The beauty industry is tough, darling. But so are you.
Today’s beauty moguls are obsessing over more than the next long-wear formula or highlighter you can see from space.
Instead, industry leaders are focused on technological innovation, ethical sourcing, organic biochemicals, pairing quality with affordability … all while making waves in how their products are shared, sold, and purchased online.
With the online cosmetics market projected to hit $675 billion by 2020, let’s turn our attention to 15 of the most stunning …
Best beauty ecommerce sites in the world:
- Morphe Brushes: Multi-Channel Community
- Pat McGrath Labs: Disrupt the Market
- Sephora: Education Meets Experiences
- Thrive Causemetics: Beauty with a Conscience
- ColourPop: Collaborate to Compound Growth
- 100% Pure: Automating Global Beauty
- Ulta: Omni-Channel Inside and Out
- Makeup Geek: The Education of Beauty
- Kylie Cosmetics: Keep ‘em Wanting More
- My Makeup Brush Set: Take It to the People
- Fig + Yarrow: Naturally Inspiring
- theBalm Cosmetics: Tailored for Every Beauty
- Kopari: From Beach to Boardroom
- CoverFX Skin Care: Choice Made Easy
- Cake Cosmetics: Sweet Sells
Want an executive summary of the beauty ecommerce industry?
Keep reading to unearth lessons from the best sites, but if you’d like an executive guide distilling everything, download The Beauty and Cosmetics Industry Report.
Inside, you’ll get one-pagers detailing …
- Data on the opportunities and threats
- Business spotlights for insights
- Checklist for selecting the right beauty platform
1. Morphe Brushes: Multi-Channel Community
Born in 2008, Morphe Brushes was created by artists for artists … on a budget.
Originally a makeup brush company, Morphe grew to create makeup for eyes, lips, and face that allows creativity to flow. Together with their entourage of #MorpheBabes, Morphe is an unstoppable force.
With over 5.5 million followers on Instagram and a rabid YouTube audience, Morphe’s popularity — and profitability — continues to be based on the community of men and women who adore their products.
In keeping with that community focus, Morphe operates on a multi-channel ecommerce platform both offsite and on.
First, Morphe features a shoppable Instagram feed on their homepage, includes user-generated content on their product pages, and follows a Pinterest-inspired layout on their #Morphe page. They pay homage to the women and men who use their products by shining a spotlight on the influencers — macro and micro alike — who make their brand what it is:
Second, Morphe goes beyond the usual loyalty program and offers “Pro Memberships” to beauty industry professionals: certificate holders, studies, and self-taught artists. These paid memberships are just another example of how Morphe connects with and serves its audience.
2. Pat McGrath Labs: Disrupt the Market
Created by one of the most famous makeup artists in the world, Pat McGrath Labs pushes the boundaries. For Pat, makeup should be less about following the rules and more about experimental, raw, and passionate products. Their ecommerce beauty site echoes that same ethos.
When it comes to selling — and selling out — products, Pat McGrath leverages spontaneous releases in limited quantities to create buzz, drive interest, and break the rules of traditional makeup sales.
McGrath’s unconventional approach does not stop at makeup design. Onsite, you can purchase high-fashion apparel and view theatre-quality video showcasing McGrath Labs influencers.
Late last year, McGrath was the first beauty brand to sell their products through Spotify (that’s not a typo) by joining forces with singer-songwriter Maggie Lindemann:
Selling through Spotify sparked a firestorm of media coverage and reinforced McGrath’s disruptive spirit.
3. Sephora: Education Meets Experiences
When you sell diverse (and thousands of) products like Sephora does, education is key. There are simply too many choices to expect a user to know what they want immediately, especially if they are first-time visitors. Too many choices can often drive users away, but Sephora counters decision fatigue with education.
In lieu of forcing customers to turn to Google or read roundup posts, Sephora uses their “how-to” section complete with interactive “buying guides.”
Customers and visitors can watch videos, take beauty classes, or use the Virtual Artist app to try on makeup digitally:
Take a page from Sephora’s playbook, which earned them a spot on Fast Company’s 2018 Most Innovative Companies list, and focus on blending education and experience.
