Challenges and Tactics of Ecommerce for Health and Beauty Brands

For any brand, establishing an ecommerce presence is a tricky endeavor, one that requires a thoughtful approach and plenty of testing. For health and beauty brands, the challenge is compounded. After helping a number of health and beauty brands launch successful ecommerce businesses — including IMAGE Skincare, Champion Performance, a Clorox company, and Garden of Life, a Nestle company — we’ve seen first-hand the challenges you face. But we’ve also seen how those challenges can be addressed.

Let’s start with the challenges. There are four big ones that all health and beauty brands face.

#1: In health and beauty, it’s personal.

Whether it’s a vitamin to improve physical or mental health, or a lotion to enhance outward beauty, all health and beauty products are incredibly personal to the consumer. Such products profess to change the consumers’ life or lend some benefit to make them feel better about themselves.

As a brand, you need to exhibit a lifestyle. For instance, a wellness brand will need to sell the eventuality of the life the consumer might have if she were to take or use this product. This isn’t easy to accomplish for many reasons, including FDA-imposed limits as to what you can and cannot say. Building a lifestyle requires content — and lots of it — which leads to challenge number two.

#2: Content management

Creating a lifestyle brand requires a lot of content for the simple reason that you will have a lot of personas to sell to. Thus, content management is a big challenge.

For instance, if you’re a wellness brand you’ll need to sell products to a range of personas, from the busy mom to the single dude who wants to go mountain biking with his buddies. If you’re a beauty brand, you sell to consumers who are concerned about aging, and even within anti-aging products, there personas for people seeking preventative maintenance and people hoping to repair damage already done.

In addition to creating content for persona, you’ll need to cater your content to website traffic sources. For instance, organic traffic relies almost exclusively on content that’s fresh, original, and ever-changing, especially around particular keywords. Keyword research is imperative.

You’ll need to continuously craft content, both for your product detail pages, as well as the world of content that lives alongside the sales process. Because these products are so personal, you’ll need to engage with consumers in ways that establish your brand as an authority in the subject your products address. If you sell a skin care product, you also need to be an expert on the impact of diet and exercise on a consumer’s complexion.

Without this world of content that lives alongside your sales process, you’re effectively asking people to put something in or on their bodies based on your word. For this reason, it is essential to build trust with your customers, and that takes time. Which brings us to the next challenge.

#3: Long Product Consideration Times

Trust is a critical driver on health and beauty product purchases, and that means consumers take a long time to make a purchase decision. They do a lot of comparison shopping, and this in and of itself is a challenge as it isn’t easy to compare products. Many, such as L’Oréal Age Perfect Cell Renewal, are off-the-shelf, while others are more bespoke, with more limited distribution. Price, usage, volume and replenishment rates can differ wildly, making it difficult for consumers to do an apples-to-apples comparison, which is why it takes a long time to decide which product is right for them. But that long consideration time comes with an inherent opportunity: the lengthy consideration time means the consumer is like to become a repeat customer (assuming they’re happy with it).

#4: Customer-Acquisition Attribution

Health and beauty brands are eager to understand their customers’ journeys, but customer-acquisition attribution is a huge challenge. Consumers tend to browse on their mobiles and tablets but convert on their desktops in the category. It’s likely your customers complete their path-to-purchase on multiple devices.

How do you assess which channels deliver the best sales? Let’s say you compensate your social media influences with free products, how do you tie an Instagram post seen by a prospect who then converts in-store or via Amazon? The truth is, it’s very difficult to tie these sales to the original interaction, and that means the traditional methods and assumptions of sales attribution and investment need to be challenged. You also need attribution technology, but even those technologies are as much art as they are science.

Tactics and Strategies for Success

So now that we have an overview of the challenges, what are some of the ways you can overcome them? I can’t stress this enough: the right approach varies from brand to brand, from product to product, and from demographic to demographic. That said, we’ve found the following tactics and strategies to be very useful.

Sell in Many Channels

Consumers will hear of your product in many ways — an ad, an article, a social media influencer, a friend — and will look to purchase it via their preferred channels. For this reason, it’s critical that your products are available in as many channels as possible, including your ecommerce site, marketplaces and offline stores.

That said, some companies, such as Something Digital’s client, Garden of Life, is focused on winning new customers, regardless of channel, sales via Amazon, Alibaba, grocery stores, or pharmacies are all equally valuable in their eyes. Interestingly, due to one-to-one fulfillment expenses, the brand prefers not to sell via a direct channel. As I said above, every brand is unique!

Affiliate/Referral Sales

In addition to your direct purchase channel, plan on building a thriving affiliate network channel. This is a smart tactic for an important reason: The strongest endorsement you’ll ever get is when one friend tells another her life has changed for the better, thanks to your product. That testimonial will carry way more weight than any content you can put on your product page.

Referral sales typically offer compensation to the brand evangelist, and some brands even compensate both the referrer and the referee. (Just take care to strike the right balance so as to avoid harming your margins or diluting your brand in the marketplace.)

Spend More to Acquire Customers with Higher Lifetime Values

Most health and beauty brands find it’s well worth it to spend more for an initial purchase as they tend to have a high AOV along with a fixed replenishment date. If a new customer is happy with your 30-day supply of vitamins, he’ll be back to purchase another 30-day supply the following month.

Subscription Selling

One way to make your investments (and long wait times) in initial purchases deliver bigger payoffs is to offer subscription buying. This tactic ensures customers keep buying your products, stay with your brand longer, and drives their LTV higher.

Create a Culture of a Content Machine

Every health and beauty brand needs to create a culture of content that evolves and changes with the times. Case in point: ten years ago, I worked at a vitamin company, and our focus was on SEO. We created a WebMD-style ailment digest with 20,000 pages of content. Today, this kind of content isn’t prioritized because consumers no longer begin their purchase journey on Google.com; they start on YouTube.

Your content will need to follow the consumer. Not too long-ago brands began creating long-form videos as consumers started their purchase journey on YouTube. Closed captions were added so that people could watch them in the office without disturbing their colleagues. As consumers wanted shorter content, brands moved to Instagram, creating 30-second spots.

In other words, you’ll need to create content that’s appropriate to channel in which it is consumed. This will differ by brand and age of the consumer (millennials prefer Instagram while baby boomers live in Facebook).

Conclusion

These are just a few of the tactics and strategies health and beauty brands can deploy to address the unique challenges of their sector. Need more specific advice? Feel free to get in touch.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist