As an avid online shopper and Amazon Prime veteran, I cannot help but notice the extreme lengths online delivery services will go to fulfill my impulse shopping needs.
I’ll never forget last New Year’s Eve when near tragedy struck when my dry cleaners lost the outfit I was planning to wear that night. I panicked knowing that my local mall would have been picked clean of outfits from other girls experiencing my plight. Somehow, the Amazon gods smiled on me and delivered a new sparkly dress to my doorstep four hours after clicking “Add to cart”, leaving me ample time to get ready for the big night.
The Amazon Retail Revolution has completely changed the narrative surrounding online shopping, making the concept of ecommerce not only completely normalized, but even preferable to the physical shopping experience.
The evidence is in the sales: ecommerce channels have steadily increased over the last several years, reaching $3 trillion globally in 2018 to comprise upwards of 15% of total retail sales. These sales have led to the widespread move for established brick and mortar stores to open online shopping channels as well as creating a thriving international marketplace for strictly ecommerce based companies to flourish.
As ecommerce has evolved to where anything and everything can be ordered online, its ubiquitous nature brings to light an interesting phenomenon. Some of the most lucrative digital businesses have been built off selling products that have traditionally needed an in-store experience: Cosmetics and Activewear.
Consequently, the digital marketplace for these two industries has exploded in terms of high public interest, incurred revenue, and market saturation.
The booming growth in both these digital industries seems counterintuitive: the nature of both cosmetics and fitness apparel products usually require an in-person shopping experience. Seeing firsthand how cosmetic formulas blend or complement skin tones is a typical requirement before purchasing. Similarly, compressive spandex apparel that clings to every centimeter of our bodies can be a sizing nightmare to buy without trying on first.
Despite the different nature of their products, both cosmetic and fitness apparel companies have utilized similar marketing strategies and business models that have helped them overcome the inherent pitfalls of their digital platforms. These methods have been so successful that several of the highest-grossing ecommerce brands across the entire marketplace stem from these respective niches, like Kylie Cosmetics, Morphe, Gymshark, Fabletics, etc.
Cosmetics and fitness apparel have been able to dominate the ecommerce world by using strong branding, social media credibility, and variability of product to bypass the traditional conception that these products need to be purchased in person.
Product Design Stressing Versatility
Ecommerce fitness and cosmetic companies do not shy away from their most glaring problem that their customers cannot interact with their products firsthand. In fact, they embrace this drawback through every step of their business model, starting as early as product design.
Rather than creating products intended for highly specific demographics like luxury brands (Dior, Chanel, Givenchy), ecommerce makeup companies prioritize designing versatile cosmetics that can flatter as many potential customers as possible. For example, most foundation or skincare formulas will be designed for combination skin instead of dry or oily. Eye shadow palettes will contain both matte and shimmer colors to cater to diverse consumer preferences. Other products like highlighter, blush or bronzer will be designed, and marketed, to stress how it can be used to flatter any skin tone, accompanied by the product being used on racially diverse models.
In terms of products that need personalization, like foundation, concealer or skin correcting formulas, these companies have looked to digital solutions. Cosmetic companies will offer extensive shade ranges and equip their web sites with “color-matching” tools to help customers make as informed estimates as possible.
Similarly, fitness and athleisure companies prioritize stretch and durability of their fabrics, emphasizing how their design can accommodate different body types within particular size ranges. To publicize the flexibility of design, ecommerce fitness companies will release extremely detailed sizing videos on their social media platforms that feature models with varying body types wearing the same sizes.
Additionally, clever marketing initiatives have also repurposed merchandise to maximize sales, one example being the strategically popularized ⅞ leggings or leggings that fall between capri and ankle length. While the style of a ⅞ legging has been recently deemed “trendy” by consumer culture, it really just allows fitness companies to double their profit by selling the same product to different size customers.
With the current saturation of both industries, many companies have taken advantage of opportunities to distribute their products for the public to sample. They will partner with popular subscription box based companies that provide small samples of their products to be dispersed through the companies’ client list.
With extremely popular makeup based subscription boxes like Ipsy and BirchBox popularizing the concept, subscription box-based companies of all makes and specialties have become common worldwide.
The pay off of partnering with these subscription boxes occurs twofold: not only do the companies extend their brand’s reach familiarity with consumers, but directly putting their products into their hands will encourage them to buy. Most offerings provided in subscription boxes will also give clients special discounts for additional incentive to buy. The strong pay off of sampling in subscription boxes is evidenced by how both established and small companies consistently utilize them.
While cosmetic based subscription boxes tend to be the most common, activewear companies have made similar use of sampling their products with subscription companies that overlap with the fitness vertical. For example, the leading brand FabFitFun will commonly highlight fitness accessories or smaller scale activewear products, like seamless underwear, gripped socks, sturdy hair ties, or work out tops.
Social Media Clout
Like most ecommerce companies, a commanding social media presence is essential to every aspect of your business. Social media defines your brand, your company mission, and your outreach to potential customers.
