Online sales for high-end cosmetics in France up 21% in 2016

Just like the L'Oréal group, whose online sales leaped 33% worldwide last year, the French high-end cosmetics sector is also reliant on e-tailing for growth. According to a survey by the NPD group, sponsored by the French Federation of Selective Perfumery, online sales of high-end cosmetics and beauty products in France were worth €147 million in 2016, up 21% compared to the previous year.

Home page of the Feelunique website, which recently bought French website The Beautyst - Feelunique

E-tailing was in fact the main growth driver for the French premium beauty sector, whose revenue slumped in 2016, "partly owing to the strong decline in tourist visits after the terrorist attacks [of 2015 and 2016]," wrote NPD. For the selective perfumery market, featuring retailers like Beauty Success, Feelunique, Galeries Lafayette, Marionnaud, Nocibé and Sephora, e-tailing has a strong growth potential: "Online sales account for 5% of the overall sales for high-end beauty and cosmetics, a much smaller slice compared to other markets we monitor, such sports goods or toys. This is because selective distribution contracts leave less room for pure players, and besides, consumers do need to smell fragrances or test skincare or make-up products in-store," said Mathilde Lion, Europe Beauty Expert at the NPD Group.

Product-wise, the virtual basket of online buyers is filled predominantly with lotions and creams, ahead of perfumes and make-up. The top 3 online best-selling products in France in 2016 were the Tonique Confort skin toner by Lancôme, followed by YSL's Rouge Volupté Shine lipstick and the Rouge Pur Couture lipstick, again by YSL.

Category-wise, make-up was the most dynamic, growing 30% in 2016 in terms of online sales. Occasion purchases, especially at Christmas, have a strong impact on the business: "43% of online revenues is concentrated in the last quarter of the year, compared to just over one third of the total in brick-and-mortar stores," said the NPD group.

But does e-tailing threaten the future of traditional beauty stores? According to Mathilde Lion, the two are complementary: "Brick-and-mortar retailers justifiably remain an essential element of the purchasing path for products like fragrances or foundations. E-commerce is effective in strengthening and improving the customer experience, by providing a new retail outlet that is more comfortable, more flexible and often offers a broader range of products and promotional deals."

Translated by Nicola Mira

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