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Leading beauty brands are differentiating online by telling a sustainability innovation story that fits seamlessly with the customer journey.


The beauty industry worked overtime to capture both loyal and new audiences during the pandemic, as personal appearance became less of a priority for many amongst its numerous challenges.

While that has naturally led to an increase in online sales, those aren’t yet offsetting the decline felt by the lack of in-store sales, which may be slow to recover, as McKinsey notes. Yet the pace of innovation, it suggests, could turn the dial for demand, with beauty industry players needing to prioritise digital channels to command and convert customer attention.

How to differentiate, though, is the next important question as innovative eCommerce features are set to become hygiene factors for an increasingly digitally savvy audience. 

A growing number of beauty brands have been targeting a consumption-conscious customer, turning to sustainable packaging. They’re leveraging their online platforms to align with the 55% of Brits who want more companies to do this. 

Bringing this sustainability narrative to life in a way that complements eCommerce innovation and the customer journey is something eco-beauty brands like Common Heir, ESPA and Evolve have been careful to deliver on. This has resulted in websites that not only educate consumers about sustainability, but allow them to become part of it in a way that’s as easy as purchasing.


Common Heir makes sustainability front and centre of its online platform

Beauty marketers Cary Lin and Angela Ubias set up Common Heir in 2020. They’ve packaged vitamin C serum in individual capsules which dissolve in hot water, or biodegrade in household waste, and also come in a recyclable outer layer.

The brand’s website puts its environmental message front and centre, with “Learn more” and “Read more” key calls to action, and ‘Sustainability’ as a top menu item. It’s designed to help consumers understand how the product’s unique packaging works, without compromising its efficacy. 

“The beauty industry has a huge packaging problem - in the US, nearly 7.9 billion units of plastic packaging alone is produced for cosmetics. We wanted to take into account not just where things come from, but where they’ll go after we’re done with them,” Lin explains.

But rewriting the beauty rule book is not simple, adds Lin.

“We learned that changing consumer behavior and expectations is key. People are so used to things that look familiar - lotion in a plastic bottle, for instance. It’s hard to reimagine skincare to be delivered in a capsule, since it requires designing formulations specifically,” she says.

“We’re proving you don’t have to sacrifice clinical performance to be sustainable. That resonates with consumers. That’s inspired our future product development to challenge the skincare industry.”


ESPA - making recycling easy online

ESPA has launched its RecycleMe scheme, inviting customers to return plastic packaging from used beauty products, from any brand, back to ESPA for recycling for free. 

All of this information is conveyed by a dedicated landing page, highlighted by a clickable button from the home page. The page breaks the scheme down into simple steps. There’s a button to a ‘Sign up’ form to make the packaging return process easy for customers. Customers can enter their information and order number into the online recycling portal to generate a QR code for returns, to be processed at a courier pick-up point.

The brand’s sustainability offering continues with its Essentials Collection, offering 400ml refill pouches which use up to 60% less plastic. These are marketed heavily, with a discount and free gift. 

But unlike Common Heir, the ESPA website isn't all about sustainability. ESPA balances its eCommerce content with lifestyle-oriented material, such as a personal quiz to help people select the right products for their needs, and social media images showing off products within customers' homes. This highlights a desire to engage consumers where pure skincare is more of a priority. 


Evolve Beauty - balancing sustainability with lifestyle

Evolve Beauty recently moved to repackaging its products in energy-saving, 100% recyclable grass paper, which creates 75% less CO2 emissions. The e-commerce journey is a balanced one similar to ESPA’s, but perhaps with less of a proactive initiative.

‘Top of the page’ content is focused on seasonal products, offers, and free online skincare consultations, while further down the page is where shoppers can discover its ‘Evolve Greener’ philosophy, via a page dedicated to its environmental standards. Its ‘Online Wellness Centre’, meanwhile, features educational content around plastic waste and recycling.

“We’re always looking for ways to innovate and become even more green. The first step was with our new packaging. By switching to grass paper we will be able to shrink our carbon and water footprint even further, helping us become carbon negative by 2023. Often beauty is synonymous with waste and pollution, but simple changes can make a difference across the supply chain,” says Evolve Beauty founder Laura Rudoe. 

Whether beauty brands take an educational e-commerce approach like Common Heir, adopt a practical strategy like ESPA or aim to tell a balanced story like Evolve Beauty, it’s clear their eco-credentials play a part in differentiating their online platforms.

eCommerce and sales leaders, as well as marketers, may need to firm up their customer experience knowledge to create an online ecosystem that compellingly conveys brand values, while encouraging purchase. Our user experience lessons consider the challenges and opportunities around personalisation and the ever-changing customer journey, helping beauty brands cultivate the right online environment that complements product innovations.

Circus Street provides the world’s biggest brands with the tools to get ahead in the digital age. Trial our lessons now for free.

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