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Meet today's beauty customer

They track trends, have greater spending power, and care about what goes into products they buy

Beauty has always been important in India but the segment used to be focused on women and home remedies. The situation today is very different.(Reuters)
Beauty has always been important in India but the segment used to be focused on women and home remedies. The situation today is very different.(Reuters)

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"If I can spend lakhs on bags, why can’t I spend thousands on beauty?” Neena Kapoor, a silent partner in a local business in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, considers skincare to be part of self-care and doesn’t mind spending 50,000-60,000 a month on beauty products. Her current routine—a mix of high-end, niche brands such as iS CLINICAL, Ranavat and Farsali—reflects her taste in beauty products. “I think both Estée Lauder’s ANC (Advanced Night Repair) and (Benefit’s) Benetint are overhyped. I find better results from a pharma skincare and better tints from Indian brands like Earth Rhythm and Daughter Earth.”

Beauty is no longer seen as an indulgence. It’s a necessity that goes beyond location, age and gender. And Kapoor, 49, represents the new Indian beauty customer: more aware of trends, with greater spending power, a keen interest in ingredients—and the inclination to look and feel better than ever before.

Looking for wellness

Beauty has always been important in India but the segment used to be focused on women and home remedies. The situation today is very different. The Connected Beauty Consumer Report by Google, WPP and Kantar shows the global market share of beauty and personal care products is slated to grow from 73,000 crore in 2017 to 11.1 trillion in 2024, making it one of the most profitable categories within consumer packaged goods.

“Customers talk to us about a range of brands, across affordable, premium, niche, natural and ingredient and science-based categories,” says Anchit Nayar, head of retail at Nykaa, an online beauty marketplace that is planning an IPO, or initial public offering, at a $3 billion valuation this year. Skincare, he says, has seen significant growth, with the share of the skin category on Nykaa now exceeding 30%.

Nayar attributes the growth to an increased interest in wellness, with solutions based on skin type, ingredient-led formulations and advanced skincare routines becoming popular. Last year, Nykaa started offering products by niche international brands to whet the growing appetite of the Indian consumer. Brands such as Murad, e.l.f. and Charlotte Tilbury have done “exceedingly well”, with many products being sold out soon after launch, says Nayar. It’s proof that the digital medium has armed the small-town customer with both knowledge and buying ability.

“Earlier, the market was limited to the metros but now we get individual orders from towns and smaller cities like Karnal, Panipat, Guwahati and Ludhiana,” says Delhi’s Bharat Sachdev, managing director (Southeast Asia) at Leader Healthcare, an importer of aesthetic equipment, injectables and skincare brands such as iS CLINICAL. “People buy in bulk, with a single order worth around 70,000-80,000 from towns in Gujarat.”

They don’t have access to brick and mortar outlets, he says, so they prefer to stock up on cosmetics. “There are also not many dermatologists in these cities so they like to invest in products that show results.” The Google report shows tier 1 cities have caught up with metros in terms of category engagement; at Nykaa, 50% of luxury and premium beauty sales come from tier 2 cities.

It’s indicative of how quickly the Indian beauty scene has transformed. Just 15 years ago, face wash was considered a novelty. Today Indians are well-versed in the basics of double cleansing and acid peels.

The change in tastes is a reflection of the worldwide trend, where legacy brands such as Dior, Chanel and Estée Lauder are being eschewed for digital-first labels such as Glossier and Huda Beauty. With more savvy online content, direct access to brand founders and transparency on active ingredients, the younger players are proving to be tough competition for the more established conglomerates.

The ‘me’ culture

It’s not surprising that a key finding of the Google report was that “it is all about me”. This “for me” goes beyond seasons, occasions, even gender. Raipur-based Abhishek Parasrampuria, director in a family-owned business, shatters the gender myth. “I want products that brighten, add glow and even out the skin tone,” he says. He spends up to 1 lakh on cosmetics a month—iS CLINICAL, Sesderma, Zein Obagi and Dior dominate his skincare regimen; for haircare, he chooses Davines, Kérastase and Moroccanoil.

“About 7-8% of our clientele is men, and the good thing is they don’t need much convincing, unlike women, who ask for details like ingredients and percentages,” says Sachdev. “Teenagers also make up 8-9% but they only go for a single, effective product instead of buying a full routine,” he says. “We have a lot of young people who are also buying for their parents,” says Pooja Shah Talera, founder, Kosá Wellness, Pune.

In a market that was already booming, 2020 worked as an accelerator. Talera says a big driving factor was that people wanted to look good in Zoom meetings without wearing a lot of foundation at home. The fact that people couldn’t visit the dermatologist for a lunchtime facial also played a part in the increased interest in cosmetics. “Before 2020, we were sending 10 shipments (of beauty products) a month. Now, it is 200-300 a month. I am also now doing 90% consultations outside Pune,” she says.

Self-learning is in

Dimapur-based Kavi Toli has a “less is more” philosophy. As someone with eczema, she was misdiagnosed several times by dermatologists. “They would keep giving me acne medication,” she says. Through self-study and online chat boards, she realised her eczema required her to use fewer, not more, products.

After her success at self-diagnosis, Toli studied cosmetology and opened her own KK Dental & Cosmetology Clinic in Dimapur. Though she likes to get her patients to follow her minimalist philosophy, she finds they are keen to spend 20,000-30,000 on pharmaceutical-grade skincare to get results. “People will tolerate physical pain but a small zit is unbearable,” she says.

As customers become aware of actives and percentages, they prefer spending on products that are based on a single skincare ingredient such as a vitamin C serum or a glycolic acid toner. “Most of our clients are hyper-educated about active ingredients and choose products based on ingredients that complement each other,” says Talera. “Conscious consumption is one of the driving factors in beauty, a sign of heightened awareness. The aim at the end of the day is good skin, even if it comes at a big cost.”

Vasudha Rai is a beauty journalist and author of Glow: Indian Foods, Recipes And Rituals For Beauty, Inside & Out.

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