The digital beauty boom had been firmly accelerated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with a surge in online sales across a plethora of categories, initially during store shutdowns and lockdowns but increasingly due to ease and convenience. In the UK alone, beauty and grooming e-commerce soared 42% in 2020, according to GlobalData, now representing the country’s second-largest channel for cosmetics and toiletries. And with an array of digital tie-ups and acquisitions in recent months – Sephora snapping up Feelunique and The Hut Group buying out Cult Beauty just some examples – there was plenty to be said for the ongoing investment and innovation in beauty e-commerce.
For brands, this meant a shift in thinking, marketing and product innovation – right down to the packaging and labelling of ranges, according to Ian Axelsen, business development manager at UK labelling specialist AA Labels.
“The aesthetics and visual appearance of the packaging, whether it is just a label on the outside of a cylinder or a label on a box for short-run production or the packaging itself, is the last marketing opportunity that the consumer engages with, and it’s the one closest to the point of sale as well,” Axelsen told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.
“Now, that can happen both in physical locations within retail outlets, but more importantly it’s happening online. And that’s where I think there is potentially a change in the way packaging needs to engage with the online viewer who is browsing,” he said.
Beauty labels beyond print – think embellishments and raised inks
Beauty labels had to be designed to grab the attention of online shoppers and pull in clicks, he said. And in such a competitive digital retail environment, he said this likely meant stretching beyond traditional printed labels.
“Carton and label embellishment is better. So, foils and embossing and specialist finishes and raised inks that are tactile – all of these elements create an image and a set of perceptions about the product and really help the consumer to make a decision and strengthen brand loyalty as well.”
“…Some of the tactile finishes that can go over print are really interesting. They don’t have to be full coverage. They can be textural, they can be patterned, look good in appearance or simply tactile. And it’s not expensive to produce little things like this and to be creative,” he said. Inner printing of cartons was also “always a nice touch”, he said, whether for information purposes or simply aesthetics.
Importantly, Axelsen said all of this could be designed in a way to look great on-shelf but also in a digital setting.
Designing labels around today’s digital retail movement
Many beauty brands and manufacturers now had to think more carefully about how products looked online, on the e-shelf alongside a plethora of other brands and offerings, he said. And online, he said “appearance and image” became even more important.
It became very much about how the product looked, how the packaging looked and what message it conveyed to online shoppers – whether it moved them and aligned with their values or not, he said. And, critically, in a digital setting, there was no space for negatives, he said, because they created a very quick “obstacle to purchase”.
“Increasingly, consumers are purchasing via new and different distribution channels – TikTok being the latest,” he said, and so the online retail space was also becoming increasingly diversified, promoting a need to think carefully about how products looked and engaged with consumers in these different settings.
*Experience-first Beauty is one of CosmeticsDesign-Europe's Top Five EMEA Beauty Trends to Watch in 2022 as consumers look for more from beauty brands, online and in-store - wanting to feel, play with and absorb a brand and its ethos. Packaging is a clear and important avenue to fulfil this.
‘Very limited’ beauty label experimentation
Despite all this opportunity and e-commerce growth, Axelsen said there was only a “very limited extent” of label creativity happening in beauty, aside from some of the bigger household names. And, particularly for smaller brands looking to strengthen online engagement, there were significant opportunities here, he said.
“What we’ve always seen is the opportunity for shorter-run, even micro-run, whether it’s packaging or labels, it’s important to get it right.”
For the bigger, more established brands, he said innovative labelling held opportunities in the personalised beauty setting – providing a platform for individualised and customised packaging on products. And whilst the beauty world was “slightly behind” the food and beverage space, with the likes of Coca-Cola personalised name bottles, there remained an opportunity, he said.