eyelashes, and lip gloss flying off the shelves because even with reduced incomes, Kenyans see them as a must-buy.

“Purchases have shifted to lip gloss, cleansers and soaps even as foot traffic dropped by around 60 percent. Customers are not buying lipstick as much because of the masks,” said a sales representative at BestLady Cosmetics at Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.

For prestige brands, they saw a decline of about 30 percent in cosmetic and fragrance purchasing. In Kenya, the well-to-do consumers buy their beauty products mostly from Lintons, Mac and Yves Rocher stores.

Lintons, one of the largest beauty stores in Kenya, with 28 shops in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kampala and which stocks most of the international brands that have made inroads in Kenya, was also hit.

Winnie Mutegi, the Lintons’ marketing manager, says lipsticks and foundations were the most affected. However, manufacturers stepped up to innovate products to keep the market.

Demand for non-transferable lipsticks and foundations has now picked up as makers innovated their products to align with the face mask measure.

Lintons, which sells skincare, colour cosmetics, and designer perfumes, says it registered a 30 percent drop in sales in 2020 from the previous year 2019.

Amid the dwindle, orders were unfulfilled due to lack of raw materials and longer processing time with fewer staff working at supplier warehouses.

Higher flight charges and a reduced number of flights meant that the goods took longer to arrive in Kenya, meaning an increase in prices.

Innovative brands

Skincare and fragrance in contrast became popular with Lintons registering 30 percent growth throughout the period.

“People buy make-up to hide blemishes, high pigmentation or acne but people had options to treat this at home hence foundations were affected,” Ms Mutegi said.

For stores selling established brands, they introduced virtual makeup try-on apps to allow customers to experiment with different shades to cater to customers who were hesitant with physical touch.

With the use of a smartphone, the app scans the face to tell you what lipstick or foundation is best for you. In Kenya, Lintons sells a substantial number oof global brands, including Estée Lauder, Clinique, MAC, Clarins, Lancome, Chanel and Dior.

Companies such as Estée Lauder introduced double-wear foundations that women found usable because of their non-transferable nature as it dries up.

The firm says it has made a six percent increase in sales in 2021 as a result of these innovations in makeup, which more clients looking into eye makeup as an option, such as eyeshadows and mascaras.

Online selling

Online selling channels also took off during the pandemic. Shoppable social-media platforms such as Instagram mean that a client can order a product from anywhere in Kenya.

Esther Nzula, who works at BeautyClick, an e-commerce retailer as an after-sales and customer service lead says they have seen a shift from foundations that fully cover the skin to light ones.

“We saw a slight drop in makeup products. People became focused on skincare since they were more concerned about how the skin looks,” Ms Nzula says, adding that more women moved from “full glam to soft glam that gives a natural look and ensures the skin is still breathing.”

The firm added beauty advisers to help with online shade matching and testing, enabling it to recommend products and skincare consultations to customers without physical interactions.

Such advancement shifted business away from entrepreneurs such as Ms Bochaberi who rely on face-to-face interactions.

With the online shade matching, customers share at least three pictures and neck in different angles.

“We were at an advantage during the pandemic because of this system we run,” Ms Nzula said, adding that it gave customers options.

New opportunities

Other beneficiaries of the changing beauty industry were the cargo transporters. The constraints in supply chains witnessed globally opened new opportunities for Malahide Shipping, Kentex Cargo and Savo, companies which Euromonitor International says made shipping in bulk making it easier for retailers in Kenya to have access to have products for a small fee.

For a majority of beauty products sellers, the industry seems to be weathering the pandemic storm. The attractiveness of the beauty industry remains and Ms Mutegi is among those who expresses optimism this year as Lintons eyes more partnerships with make-up manufacturers.

“The reality is people will always want to look good which is positively driving the industry,” she said, adding that they are anticipating growth in sales and new additions such as Idôle Aura by Lancome and Dolce and Gabbana before end month.

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