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By Zaria Howell and Bella Wilkes
The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in an abrupt change in lifestyle for many Americans. All across the nation, states have issued emergency stay-at-home orders in a panicked effort to slow the spread of the disease. Those who used to learn in a classroom now turn to Zoom and those who used to work in an office now work from home, if they were able to keep their job.
According to the NPD Group, a company that analyzes and predicts market trends, there has been an increase in online beauty sales by nearly 47% in the first week of April 2020 alone. In the midst of a recession, with unemployment rates rivaling those of The Great Depression, this increase in sales of a non-essential industry is unusual.
Behavioral economist professor John Doughtery from Loyola University Maryland said that he has not studied a similar sales increase from any industry at this level before. “These trends are almost always in a local context,” Dougherty said. “As far as I can remember, there were no widespread consumer panics that looked like anything we’re seeing today.”
Dougherty attributed the trends in online beauty sales to the uncertainty consumers are facing in their lives. The ambiguity of what the future holds causes consumers to act extra risk-averse. This means that consumers will generally stock up on products, essential and non-essential, that they feel are important in order to maintain some control over their lives.
Kristina Durante, a business psychology professor from Rutgers University, specializes in consumer trends in the beauty industry. Her work studying women’s consumer habits during the Great Recession of 2008 gives her valuable insight into today’s consumer trends.
“Any sort of beauty-enhancing product is predicted to run counter-cyclical to recessions,” Durante said. “So whenever we get the news that things are bad, that there’s uncertainty and scarcity, one of the things we know is products that are foolproof are these beauty enhancement products.”
Durante believes that the combination of a pandemic and a looming recession has triggered this same unconscious fear response in consumers today, driving sales of beauty products to these especially high rates.
Kiara Blanchette, a 21-year-old beauty influencer and founder of the editorial blog Twenty Mapping, has seen first-hand these psychological motivators in her audience.
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“With the heightened stress, I feel like people are trying to find an outlet to release that or take care of themselves in ways that are kind of aligned with what they see on the internet or in the world,” Blanchette said.
Blanchette also believes now that people have extra time on their hands, they are interested in trying new products, switching up routines, and improving their outer appearance- all things that consumers could have been too busy to do before.
“People now have this abundance of time, and they’re interested in figuring out how they can fill that time with things. So one of those things is like learning how to take care of their skin and learning how to do things that they might have felt they were too busy to do,” Blanchette said.
One product’s sales trend in particular, boxed hair dye, represents the increasing popularity of a self-care activity that consumers now want to do themselves during quarantine. Consumer research group The Nielsen Company has released data showing hair dye sales have more than doubled in April 2020.
Jenna Reichelt, a 20-year-old hairstylist from New Lenox, Illinois, explains that now that salons in the state are closed, many of her older customers have been buying box dye to cover up their greys. Reichelt also acknowledged that for many consumers, dying one’s hair is a fun activity to cure cabin fever. “Since no one is able to change what the world is going through regarding the outbreak, people start to look for things they can change and control such as their hair color,” Reichelt said.
College students are a demographic heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Being forced to leave campus, adjusting to online classes, and receiving little to no financial compensation from neither the government nor universities has rightfully caused students high levels of stress. For this, many university students have also been buying in big to these self-care beauty trends as a distraction to these stressors.