Nail polish sales spike as customers turn to DIY beauty

As customers turn to DIY beauty, the nail-care category is seeing a sales lift after a five-year slump.

Across the board, nail brands are seeing a dramatic increase that extends beyond nail polish, to include tools, kits and nail accessories. Nails Inc. said its e-commerce sales in the U.S. have increased 571% over the last five weeks, compared to the same period last year, and that from April 8-22, sales of gel remover kits increased 2,000% in the same timeframe. According to Nielsen, for the week ending on April 11, Revlon, which is likely benefiting from selling in essential locations like CVS, saw 13.1% sales growth of its nail polishes year-over-year. Revlon nail tools and foot tools increased by 15% and 274%, respectively. Butter London, which retails at Ulta, Kohl’s and Amazon, has seen an increase of e-commerce sales of nail-care treatments and nail polishes: The brand experienced a 150% increase in April sales compared to March, and a 70% increase in April year-over-year, said Julie Campbell, Butter London general manager.

“What we’re seeing is people are coming into the brand, in particular for treatments and treatment kits,” she said. “We are seeing our largest growth segment in the age range of 25-34 — people who grew up going to nail salons. [They] love their gel or SNS powder manicures, [and] realize they have to take this into their own hands now.”

Since March 15, Butter London has added more DIY and educational information to its social media via a new TikTok account and first-time IGTV content. The brand also increased its advertising investment for Amazon and its website through Google keywords like “at-home gel manicure” and “nail treatment.” Campbell declined to share the advertising investment.

Butter London plans to create an affiliate program with financing options for its nearly 1,000 salon partners, so they can earn money on any Butter London DTC purchases. It also plans to provide them with marketing materials and event-hosting toolkits so salons can attract customers whenever they are able to reopen.

“We’re mindful that salons are business owners first, and it could be hard for them to be marketers. They’re going to need some programs and offerings to help them [get back on their feet],” said Campbell.

Meanwhile, Olive & June’s sales over the last week outperformed its Cyber Week sale during the holiday season when products were 25% off, said Sarah Gibson Tuttle, Olive + June founder. She added that sales of its at-home manicure kits have increased 800% week-over-week over the last four weeks. Olive & June has increased its output of organic and UGC content, but it has not changed its advertising strategy as its ads already focus on at-home nail care. The brand has been seeing more organic engagement from customers. For example, prior to coronavirus, the brand received 100-200 emails a day about customer service, requests for tips and tricks, and feedback. It is now seeing 1,500-2,000 emails a day, said Gibson Tuttle.

“I absolutely believe that people will return to their favorite hairstylist and manicurist, in time. But I do think that there’s going to be some caution in the market,” said Gibson Tuttle. “Many people, who develop new skills [in doing their own nails] will continue on beyond the stay at home orders.”

The dramatic uptick in the category’s sales is not unfounded or even surprising. The New York Times pointed out in 2011, while the country recovered from the Great Recession, that an increase in nail polish sales might be a more reliable economic indicator of a downturn than the lipstick index. A rise in nail polish indicates that people are in search of less expensive thrills, and the current closure of salons forces the masses to learn how to manage their grooming routines by themselves. For example, Pinterest has seen a surge in various DIY beauty tutorials.

UK-based Ciaté’s nail polish sales have increased 300% year-over-year, said Charlotte Knight, Ciaté founder. The brand was founded in 2009 as a nail polish brand before launching makeup in 2015. Nail polish was only 5% of the brand’s global sales, but polish has now jumped to 35% for the first quarter of 2020. Knight said that she believes this period of self-quarantine will reinvigorate not only nail polish sales but also nail artistry. The brand recently launched nail stickers in March for easy nail art, which Sephora plans to sell starting in May, even though the retailer had pulled back on nail care in 2018 and only sells Ciaté makeup (except for a limited holiday advent calendar of polish), said Knight.

“There’s definitely going to be a new normal when it comes to having professional treatments done because people are going to be very paranoid for a long time,” she said.


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