Touchy subject: How the need for indulgence can drive India’s salon sector forward post-COVID-19

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

ndia’s professional beauty businesses can tap into the consumers’ need for self-indulgence post-pandemic. ©GettyImages
ndia’s professional beauty businesses can tap into the consumers’ need for self-indulgence post-pandemic. ©GettyImages

Related tags India Professional beauty COVID-19

India’s professional beauty businesses can tap into the consumers’ need for self-indulgence as the sector moves forward from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The country’s professional beauty sector is a fragmented group with over six million outlets across the country ranging from international companies to smaller and affordable independent salons.

These businesses mostly suffered losses as they were ordered to close their doors during the mandatory lockdown.

Since then, the country has been opening up gradually and professional beauty businesses were allowed to resume after intense lobbying from the businesses.

“We were all excluded from opening and that's when we all got together and went to the minister of small enterprises and pitched the case that if salons don't open, it will affect the lives of seven million people,”​ said Pushkaraj Shenai, CEO of Lakmé Cosmetics, a Hindustan Unilever-owned company.

Speaking at the WeCosmoprof digital event, Shenai highlighted that COVID-19 has already left its mark on the professional beauty industry.

“Because the professional beauty industry is based on human contact and touch, it’s clear that there are tectonic shifts likely to happen.”

For instance, the consumption behaviour of consumers will change.

“Consumers are a lot more conscious and mindful about consumption. They will spend money but only where it will make a significant difference. That raises the bar on quality and efficacy,”​ said Shenai.

He added that their needs have also evolved due to the life-disrupting pandemic.

“The consumers’ boundaries between work home and play have completely blurred. Self-indulgence needs to be available in pockets now. They will need DIY indulgence to take care of themselves while having only 20 minutes between their Zoom calls.”

Shenai believes the emphasis of self-indulgence presents an opportunity for the company.

“More than ever, there will be a need for the human touch. Therefore, where it comes to brands, authentic storytelling will become really important.”

He added that he sees an opportunity for the company to tap into the holistic wellness space, an area which has a rich history in Indian culture.

“Looking good is important but feeling good will be even more important. So holistic beauty is something that will rise up the ladder, raising the bar on quality and expertise is important as consumers become more mindful about their consumption.”

Safety first

Lakmé Cosmetics, which was founded in 1952, was about to open its 500th​ store in the country before COVID-19 derailed those plans.
Today, it has over 300 operational stores in the country but reopening to the public was not an easy feat, said Shenai.

Shenai explained that the company had to ensure consumers would feel safe enough to return to its salons.

Taking advice from international brands, the authorities, associations and medical professionals, the company developed various protocols across all its touchpoints.

“It takes a lot for a beauty brand to tell a customer that their safety is our first priority and your beauty is a close second. We ensured that it was aligned with all the guidelines but also went several steps above,”​ said Shenai.

For instance, the company ensured to put in place training for all its staff and assembled a team to audit each and every Lakmé salon.

Shenai elaborated: “For a larger network for Lakmé, it was important not just to design these protocols but to ensure we put our whole plan in place very quickly. We had an audit process put in place where teams would audit every salon with a video walk-through and interview the teams... Only then would a salon be given permission to open.”

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