4. Thrive Causemetics: Beauty with a Conscience
Born out of friendship and compassion, Thrive Causemetics empowers women. For every product purchased, Thrive donates one of their vegan, cruelty-free products to a woman “thriving through” cancer or domestic violence.
To perpetuate their incredible community, Thrive encourages beauty enthusiasts to get involved at every layer of their website.
Their blog is like no other. Rather than it being a place where visitors speak about products they adore, Thrive’s fans can bravely showcase strife that they have overcome — be it their battle with cancer or finding the courage to leave an abusive relationship.
The company thrives on the feedback and preferences of their buyer. When formulating product, they take careful aim at what their market is looking for.
Whether it is the material used to create a liquid eyeliner brush or the next shade of lipstick, customers can vote on future product development and give feedback on current products through public surveys.
5. ColourPop: Collaborate to Compound Growth
Born and raised in sunny California, level-setting the perception of “you get what you pay for” is ColourPop. Gone are the days where you necessarily need to spend big to get stunning beauty products.
Instead of shouting from the rooftops, ColourPop leverages their massive following to do the heavy lifting.
With nearly one million subscribers on YouTube and 5.5 million followers on Instagram, ColourPop is a beauty powerhouse that showcases the incredible influencers who love them and rally to make makeup affordable.
Together, ColourPop and their influencer royalty hone-in on specific segments of the beauty market to create products that resonate. Collections range in size, complexity, and the causes they support.
These collaborations are showcased to each influencer’s audience offsite, which compounds awareness and growth exponentially.
6. 100% Pure: Automating Global Beauty
Launched after an accidental chemical spill, organic cosmetics retailer 100% Pure goes to extremes to give customers real-time online experiences. Especially when it comes to exclusive flash sales and product releases.
In the past, this required Chris Tran, a frontend engineer at the company, to work into the wee hours of the morning preparing the company’s site for campaigns and releases.
Then, 100% Pure began automating these events. In place of manually readying 100% Pure’s site for a major sale or campaign, Tran recently began using Launchpad to automate major events for all four of the brand’s sites:
“The more we automate, the more money we save.
“Automation is going to play a big role in our future. It’ll allow us to focus on being merchants and growing the business instead of the repetitive tasks that slow us down.”
That automation …
- Saves 12 hours per sale or campaign
- Eliminates hundreds of work hours per year
- Helps fuel 40% year-over-year growth
But real-time doesn’t matter if it doesn’t extend from the frontend to the back.
With a dozen retail locations and ecommerce stores in twelve countries, 100% Pure serves an increasingly global audience.
Using Shopify Plus’ API the company created what they call the Purity Toolbox, a collection of custom connections that allows the company to easily sync inventory, product information, and marketing resources.
7. Ulta: Omni-Channel Inside and Out
Amidst the “retail apocalypse,” Ulta Beauty drove $4.85 billion last year alone, up from $3.9 billion in 2016. And they did it with an omni-channel strategy that didn’t just create retail experiences and online experiences. They did it by making those channels — as well as social and mobile — a single experience.
Michelle Pacynski, VP of Ecommerce at Ulta Beauty, explains:
“A key objective for guest-facing systems is to drive a consistent experience regardless of the way she wants to shop. So whether that’s in store, in our mobile apps, or online, we feel that we can provide a single brand experience across all channels.”
Ulta was able to thrive by incorporating an omni-channel solution that bridged the growing gap between offline and online other retailers couldn’t. Users can now browse in store and scan items using the Ulta app to pull up online reviews of satisfied customers.
This external experience is a reflection of their internal operations — matching efforts with a bunch of teams across their organization.
“The various teams within the Ulta organization are connected and constantly in communication. It’s one experience for the guest, no matter the department, whether it is a supply chain problem, inventory problem, merchandising problem,” said Jeff Hamm, Senior Director of Ecommerce Operations.
And it’s that collaboration between teams that helps to get omni-channel projects green lighted, budgeted and executed.
8. Makeup Geek: Beauty Ecommerce Site Education
YouTube sensation turned makeup mogul, Makeup Geek was created and founded by the spectacular Marlena Stell. Originally a music teacher, Marlena started a YouTube channel with the goal to provide makeup instruction to empower and inspire her audience … and did she ever.
