How Do Consumers View ‘Responsible’ Beauty Products?

PARIS — What’s the relationship today between consumers and “responsible” beauty products?

According to a survey conducted by Friedman Stevens in July, there’s been an acceleration toward sustainable beauty during the coronavirus pandemic.

The consultancy — cofounded by Celia Friedman and Faune Stevens, with a focus on the luxury and beauty industries — polled 656 people in France, of whom 70 percent were women.

Questions asked included: “How often do you buy ‘responsible beauty products?’” “How important is [Corporate Social Responsibility] for you amongst other purchasing decision criteria?” “How much more would you be willing to pay for a day cream that would meet all of your expectations in terms of responsible commitments?”

For the study, “responsible beauty” took into account environmental, social, economic and societal aspects.

“When I launched this survey, it was really with the idea of answering concrete questions from my clients,” Friedman said. “When you’re a beauty brand, you want to do more and better in terms of CSR, but it has a cost.”

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So an issue becomes how much extra cost can a brand transmit to the consumer while being more socially responsible.

“The other question was how to communicate [on CRS] — they feel it’s super slippery,” she continued. “The right balance is something they struggle to find. Most of the brands I know prefer not to communicate anything because they’re too afraid of making a mistake.”

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French consumers — considered representative of consumers worldwide — are already largely primed for buying responsible beauty products, the survey found. Eighty percent of respondents said they already purchase or wish to buy such products, with women tending to shop more in the category than men.

Forty-five percent of respondents were CSR-converted buyers, who bought responsible beauty products frequently or systematically.

“The very young, between 18 and 24, tend to be [the most] radical,” said Friedman, referring to the age group in which 25 percent said they systematically purchase responsible beauty products. “It’s a population which is very penetrated already.”

The study segmented consumers into whether they were buyers of mass-market or luxury beauty products. The higher spenders, who buy a 100-ml. day cream at 40 euros and up, tend to purchase more responsible beauty products, too. Twenty-one percent said they do systematically, while 33 percent do often.

Still, the study found that CSR ranked only as the fourth purchasing decision criteria for consumers.

“Overall, unfortunately, CSR is quite lagging,” Friedman said. “But if you look at the respondents who answer ‘yes, I often or systematically buy responsible beauty products,’ then CSR becomes the third criteria. To them, it becomes more important than price.

“So what are the various elements within the CSR value proposition that are important for those consumers? The non-harmfulness is a table stake for everybody,” she continued. “The more mature you are, in terms of CSR, in terms of frequency of purchase, the more you start having considerations around economy and social rights, because you expect more than just being environmentally friendly, not harmful for the health and so on. You start being aware of the positive impact for the economy and the need to be socially committed.”

On average, respondents said they are prepared to pay 10 percent more for beauty products that really meet their CSR expectations. The luxury spenders, for their part, are willing to pay up to 17 percent more.

For brands it’s possible to pass part — but not all — of the CSR cost, but to do that it is necessary to identify their consumers’ expectations, what they value and are happy to pay more for, Friedman said.

“The question is the arbitrage in terms of the right CSR elements,” she said, adding this might entail the packaging, formula and production footprint – what resonates with their consumers most.

Friedman Stevens found that in shopping for responsible beauty products, CSR-mature consumers favor CSR-expert brands, whereas aspirational buyers purchase their usual beauty labels.

When asked what difficulties people face in purchasing responsible beauty products, among the aspirational buyers, the largest share — 19 percent — said they doubted the veracity of the commitments being communicated, while another 19 percent felt they aren’t expert enough to adapt their purchases.

Meanwhile, among converted buyers, 24 percent questioned truthfulness and 21 percent said the difficulty was there being no points of sale for responsible beauty products near to their homes.

Consumers today are looking at responsible beauty with very different levels of maturity and expectations.

“So brands, depending on who they are talking to, will have to consider this in terms of product design, product consumption, product manufacturing, and overall marketing and communication,” Friedman said.

“The main thing that brands should have in mind is that the reason to communicate on CSR is to help people consume better — make the right decisions, understand the stakes better, how and why they should consume CSR products,” Friedman said.

“Every single beauty brand should communicate and not be shy about the topic,” she continued, adding the discourse must be crafted very carefully.

The pandemic is a prime time for beauty brands to accelerate and position CSR in its holistic — not just environmental — dimension, and engage consumers in a broader conversation, according to Friedman.

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