Guess what drove US prestige beauty in 2015


Dior Christmas 2015

Was 2015 a good year for beauty sales? We should hope so because it certainly wasn’t for fashion. So it’s with some relief that I read the latest NPD release, which said sales for the US prestige beauty industry reached $16bn last year, a 7% rise.

It looks like that consumers who were saying ‘no thanks’ to knits and coats in a too-warm autumn and winter were saying ‘yes please’ to high-end lipstick, fragrance and face masks.

In fact, make-up was the star performer and saw storming growth with a 13% rise. Fragrance growth was impressive too and beat that of skincare for the first time (it was up 4% compared to ‘only’ 3% for skincare).

“The beauty industry has been growing at a rapid and consistent pace for the last few years, but what is happening below the surface, at the category level, is changing considerably,” said NPD’s global beauty industry analyst Karen Grant.“For example, in 2015 we saw even more concretely how the roles of make-up and skincare are becoming intertwined. The immediate results of slimming, lifting, tone correcting, and radiance achieved by make-up face products is not only influencing consumers’ relationship with make-up, but also with that of skincare.”

That’s interesting partly because I’ve never really been convinced by the skin caring qualities of certain make-up products – for me, it’s moisturiser or nothing. But it seems there are many consumers who don’t agree.

mac faerie whispers

MAC Faerie Whispers Holiday 2015

The price factor

It’s often said that women will buy ‘designer’ beauty products as a way of buying into a brand even though they can’t afford the shoes or the bags. Maybe that’s true because the prestige end of the beauty market is where the big growth was seen last year.

The prestige market actually outpaced the US mass-market channel as can be seen by the fact that sales for total mass beauty in 2015 grew only 2% (according to Nielsen).

But both ends of the price scale do still have a lot in common. As in prestige, the mass growth was driven by the make-up category, and both skincare and fragrance sales were actually down for this channel in 2015.

benefit holiday 2015

Benefit Holiday 2015

The skincare question

So why did skincare grow more slowly at the prestige end and why did it fall at the mass end, after all, isn’t more of a ‘necessity’ than make-up?

“Consumers are shopping for and using make-up differently, which is a factor in softer sales of skincare products,” added Grant. “Looking at some of the top-performing brands, we’re also seeing that consumers are increasingly drawn to emotional rather than functional appeal.

“This craving of a more sensory experience is having a positive influence on fragrance sales as well. Brands and manufacturers that win [will] listen and find compelling ways to respond to the increasingly diverse crowd of consumers before them, who are being influenced and inspired by society in ever-changing ways.”

Hmmmm. Not quite sure if that explains it for me, to be honest.

It’s all about the face

Anyway, back with that top-performing prestige make-up category, what exactly were consumers buying?

NPD said the growth in prestige face make-up is accelerating, driven largely by concealer and other face products including primers and contour, highlighting, and sculpting kits – in line with the contouring and strobing trends that came to life in 2015.

Eyebrow products continued to outperform the eye make-up segment, and lip colour saw the largest increases within the lip segment (no real surprise there). What was surprising though was that for the first time, brown/nude lip colour surpassed pink or red as the leading shades.

And within skincare? Facial skincare growth slowed as age specialists and facial moisturisers experienced a drop in dollar sales, tying in with the blurring of lines between make-up and skincare. What helped to drive beauty growth last year wasn’t standard facial skincare but smaller categories like masks, alternative formats such as oil, clay, and paper, as well as hair and sun products.

estee lauder

Estee Lauder

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