Now, with a 10 million-dollar business to her name, Makeup Geek is a household brand.
In addition to the social media powerhouses that support the brand, Makeup Geek leverages their website to feature looks and tutorials created by their fans. In the Idea Gallery, followers can scroll through countless photos of makeup looks created by Makeup Geek artists using Makeup Geek products.
Who needs formal marketing efforts when you are surrounded by loyal buyers who are willing to teach newbies how to use it beautifully?
9. Kylie Cosmetics: Keep ‘em Wanting More
When it comes to product drops, flash sales, and pop-up shops that feel like album release parties, Kylie Jenner stands alone. In fact, when Kylie Cosmetics kicked off their brand during Fashion Week, 10,000 people showed up in downtown New York and the online event “pushed hard against Shopify’s limits and crushed traffic records.”
“We launched at like 3 o’clock and I refreshed the page and it was gone. It was under a minute. It had to be like 20 seconds and it all sold out.
“I was just in shock. I never imagined it would become as big as it has.”
The trouble with all that frenzy is continuing to sell out without falling victim to the single greatest danger flash sales come with: burning out your audience.
And that’s where Kylie Cosmetics’ true genius kicks in. The brand gives its fans exactly what they want … while always holding a little something back.
During this last holiday season, for instance, Kylie Cosmetics launched their Holiday Collection two days before Black Friday actually hit.
Then, throughout December — after selling out multiple times — they announced restocks:
Here’s the kicker, rather than remove products as they sold out, Kylie Cosmetics left those products live and unpurchasable everywhere, even on their homepage.
Because not being able to get what you want only makes you want it more. Clever, clever.
10. My Makeup Brush Set: Take It to the People
Of course, it’s one thing to draw huge crowds when your founder is a celebrity. Can beauty brands without social-media moguls behind them still bring the people running?
It can … if that brand goes to the people first.
Back in 2014, Amar Gandhi — a partner at My Makeup Brush Set — hatched a series of marketing campaigns designed to earn attention and trust the old fashioned way: word of mouth testimonials.
Facebook influencers with 25k followers got free products in return for reviews. Customers who agreed to review the products on YouTube got free items. Repeat customers could earn rewards by telling their friends about the brushes.
And just like that, the company’s growth exploded.
Recently, more than 7,000 customers showed up to a pop-up shop in Ontario, which generated over $150,000 in sales in one day and raked in a tenfold return on investment.
Crucial for success is My Makeup Brush Set’s innovative use of Shopify’s POS (point-of-sale) system. Not only does the company’s POS position it to sell anywhere, but centralized reporting also allows it to manage orders in real-time.
My Makeup Brush Set is just one in a family of brands Amar Gandhi and his team manage. Altogether, the brands are expected to post year-over-year growth of more than 100% and generate more than $120 million in annual sales.
11. Fig + Yarrow: Naturally Inspiring
Typically words like small-batch, handcrafted, and artisanal are not synonymous with a booming online beauty brand … until now.
Brand Founder and Developer, Brandy Monique, has struck a balance between passion for plants and creatures with intense study to help turn the organic into useful products.
Fig + Yarrow is a health and vanity product company, obsessed with integrating all things natural into beauty and skincare while being incredibly mindful of the impact these products have on the environment. Not only are all Fig + Yarrow products green, but each ingredient is chosen with care and purpose.
They take very similar care in their online presence. All online interactions or showcases are carefully crafted and considered.
Within their site, users can experience the true essence of the brand through pursuing product and stock lists while keeping up with their blog, integrated directly within the page itself.
From recipes and product showcases to interior design inspiration, Fig + Yarrow truly showcase an end-to-end user experience that is in line with their brand and mission. They even weave online-to-offline commerce through their community inspired events, treatments, and meals.
From the products you put on your skin to the way you decorate your home, Fig + Yarrow is there to support you in your incredible journey. Gone are the days where natural, thoughtful, and environmentally sound products need to be sacrificed in the name of online business.
