Death knell for traditional beauty counters as shoppers raise hygiene fears

The coronavirus crisis could risk the end of the traditional make-up counter, experts have warned, as customers say they are reluctant to try products in store at make up counters for fear of contamination.

Make up trials at beauty counters may become a thing of the past.
Make up trials at beauty counters may become a thing of the past.

A survey found that the pre-pandemic beauty industry – which saw customers try out shared tester products at counters in department stores and chemists’ shops on a regular basis – will have to change dramatically as shoppers voiced their concerns over hygiene in future.

More than 80 per cent of those surveyed by market research firm NPD Group said they were apprehensive about trying a beauty product in-store. Almost half 48 per cent believe that disposable testers are essential, and 46 per cent expect that counter staff should wear face coverings in future.

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Meanwhile, 59 per cent expect stores to enforce social distancing during the shopping experience and over half believe increased hand sanitisation options in retail outlets are a must.

Usually, customers trial products either by testing colours themselves from samples laid out on the counter or through make-up trials, when beauty assistants apply the make-up from shared testing pots to a shopper’s face.

The survey found that the beauty buying behaviour of high street shoppers is expected to change dramatically post COVID-19. They are less inclined to casually shop and browse, as one third of consumers said it is very unlikely they will go shopping without a specific purchase or product in mind. It found that 29 per cent of UK consumers say they would not queue to buy beauty products, over a third are not prepared to wait when testing a beauty product and over a quarter would not line up to pay. Just under half of people said they would prefer to buy their beauty products online in the future.

Leigh Sparks, professor retail studies at Stirling University, said that beauty companies may have to consider creating single-use testers to ensure products do not spread the virus. However, such a move could have major economic and environmental effects for the firms.

He said: “If you’re quarantining books and clothes which have been returned, then this kind of communal thing is going be incredibly difficult. You can see a possible interim solution where there are individual packs for each consumer, like when you go to the dentist, but the problem is, what is the cost of that and what are the mechanics of how that is going to work?”

He added: “The coronavirus waste, too, is a big issue and a lot of it is disposable, which is not a good thing. The problem for companies will be the cost and return of all these things, which will decide whether they can or can’t do it.”

In England, stores are set to open widely on 15 June, however a date has not been set for non-essential retailers in Scotland.

Emma Fishwick, account manager, NPD UK Beauty, said: “As beauty and department stores reopen, we will see a dramatic change on the high street as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Visiting bricks and mortar stores is an exciting prospect for many consumers and queuing and social distancing will become the norm. Beauty buyers in our survey are willing to queue but ensuring a short wait time will be critical to benefit the maximum number of people who want to shop.”

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