What Do Social Media, COVID-19 & Isolation Have To Do With a Booming Beauty Market?

Just about everything. As customers navigated masks, periods of seclusion, shortages and more, the demand for beauty products has continued to thrive and retailers have responded in many innovative ways.

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Beauty lifestyle image of a woman wearing a mask with her hair in a towel.


As unlikely as it may seem, limited physical contact and minimal person-to-person interactions during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis helped move sales of beauty and fragrance items ahead of forecast, during a retail period in which sales in other categories fell short.

Surging cosmetic sales in a pandemic may seem counterintuitive. But retail experts explain the logic; they also see opportunity in this new reality.

“These days, people are spending less time going out, which leaves them with more time to care for themselves at home,” says Sarah Turbow, retail beauty expert with DCI Marketing. “And because they’re spending less money on entertainment, there are also more resources available for self-care, particularly beauty products. It’s an easy and fun way to treat yourself to something nice.”

A photo of a hand holding a jade roller on an abstract, illustrated background.

Like all of retail, beauty took an immediate hit after the first pandemic-related shutdowns in March 2020. But as the weeks rolled on and the virtual workday became common in many industries, people found that the time they used to spend getting ready for work or commuting could instead be used for self-care, which can give a big self-esteem boost on and off Zoom meetings.

“What’s interesting is that even though we’re working our way through a pandemic and people are staying at home, they’re also applying makeup,” Turbow says. “Makeup helps people feel beautiful, and when you feel beautiful, you feel better about yourself.”

This, then, brings an unexpected opportunity for beauty retailers, who are witnessing a self-care surge that extends beyond the face to items like fragrances, jade rollers and bath bombs – experiential products that contribute to a positive overall sense of well-being.

Market research firm The NPD Group reports that 2020 saw growth in categories that enable people to set up spa-like home environments, including face exfoliators, body lotions, nail care and hair treatments.


Much of the opportunity to boost sales can be attributed to the wearing of masks, which has sparked new interest in facial skincare.

In cosmetics, anything “above the line” is hot – the mask line, that is. Eyes, eyebrows and eyelashes are receiving most of the attention: “It’s all you can see now with masks,” Turbow says. “People are not going to weddings, proms or for a night on the town. That’s why they don’t need full makeup.”

According to McKinsey & Company’s report on The State of Fashion 2021, “eye makeup has emerged as a relative bright spot, with NPD reporting 6 percent growth of prestige eye makeup in the US in the second quarter of 2020 relative to 2019.”

Because of social media exposure, video conferencing for work and remote learning for students, even though we’re not “seeing” as many people face-to-face, we’re being seen by many more through our video devices – in high definition.

That has triggered a new interest in skincare, with consumers charging toward products that help their skin look younger and clear up blemishes. In its report on Skincare Products Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021-2026), Mordor Intelligence notes the growing demand for anti-aging beauty products, as consumers are increasingly aware of the effects of pollution on skin and are willing to spend more on these products at younger ages.


Sampling has long been part of beauty. Consumers are moved by the rush of energy they get from seeing colors, taking in fragrances, and experimenting with new looks, styles and shades. The basic tenet of cosmetic shopping has always been, “If I can try it, I’ll buy it.”

When pandemic restrictions are lifted, the new focus on hygiene and a higher awareness of how germs are spread will make physical samples a thing of the past. With testers and samples no longer available, how will retailers develop the connection between customer and color?

Cosmetic retailer Ulta Beauty includes a virtual try-on feature in its mobile app, with a tool called GLAMlab. Business Insider reports that the company saw “a 12-times increase in use over the course of 2020 with 97 million shades of eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, blush, lipstick, foundation, and hair color sampled.”

An abstract illustration of growth over time.

"Beauty retailers do an amazing job creating a vibe for their product through their websites and apps. Our challenge at DCI Marketing is to design attractive, functional and informative point-of-sale displays that build on the image that the retailer is able to establish digitally.”

Sarah Turbow

Retail Beauty Expert, DCI Marketing

And the company expects that to translate to more in-store sales in the future, since Ulta Beauty has found that its omnichannel shoppers spend three times more than single-channel shoppers who only buy online, in-store or in the app.

“Beauty retailers do an amazing job creating a vibe for their product through their websites and apps,” Turbow says. “Our challenge at DCI Marketing is to design attractive, functional and informative point-of-sale displays that build on the image that the retailer is able to establish digitally.”

“Wrinkle treatment used to be reserved for women later in life,” Turbow says. “Now it’s all genders, all ages, who are taking care of their skin. They want to look their best on social media and in their video chats.”

McKinsey reports that beauty sales are expected to return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2021. But the way those sales are made may look nothing like they did before spring of 2020. Perhaps more so than in any other retail sector, shopping for beauty products is experiential.

“Beauty customers shop in stores for the experience,” Turbow says. “They’re able to talk with a consultant about techniques for application, to learn more about product quality and to touch the product and experience how it feels on them.


The popularity and viability of brick and mortar retail stores comes down to one key factor: connection. The only way to truly connect with a product is to personally experience it.

DCI Marketing design strategists are working with leading beauty brands on new in-store retail display solutions that will lead customers through their beauty shopping and create a unique experience that doesn’t rely on swatching and testing products.

“Women are looking for an emotional connection to their lip color, for example, and that connection has typically only been made when it’s applied to their lips,” Turbow says.

Today, success will depend on retailers and brands developing new and immersive ways to connect with their products.

“The end goal remains the same – enhancing the shopper’s experience in-store,” Turbow continues. “Now we have technology taking a front-row seat and a renewed focus on increasing graphic and communication presence to plug the experience gap that sampling once fulfilled.”

Ultimately, the future for brick and mortar beauty sales looks bright. Gen Z shoppers (born between 1994-2002) make up almost a quarter of the US population and hold significant spending power, and according to a survey by online advertising company Criteo, 80% of them say they look forward to shopping in stores when they have time. And 65% only want to buy things they can touch and interact with IRL.

Their lives are intertwined with technology, giving retailers plenty of opportunity to reach them in creative ways through social media and online marketing. Gen Z shoppers like to use their phones to research products, but they also want to interact with the products in-store before they buy.

“We can still make that connection, even without the physical contact,” Turbow says, noting that elements that provide education for consumers can bridge the knowledge gap created by the lack of sampling. “Impactful visuals and photos can help complete the picture at the point of purchase.”