The battle between Ulta and Sephora rages on as the beauty retailers shift to e-commerce
Ulta ($NASDAQ:ULTA) has been increasing its focus on skincare and hair care over cosmetics in recent years. And in the midst of Coronavirus, with many of us bare-faced and quarantined, it’s starting to pay off. Stock for the major beauty retailer has been falling in step with the pandemic, but the company could be setting itself up for a bright future by growing its product count.
Ulta’s offerings — a healthy mix of makeup, skincare, and hair products — have increased 3% from 16,700 to 17,300 since the beginning of February. Apparently Ulta shoppers won’t let indoor isolation stop them from perfecting their smokey eye.
The retailer is continuing to add products from cult cosmetic brands like Morphe, Anastasia Beverly Hills, and Urban Decay. Just over the weekend, Ulta added 22 more products from the popular makeup company Tarte after a month of scaling back the brand’s inventory.
Skincare brands like Perricone MD and Kiehl's are seeing steady growth as well. Clinique, which sells both skincare and skincare-minded makeup, might be Ulta’s diamond in the rough. Since the beginning of February, Clique’s product count has climbed from 264 to 280.
Sephora’s ($EPA:MC) overall product count, on the other hand, has dipped by 2% from 9,350 at the end of February to 9,140 this week. The luxury beauty chain has long been in competition with Ulta, and the coming months could lead to a breaking point.
The company appears to be stalling growth on some of the cosmetics brands it’s known for, like NARS, Kat Von D, and Bobbi Brown. Products from Too Faced Cosmetics had been slowly increasing since late February but started to drop off this past weekend.
Stila, which boasts an array of bold lip and eye shades, saw its product count plummet from 28 late last month to 7 now, perhaps deemed inappropriate for the apocalypse.
This isn’t to say Sephora is deprioritizing makeup companies across the board, as it continues to add products from Rihanna’s Fenty line. Then again, we’re talking about Rihanna, whose power knows no bounds.
Even with quarantine-era at-home self-care, Sephora’s skincare category isn’t seeing significant growth, though some brands have been faring better than others. Over the last month, Sephora has added seven products from Drunk Elephant, revered by many as a holy grail skincare line.
The makeup world had been struggling even before Coronavirus made its way to US soil. Cultural discourse has been shifting focus to self-care and body positivity, ideas that don’t necessarily align with the classic understanding of cosmetics. COVID-19 just adds another layer to its irrelevance.
It’s unlikely that people will continue to apply full faces of makeup without plans to leave the home. But even if they do, they’ve lost the option to go to a store and try before they buy. Both Ulta and Sephora have temporarily closed all locations and switched to 100% online sales.
As robust and popular as e-commerce is within the beauty sector, and as accurate as a virtual lipstick “try-on” function can be, it remains to be seen if the cosmetics industry can survive on a screen.
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