In the midst of the ongoing pandemic and multiple delays, Amazon Prime Day has finally arrived. Despite the uncertain economic climate, eMarketer is expecting Prime Day — held October 13 and 14 — will yield $9.9 billion, a significant jump from 2019’s $6.9 billion in sales.
Though Prime Day has historically been a sales holiday for bigger ticket items — namely electronics — some beauty brands are eagerly partaking in the event. For example, clean beauty brand Sigma Beauty is offering 20-35% off its assortment on Amazon, while Ursa Major is marketing 20% off its full lineup. And with the Amazon sales holiday moving from July to October, beauty brands are using it to create a larger holiday shopping window. Even Amazon recently launched a new Beauty Gift Guide with hundreds of products from Maybelline, Revlon, St. Tropez, Mario Badescu and L’Occitane to spur holiday shopping ideas.
Though coronavirus has spurred a number of beauty brands to consider selling on Amazon, and eventually onboard, a subset of clean brands are launching on the platform on their own terms — meaning once-a-season discounts and rejiggered processes to increase sustainability efforts. Yes, that’s even amid Covid-19 and a holiday season unlike any others.
Since March, buzzy brands — that likely could sit on a beauty shelf in a physical store together — such as Ilia Beauty, True Botanicals, Corpus Naturals, Loli Beauty and Exa Beauty by Credo, have popped up on Amazon. Unlike brands that are going at it via their own storefronts like Follain, Virtue Labs and BeautyBio, the aforementioned companies have leaned on East Pole, Massachusetts-based Carbon Beauty, a former clean beauty and wellness retailer that has pivoted to selling clean and natural brands on Amazon. In many cases, Carbon Beauty has become a secret gun for these brands.
“Brands like this are usually image-conscious, but luxury and niche brands have found themselves represented on Amazon, both by authorized and unauthorized sellers, in a poor manner. If you look at a Bluemercury, Dermstore or SkinStore, they may be respectable businesses, but how they are presenting brands on Amazon is similar to non-authorized sellers,” said Dan Sudman, CEO of Carbon Beauty. Sudman emphasized that Carbon Beauty’s merchandising assortments are extremely curated and likeminded, and the company ensures that each branded storefront has a different look and feel.
Carbon Beauty acts as a standard wholesale retailer for the beauty brands it works with, but remains their exclusive partner on Amazon. With sign-off from its partners, Carbon Beauty handles all brand storefronts on the site, Amazon A+ content, including brand pages and descriptions, and leads the way with suggested promotion strategies. Sudman said Prime Day promotions are limited, so as to not dilute the brands the company works with.
Sudman would not share exact revenue figures, but said the company hit eight figures last year. With the influx of 20-plus new partners, Carbon Beauty is expecting 50% revenue growth in the next year. Brand partners, meanwhile, can expect a 5-10x return in sales, he said.
For clean brands like Ilia Beauty, Corpus Naturals and Loli, Carbon Beauty has been seen as a great equalizer. “Carbon has been the connector for brands that have that luxury or premium aesthetic and feel, but might be in their nascent phases of life on Amazon,” said J.P. Mastey, founder of Corpus Naturals. “They are building beautiful brands like True Botanicals and Ilia, and for us, it makes sense to be there with them.”
Brand executives agreed their reputation would be reinforced by the company they kept. “Dan and his team have done a nice job of assorting clean brands. Their message is clear, and the brands that they work with complement one another, and it benefits all of us to be positioned together,” said Lynda Berkowitz, Ilia Beauty CEO. Carbon Beauty came recommended to Berkowitz by Ilia’s investor team at Silas Capital, which also invested in Herbivore, one of Carbon Beauty’s first clients.
Mastey took the Amazon plunge with Carbon this spring after realizing that he wanted to expand Corpus Naturals to more domestic and international retailers. (It currently sells DTC and through Credo and Goop in the U.S.). But in order to do Amazon well, Mastey said he would have had to shift his entire workforce to understanding the platform versus its bevy of retailer partners.
“We were showing up on Amazon in search, but before March, we were missing that sale because we weren’t available to purchase, and another brand in a similar price point was winning that sale. We’re a small team of five, and we’re sold in Liberty in London, Joyce in Hong Kong, Mecca in Australia, Holt Renfrew in Canada — we wouldn’t have been able to be this diversified in the pandemic if we started our own storefront and brand page on Amazon,” said Mastey. “Amazon needs a certain kind of expertise.”
Corpus Naturals has seen double-digit sales growth on the platform since the spring, and Mastey noted that any cannibalization on its own DTC site has been negligible. The brand is not promoting any Amazon deals for Prime Day, instead holding off until Black Friday to correspond to its yearly sale on its own site.
Ilia, too, has seen month-over-month growth with Carbon Beauty on Amazon, and that is with older Ilia packaging, said Berkowitz. The newer packaging is only now phasing onto Amazon, Berkowitz said.
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had in the last year is to become a DTC brand and make sure we have the resources to allocate to the online experience. While it’s not out of the question that we would do our own storefront down the road — we’ve seen quite a bit of velocity in a short amount of time [selling this way],” said Berkowitz.
When other retailers have reportedly been prickly when a brand links with Amazon, Berkowitz said she has experienced the opposite. “I have not received any negative feedback from any one partner, but what I have received is positive reinforcement about cleaning up our grey distribution, which is not me doing it but Carbon doing it,” she said of having an authorized partner on the platform. Beyond the growth through Carbon Beauty, Ilia has seen a more than 200% sales increase on Sephora.com since the pandemic. And like Corpus Naturals, Ilia will only be debuting once-a-season promotions on Amazon, most likely for Black Friday.
But it’s not just a sales lift that these clean and conscious brands are looking for. Though Amazon would be a natural extension for DTC-only Loli Beauty, founder Tina Hedges said she could not, in good faith, launch on the platform with the brand’s organic, zero-waste positioning. “Amazon has been the elephant in the room since we launched in March 2018, but we have a defensible position in zero waste. I couldn’t have our plastic-negative products wrapped in plastic and bubble wrap,” she said.
After early discussions with Carbon Beauty about her concerns, Hedges, in partnership with Better Packaging and Co., developed compostable bubble bags that the company will wrap its glass-encased products in. Loli Beauty and its new compostable bags soft-launched on Amazon in October.
“I was really over the digital agency charlatans out there, so I was thinking at first, ‘Am I giving away the keys to the kingdom if I don’t do Amazon on my own?’ But good business is about good partnership,” said Hedges. “A lot of the brands they are working with have long tailwinds, and that’s a good indicator to me. Birds of a feather want to flock together.”