INNOCOS interview with Jamie Johns, Director of Merchandising Skincare, Birchbox

Can you give a brief overview of the ‘beauty casual’ consumer: who are they, and what are their key demands/demographic?

The “beauty casual” consumer is someone who is driven by purpose, not passion. She likes beauty products but she isn’t obsessed with them, they aren’t a hobby for her. That means that she is…most women. Most women like beauty products but do not want to spend all of their time researching product, wasting money on trying products or watching YouTube tutorials. They just want products that work and that make them feel like the best version of themselves. At Birchbox, our key customer base is women aged 31-33, primarily in urban and suburban areas in the U.S.. She isn’t a beauty junkie but she is advanced in just about every other part of her life – 70% of our traffic comes from mobile.

How far would you say beauty brands are missing the opportunity to cater to the ‘beauty casual’ consumer? How can they address this?

For so long, the beauty industry has been fighting over the same small cohort of customers: beauty junkies. These are customers who are knowledgeable about brands and trends; they love beauty and they invest a lot of time and money in beauty products. This focus on an already engaged customer has infiltrated all aspects of the industry. Think about most speciality beauty stores and department stores – they are organized by brand! But if you are a customer who walks into one of these stores with a desire to learn but little knowledge of brands, how do you even shop? How could you walk into a store like that and build a skincare regimen for yourself? It is alienating to the customer, which means that the beauty casual customer is underspending in the category.

Brands are missing a huge opportunity to engage a huge chunk of the population. Every market week I see the same flashy launches (unicorn! holographic! masks on masks on masks!) and inflated influencer campaigns, but I think those things are still really focused on that same beauty junkie group of customers. Any brand that moves towards focusing on bringing effective and intuitive products to market is making that first step towards engaging the beauty casual consumer. Brands don’t need to give up whimsy and flash in their products, but they do need to focus on why the customer needs their product. How does the product feel? And how does it relate to a woman’s day to day life?

Another thing I think brands should be thinking about: Is the product you are launching going to matter in a year? Two years? Five years? A lot of brands have really relied on this insane cycle of launching big new launches to boost sales and buzz, but most of the products don’t have a long shelf life. When you are targeting a customer who is driven by purpose (e.g. looking and feeling her best), I think your products will have more longevity.

Can you give an example of brands/products/ingredients that are getting it right when it comes to the ‘beauty casual’ consumer?

Not to toot our own horn, but I do truly believe that Birchbox has been at the forefront of targeting the beauty casual customer. It feels quaint but when we were founded in 2010, there wasn’t an easy way for customers to try new products without investing lots of money. We have changed the way customers interact with the category – customers who join Birchbox end up spending 80% more on prestige beauty after a year of subscribing. Now, I think our next challenge is to provide even more context for the samples and full-size products through our site experience and content.

I really admire the direct to consumer brands like Glossier, Kylie, The Ordinary etc. because they’ve forced other brands to pivot fast. These brands are wildly different from one another but their focus on thoughtful launches, transparency, and lower pricing have forced the rest of the industry to wake up and rethink how they talk to customers. That’s a good thing.

Although I overall think the trend in skincare is lower pricing, both Sunday Riley and Drunk Elephant have proven that if you have a clear, effective product with strong ingredient stories, you can find success at a higher price point. I am also always impressed with the enduring appeal of Kiehl’s. They have an attainable price point and a heritage story, but most importantly: their products work and they give amazing context to their products. It is easy to build a routine and/or find a solution to your skin questions at a Kiehl’s store.