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The New Face Of Cosmetic E-Commerce

Rebecca Gatesman

Not too long ago, cosmetics were bought from the counter at the department store, a specialty shop, or from a catalog. The store attendant would be able to help you find the right shade or consistency, and even give you tips for application. While these types of stores are still incredibly popular, an increasing number of consumers are shopping for their makeup and skincare online, which has led to a boom in brands that are exclusively available through e-commerce portals.

E-Commerce Is The Cosmetic Wild West

According to recent data from Neilsen, 30% of all U.S. spending on cosmetics goes to e-commerce, up from 24% in just 12 months. This growth is partially due to the increase in convenience, but also heavily influenced by the increase in choosy customers that are more concerned with the brand ethos, transparency, and ingredients than ever before.

The change in customer demands, combined with the move to online shopping has created an incredible amount of opportunity for new brands to emerge and thrive. Brands that can conquer social media and attract key influencers are just as, if not more, likely to experience rapid growth of their customer base than the top 20 brands in the industry as a whole.


This is especially true for cosmetic manufacturers that offer a wider variety of shades, are naturally produced, or that are free from ingredients that an increasing number of shoppers are avoiding, such as parabens or animal products. We’ve also seen a significant increase in brands that are trending due to organizational activities, such as publishing a transparency report, donating part of their profits to charities, and engaging in fair trade with suppliers.

Shopping Assistants

Ipsy quiz

A major reason why customers are turning to online cosmetics retailers is that they’re increasingly attracted to personalized shopping assistance and suggestions. E-commerce sites that make recommendations based on prior purchases or views will gain an advantage, and those that offer a more robust shopping assistant AI, such as one that is based on a survey filled out during a customer’s first visit to the website, will be most likely to pull ahead in their category.

According to the same Nielsen report, searches for the query “foundation for me” have increase over 200% - and that’s just one product category in cosmetics. Invest in a site that has a functional digital assistant to be a part of this industry change.

Social Media Integration

Instagram and YouTube are now integral to the cosmetic marketing toolkit, and should be a top priority for any brand looking to grow. A great example is the growth experienced by makeup brand Becca after YouTube personality Jaclyn Hill started promoting their products through her channel. Hill originally did this organically and without coaxing from the brand, and could be credited with the majority of the brand’s early success.

To fully understand this phenomenon on a global scale, take a look at data from Preen.me, an influencer marketing platform, illustrating how K-beauty came to dominate the global cosmetic market. According to their 2017 study, the spread of social media posts about K-Beauty spread virally from 2014-2016, after influencers in major cities, such as New York City and Los Angeles, began posting their experiences to social media.

Want your brand to follow a similar pattern? Focus on influencer marketing and gorgeous photography, and encourage users to post their experiences with your product on their social media pages. Incentivize social media posts and engage directly with influencers, followers, and potential customers.

Tie your social media directly to your website for full effectiveness. We recommend Shoppable Instagram by Foursixty, which will add your feed to your website while also making your Instagram pictures shoppable (read our installation and usage guide here).

Consumers are no longer going to makeup counters in the mall nearly as much as they used to, but they still want a trusted source to show them which makeup is worth the investment. By and large, and on a global scale, your customers are turning to social media to tell them what to buy, whether that means recommendations from influencers, or their personal friends. Prioritizing social media is no longer optional for cosmetic brands.

Localized Content For Global Presence

According to Shopify Plus’s Beauty Industry Report, the cosmetics industry is somewhat unique in that non-US purchases account for a larger portion of overall sales than most, with the Asia-Pacific region claiming dominance.

To make the most of your global audience, you’ll need to localize your content to suit their needs (check out our full guide). Your goal should be for consumers in all major markets to be able to use your website. Because of the highly social and word-of-mouth nature of cosmetic marketing, make sure your site is ready to handle traffic from markets that are adjacent to those your brand is currently active in, to reduce latency when one of your products is picked up by an influencer or trend.

Free & Fast Shipping

Free and expedited shipping are important trends in the cosmetics e-commerce arena, and they all fulfill the same desire: built-in convenience.

According to data collected by ATKearney in their 2017 report, almost 70% of shoppers prioritize free shipping, which is second only to “the best prices” in their priorities for online cosmetic shopping. 67% of those same consumers also prioritize free returns as “very important,” more than those who prioritize stores that stock their favorite products or offer free samples!

Your store can offer expedited shipping and free shipping in just minutes when you install ShipStation, which allows your store to ship through USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL, Canada Post, and more.

Offering free shipping can be done through a built in Shopify function. There are a few different strategies you can take to offer this perk without risking your profit margins; we recommend setting up a minimum cart requirement, as this will keep your expenses lower while driving increased sales. You can further motivate customers by adding a plugin like Free Shipping & Discount bar By Pixel Union.


Cosmetics e-commerce is changing rapidly, but all trends point to a common theme: customers want to find a product perfect for them, and they want it as soon as possible. Celebrity endorsements and makeup counters are on the way out, YouTube tutorials and free shipping & returns are the new must-haves.



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