Millennials’ Lust for Makeup Is the Lipstick on Retail’s Pig

click to enlarge An Ulta Beauty store in Chicago, Nov. 13, 2017. Ulta has rapidly expanded its reach in recent years, opening hundreds of new stores. - SAVERIO TRUGLIA/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Saverio Truglia/The New York Times
An Ulta Beauty store in Chicago, Nov. 13, 2017. Ulta has rapidly expanded its reach in recent years, opening hundreds of new stores.

© 2017 New York Times News Service

Meghan Roark isn’t too proud to admit she has an addiction. Her habit? Makeup.

Roark, 27, who works in retail in Abingdon, Virginia, estimates she spxends $300 a month on cosmetics and skin care. She watches at least three hours of tutorials each week on YouTube, learning new techniques or keeping up on emerging brands. Her morning makeup routine takes 30 minutes and involves up to 15 products.

Young shoppers like Roark are the driving force behind a boom in the cosmetics industry. Always camera ready, they are buying and using almost 25 percent more cosmetics than they did just two years ago and significantly more than baby boomers, according to the research firm NPD.

The striking expansion in cosmetics is a bright spot in what is otherwise a challenging environment for retailers and packaged goods companies. Big jumps in the sale of shimmery highlights, lush liquid stain lipsticks and dewy foundations have propelled the stocks of cosmetics giants Estée Lauder and L’Oreal to record highs.

Revenues at Ulta Beauty, which sells both prestige and drugstore brands and has been opening about 100 new stores annually in recent years, are expected to top $5.9 billion this year, up from $3.9 billion two years ago. Revenues at Sephora, part of the luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, have doubled since 2011.

Cosmetic companies are shifting ad dollars from traditional television and print platforms to Instagram and YouTube. Trips to exotic locations that were once reserved for editors from glossy magazines now go to influential social media personalities from all over the world who have thousands or even millions of subscribers hanging on their every post. And brands that once partnered with actresses or models to create a new shade of lipstick or blush are now collaborating with these influencers.

When Ulta held a meet-and-greet in November at a store in Los Angeles with Jaclyn Hill, a YouTube beauty personality, nearly 700 followers stood outside for hours — some even camped overnight — to meet her.

Even products that have been around for decades are being “discovered” by millennials through social media. Estée Lauder’s Double Wear foundation, a product that was launched 30 years ago, is experiencing double-digit growth rates, said Jane Hertzmark Hudis, group president at Estée Lauder.

Beauty vlogging isn’t new, but brands have rapidly ramped up their involvement with it after seeing the power it has to influence consumers.

Some of the earliest adopters of the social media influence strategy were smaller brands that lacked the ad budget or experience for a traditional campaign. Those brands instead got noticed by putting their products into the hands of beauty vloggers.

In the past year, global views of beauty videos on YouTube surged 60 percent, to 219 billion, according to Pixability, a Boston-based company that tracks influencers. Pixability estimated that millennials make up 60 percent of the beauty audience on Facebook.

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