Social credibility is everything in the digital age: while the viability of a product is, of course, essential to any successful business, social media footprint and marketing can make your product irrelevant regardless of quality in the digital era.
To an extent, ecommerce companies are more dependent on their social branding than they are on their products themselves for customer acquisition. These platforms are essential to first to get on their audience’s radar before product quality can ever be tested.
Social media’s crucial link to ecommerce viability is validated by customer acquisition statistics: roughly 30% of consumers cite social channels as their first resource for researching products or finding new brands.
For cosmetic companies and fitness apparel companies, social media platforms allow the company to bridge the gap between consumers and their products by publicizing detailed content depicting all aspects of their products. For example, Kylie Jenner’s ecommerce make-up empire Kylie Cosmetics openly stated that posting Instagram stories in which she filmed extensive reveals of each product was easily her most effective form of marketing.
These videos included swatching products on various skin tones, describing texture and application of product, and how the product would appear over time or in response to stress (water, contact, smearing, etc). These videos are contrasted by visual content depicting completed makeup looks created with combining her products. Although Kylie’s example is certainly the exception instead of the norm given her built-in multi-million following, in-depth product breakdowns are a staple for digital cosmetic brands of all sizes.
Leading fitness companies will produce similar content reviewing their apparel. Before new merchandise is released, fitness companies will create and in-depth sizing guide videos that describe every aspect of the garment, from material, to washing directions, to sizing recommendations featuring models with differing body types sporting the apparel.
The Necessity of Influencers
Both cosmetic companies and fitness companies rely heavily on influencer marketing to bring credibility to their products and push their brand into diversified markets. Since influencers build their careers off transparency and developing personal connections with their followings, their endorsement is especially powerful in both generating sales and building brand recognition. With that said, influencer selection needs to be methodical to ensure that his or her personal brand aligns with the endorsed company’s vision.
After the brands have created their own content detailing their products, their team of sponsored influencers will take the reigns for the next phase of blasting content to as many audiences as possible.
Social media celebrities have undeniably become the reigning authority with which consumers navigate their online marketplace. This speaks to how numerous famed influencers within the beauty and fitness community have been able to transition their social platforms into entrepreneurial ventures by creating their own independent companies, like Jeffree Star Cosmetics, Jaclyn Hill Cosmetics, or Christian Guzman’s Alphalete Athletics.
In addition to online brands investing in their own influencer team, many have gone a step further by allowing certain Influencers to create their own specialty product or line. Morphe famously collaborated with the current leading figure of the digital beauty community, James Charles, to create his own eyeshadow palette.
This palette established “Morphe’s biggest sales day in history” by completely selling out in the United States in ten minutes, the UK in 5 minutes, and the rest of Europe in 6 minutes.
Similarly, ecommerce activewear leader Gymshark collaborated with one of its most famous sponsored athletes, Nikki Blackketter, to create two limited edition clothing collections that she personally helped design.
The self titled collections, Nikki B x Gymshark, sold out instantly through online channels. Additionally, Gymshark repurposed the clothing launches to hold a pop-up store in Los Angeles for fans and customers to come meet Nikki and other famed Gymshark athletes while shopping in person. In addition to driving sales, synchronizing influencer collaboration launches with in-person experiences for customers is powerful for enhancing Gymshark’s brand perception.
Converge Online Community with In-Person Experience
Like Gymshark’s pop-up stores or any influencer-driven meetups, both industries have championed innovative ways to bring their online communities together in person. These live experiences allow these brands to move past being viewed as a digital platform to something far more intimate, which their clients love.
Consumers want to support brands that resonate with them personally, so offering opportunities to connect with the brand and its affiliates in-person creates a highly sought after exclusive experience.
For example, when Kylie Jenner announced her tour of pop up shops around the United States following the release of her 2017 Holiday collection, the internet responded emphatically.
Even with insanely tight security and crowd control protocols, the pop-up stores hosted over thousands of visitors each day willing to wait in 12-hour lines.
Fitness apparel giants are also veterans of sponsoring pop-up shops or meetups with their famed sponsored athlete teams. One leading digital activewear company created by famed YouTuber Christian Guzman, Alphalete Athletics, has created a less conventional venue to his digital community together.
Alphalete merged its in-person experience by establishing a fully functional Alphalete Gym that offers both full memberships and day passes for anyone to come and work out for the day. The gym functions not only as an in-person embodiment of Alphalete’s brand but also provides a physical establishment where visitors can purchase Alphalete products at special discounts that are processed by its gym management system.
With technological innovation improving daily, the ecommerce side of retail exhibits every indication of continued growth. Digital cosmetics and activewear companies exemplify how with proper marketing and business strategy, essentially any product can perform well through ecommerce channels.
Where in-person shopping experiences demand attention and care towards the products themselves, the infiltration of ecommerce relies firmly on the public perception of the product, not the product itself, turning the traditional product-market fit paradigm on its head.
Author Bio: Laura is a Marketing Specialist for Perfect Gym Software. She is a native-born Los Angeleno recently relocated to Warsaw, Poland who spends most of her time at the gym, on an airplane, or online shopping.