Online Shopping V.S. In-Store: Battle of the Beauty Retail

Online Shopping V.S. In-Store: Battle of the Beauty Retail

The battle of beauty retail is on – and trust me it’s looking great. Over the last 20 years, shopping has taken a dramatic shift from being mainly done in-store or through catalogue to a more digital format. The choice between offering online shopping, in-store or a blend of both has been a question every brand has had to address to keep moving forward. We have worked with many brands trying to determine the best strategy to gain results for both in-store and online, including the most effective ways social media can be used to create a successful product or services launch for those looking to expand online.

Shoppers are more connected to digital than ever, and brands are taking notice. Many companies, which 10 years ago barely made a digital mark, are now leading the way in the digital shopping revolution. As customer expectations continue to change, shoppers are beginning to focus on getting products the quickest and simplest way. So the question is, which one of these methods is the best for customers and why should brands consider them for their own strategies?


First stop the beauty counter! The beauty counter has long been a shopping staple in any department store or retail location, which is why it’s often found close to the front of the store and offers eye-catching displays. Over the past 100 years, the beauty industry has progressed exponentially. As it continues to develop, brands must be ready to grow alongside this. Technology has even been making its mark in the beauty industry, with smart hairbrushes, digital colour match departments for foundations and new tech beauty application tools. Customers that choose to shop in-store are able to directly connect with products and brands – often testing and getting an expert opinion or looking at colour comparisons.

The Pros

  • Shopping in-store is always an experience – it doesn’t have to be a large experience, but it does connect shoppers to a brand on a different level than an online store would.
  • Shopping holds a very social aspect – Some people use shopping as a bonding experience with family and friends or just as an excuse to get out of the house for a few hours.
  • Getting products instantly – perfect for shoppers who need a product right away.
  • Testing – in-store customers are able to test products; many people don’t want to commit to a product without trying it on in-store or getting an idea of how it will look.
  • Experts – shopping in-store offer sales experts who work with the brand, specialising in product knowledge on particular beauty products.
  • Extra training – beauty stores are able to offer additional services such as makeup training, makeovers, hair services and more. Brands like Topshop, Mac and Benefit also offer classes in specialised fields.

The Cons

  • Lack of reviews – one great aspect of online is getting a wide range of opinions from shoppers who have bought the product as well.
  • Feeling judged – some women find the beauty section of department stores to be overwhelming, most are hesitant to bring up personal issues, while feeling embarrassed by their own lack of knowledge about product. Studies show older women are opting for online shopping as they feel staff may judge them.
  • The biggest pull to the store is to test out products that are difficult to buy online. In many cases, once a customer has determined that they like a product they switch to online for future purchasing.
  • Open and close – customers are limited to shopping within open hours and cannot get products after the shop is closed.
  • Overspending – it’s common for people to come in for one thing and leave with a whole bunch of extra items they didn’t intend to buy.

Businesses need to get to grips with analytics to ensure they are expanding the potential of their bricks and mortar stores.


Digital has taken over! Online shopping, although relatively new, has taken huge steps forward to become the preferred method of shopping for many customers. It is also a great tool for brands of any size to sell their products worldwide. Online offers smaller brands a level playing field to explore and grow their reach across diverse customer bases. As the beauty industry grows the digital aspect develops alongside it, YouTube makeup tutorials, beauty how to’s and popularity of social influencers will continue to expand the beauty market.

The Pros

  • Do it at home – one of the biggest appeals of online shopping is the fact that it can be done anywhere. This means you can buy a new eye shadow pallet without having to run to a store and wait in line for it. This also opens up the option of ordering products on the go. Instead of rushing around to run errands you can quickly purchase a product and have it delivered to you next day, while also giving you the option to order a product at any time of day without having to wait for a store to be open.
  • Extra Information – customers are more informed than ever. Online shopping enables consumers to compare products using online reviews and news articles to make sure they are finding all the information about a product before choosing to purchase. Many online retail locations have also added product knowledge experts available through live chat to help with any issues or questions customers may have.
  • Social media influencers – younger shoppers are even more influenced by online reviews and social influencers. Brands are able to collaborate with these influencers to show off new products or offer special online sales codes. Many social influencers have their own branded products that partner with larger beauty brands. Pixiewoo, Kylie Jenner, Zoella and Tanya Burr are just a few of the social media stars that have created their own lines of beauty and makeup products.
  • Product comparison – online offers a wider range of diverse brands; this includes smaller start up companies. This is not only great for a brand coming up in the industry to find a customer base, but also gives customers a chance to try products from a wide range of retailers without having to rush around the high streets to find them.
  • Products are almost always in stock – if you can’t find something at one online store, try the next one. At a physical location you are only able to buy what is in stock currently in store, lowering the range of choices.
  • Deal Hunting – online offers a wider range of websites for price comparison.
  • Beauty Boxes – surging in popularity, the beauty box is a specially curated selection of beauty products sent as a monthly subscription. This not only makes it easier for people to find a brand, but also gives customers a chance to sample a product and become familiar with a brand before buying more products.

The Cons

  • No testing – as mentioned previously as a positive for in-store locations, the lure of testing a product on your own skin is extremely enticing. As customers are all a wide range of colours and ethnically diverse it can be difficult to determine a perfect match without giving it a try in-store. This can waste money for customers who struggle to find a correct match and can often cause them to question their loyalty to a brand.
  • Anti-social – customers miss the physical aspect and experience aspect of shopping in-store. This doesn’t promote brand loyalty and can make brands feel interchangeable with very little setting them apart from competition.

A joined up approach

As you can see both online shopping and in-store experiences have benefits and drawbacks.  However, the best approach is not to see these as competing environments but to have a joined up approach to both.  Many large companies are now creating the new role of Head of Ominchannel.  It’s far more effective to take a blended approach in order to get the best of both of the traditional and non-traditional worlds of beauty.

Sean will be discussing this and more in his session focusing on how to use digital to effectively launch a beauty product. Join us at in-cosmetics Global in London from 4-6 April.

Sean Singleton

Managing Director


  1. Max Jones says:

    I really like how you talked about being able to shop online for things in the professional beauty supply market. My wife has to make pretty regular trips to a beauty supply store, and I think it would be really convenient for her to be able to do it online! I’m going to have to ask her about ordering things online when it comes to professional beauty supply, at least the things that she buys the same things to replace the ones she runs out of!

  2. Ana Petters says:

    Hi, from my personal experience, I can confirm that the online shopping is taken over the industry. But it is true only for a number of products. Still, there are some products with special usage that people want to smell or touch in person. Do you think that sending free samples and video reviews can brake the ice on this matter?

  3. Ellen Hughes says:

    You got my attention when you said that online shopping can allow you to buy the things that you need anywhere, so you won’t have to run to a store and wait in line for it. My sister and I are planning to buy a new country kitchen decors. We both have a busy schedule because we have to take care of our kids, so we’re looking for ways to shop even at night. We’ll make sure to consider shopping online.

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