For the last year Maybe* has observed that when it comes to department stores, beauty content can boost social media engagement and sentiment. In addition to this, it is beauty brands and influencers who create the most content about department stores. We revisited these findings to see if this held true during lockdown and beyond.

Despite its pretty name, the lipstick effect, coined after World War II, is a consumer behaviour pattern. During a time of economic crisis, spend on big ticket luxury items goes down, while spend on expensive little luxuries, like say; lipstick, goes up.

But in this era, the lipstick effect also equals social currency for brands. Because beauty is big social media business.


Lockdown lippy and liner boost social media engagement and sentiment

In 2019 we found that the majority of conversations about these flagship department store brands was driven by beauty brands. Little had changed in early 2020. During lockdown and on the other side of it, the impact of beauty brands is felt on department store sentiment.

Conversation volumes and positive sentiment about both Selfridges and Harvey Nichols were comparatively similar. Both saw 20-40 conversations about them creating daily, and over 75% of them were positive.

While department stores are busy creating content about their home interiors offering, or shopping online, it's beauty brands that boost social media engagement. They also had the most influence, the most positivity and the most engagement during lockdown. And that’s not surprising.

Because as everyone stayed home; makeup tutorials, beauty regimes and self care content increased. And then Primark got in on the action.


What are the pretty little things saying?

Brands like Primark had their ear to the social media lockdown ground, and created content around beauty and self care. Over lockdown, Primark saw that it was their beauty range that formed more conversation about them, than any of their fashion ranges.

And with the luxury department stores, it's the same story. Where Selfridges saw positive conversation around their sustainability agenda, food offering and in store experience, beauty still edges their appeal.

For Harvey Nichols, they are consistently mentioned alongside other stockists of highly coveted beauty brands such as Fenty Beauty.

But neither Selfridges or Harvey Nichols see customers championing their beauty experiences or offering to the extent Primark do. In the beauty world, the product is the pull, not the price. And, when a must-have item drops, shoppers will claw their manicured nails on the way to be first in line, and be the first online with bragging rights. Primark seem to know this.

Who’s got influence

Big name brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Marc Jacobs are joined by cult favourites like Morphe Brushes and relative newcomer; Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line.

These brands have enormous followings. Not engaging in those conversations, not partnering with them on content creation opportunities, and not resharing their content is a miss for the department stores.

Those beauty halls which offer a great experience with added extras like brow bars and workshops can be real crowd draws. These experiences are replicable online with guest tutorials or masterclasses. Department stores need to own part of the beauty conversation if they want to engage customers.


Key takeaway

Capitalising on the size and influence that beauty has on social media, will help department stores appeal to a new demographic. While this demographic is unlikely to be spending thousands on a handbag on a whim, they will likely spend hundreds more than once a year, on makeup.

For department stores, beauty is anything but the beast. Beauty concessions drive conversation about their stockists and make up brands have celebrity sized followings, all of which have the potential to boost social media engagement and reach to department stores.

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