12. theBalm Cosmetics: Tailored for Every Beauty
theBalm Cosmetics is the makeup equivalent of a fabulous catch-up with a close friend over a tasty cocktail.
With a “beauty in five minutes” philosophy, theBalm is a complete makeup, skincare, hair care, and nail polish company that gives you the perks of looking your absolute best without the time associated with making it so, and the peace of mind that all product is talc-free, paraben free, and cruelty free.
Founded in 2004 by Marissa Shipman, theBalm’s website presence could not be more user-friendly and reflects the company’s outlook on makeup.
Similar to the way one would use the Balm’s products, every click and interaction with the website is effortless.
Particularly on mobile, each page is user-friendly and beyond easy to navigate.
Need to create your own eyeshadow palette using shades from some of the most popular theBalm compilations? With a few clicks, you can customize the number, packaging, and contents of your very own.
13. Kopari: From Beach to Boardroom
Kopari leverages the incredible power of coconut — the “jack-of-all-fruits” — to make their products stand out from the rest. This incredible superfood can be used for countless purposes. Why not benefit from the power?
In a nutshell — see what we did there? — coconut has been used for centuries in ancient Hawaiian beauty rituals to keep skin, hair and one’s overall well-being, brilliant.
What speaks volumes more is the press that this brand is receiving. Allure, Elle, InStyle, and even the Wall Street Journal have taken notice.
Kopari does a wonderful job at reaching its followers by making their website the place to be. From tips and tricks using the Kopari range to lifestyle showcases, information from industry experts, and spotlighting Kopari users in their lifestyle section.
Once you are apart of the Kopari Clique, you can accumulate points through activity related to the brand: share Kopari’s details on social media platforms, make purchases via the website, leave a review, or have a birthday! Points can be redeemed for discounts and branded swag.
To foster further community, Kopari is heavily involved with Waves for Water. For every order placed with Kopari, $1 is donated to this beautiful cause.
14. CoverFX Skin Care: Choice Made Easy
The moment you visit CoverFX online, you are greeted with value. A discount simply for stopping by? Love it.
At every twist and turn, CoverFX guides you through the journey. From simple sign in, using a pre-existing social login (Facebook, Google, Amazon, or PayPal), and their interest in keeping in touch with their customers through email notifications, to magnificent how-to blog posts and demonstrations, CoverFX has it right.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … but selecting makeup shades online is next to impossible. How can someone ensure that they are ordering their perfect make in foundation or concealer?
With countless shades to choose from, CoverFX allows beauties to select their perfect shade based on accurate colour swatches and descriptions. This, paired with countless reviews from happy customers, makes for an easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy shopping experience.
From top to bottom, CoverFX uses their online platform and audience to make the discovery and buying process a snap. Whether you have questions, need feedback, or want to earn some discounts along the way, CoverFX has thought of everything.
15. Cake Cosmetics: Sweet Sells
From the moment you visit Cake Beauty’s website, you are greeted with discounts to begin your shopping journey. By clicking “HECK YEAH!” upon entering, visitors get access to 20% off, early access to new releases, and weekly tips and tricks.
From there, Cakeland is your oyster. Created in Canada with no animal testing, a guarantee that products are 100% vegan, “naturally luxe” and “totally to die-for,” it’s no wonder that everyone who visits Cakeland falls in love.
Not only can you shop Cake’s Instagram and the beautiful products and inspirational posts they showcase, but you can also join the thousands of Cake fans that visit Cakeland frequently and feel gorgeous because of it.
To give back and show their love, Cake offers some incredible perks to followers. Take, Cakeland 100 for example. Every 4-6 weeks, Cake picks 100 lucky beauties to get some free Cake products, a strategy that earns them droves of new followers every time.
For Cake, the name of the game is authenticity, which they showcase on every page of their beauty ecommerce site. Together, with their massive following, they truly embrace every aspect of who you are and your lifestyle.
Now you can have your cake and eat it too!
What’s ahead for beauty ecommerce sites?
To find out, download The Beauty and Cosmetics Industry Report.
Inside, you’ll get one-pagers detailing …
- Data on the opportunities and threats
- Business spotlights for insights
- Checklist for selecting the right beauty platform
About the Author