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The Pleasure Principle: The Real Effects Of Beauty Retail Therapy

by Faye Remedios / Monday, 23 April 2018

When you walk down that make-up aisle or browse through offerings online, you come away with more than just a product. We introduce you to the curative universe of beauty retail therapy

During the 2001 recession, Leonard Lauder, chairman of cosmetics giant Estée Lauder, found that the sale of their luxury lipsticks increased, a phenomenon he coined as the ‘lipstick index’. Similarly, sales of lipsticks doubled for several brands in the aftermath of the horrendous 9/11 attacks. Basically, when the going gets tough, people swap the big purchases for smaller, more affordable luxuries. But this humble beauty product as an economic marker is not the only one in its category. Premium perfumes are included in the mix. The premise is that consumer confidence is directly proportional to a convulsing economy. When the latter fails, the former needs boosting, and the beauty industry is what people turn to for help. Dipali Mathur Dayal, co-founder of salon and spa, Magnifique, in New Delhi, finds that there is some merit to this theory. “We see a very interesting context of the same in Indian markets. For households with limited disposable incomes, the spends are on more expensive items that are consumed in public rather than the confines of their homes, and the idea is to look more attractive for better opportunities in order to be more prosperous in the future,” she says.

Experts say that the favourable perception that make-up helps women create is not confined to just a broken economy. Cosmetics — applied in the right way — are said to do more than simply increase the attractiveness factor. They can make women appear more likeable, trustworthy and competent. What’s more, it can even make women feel smarter if researchers from Harvard Medical School in the United States and the University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy are to be believed. In a study carried out by them on 186 female undergraduate students, they came up with what they termed as the ‘lipstick effect’, where they claimed that wearing make-up increases the level of perceived self beauty, which in turn enhances self-esteem, and results in an improvement of cognitive performance. The study, however, came under fire for being sexist. Brands, of course, know the value of attracting consumers. Arush Chopra, CEO, Just Herbs, says, “We actively interact with and listen to our customers through social media engagement, Facebook group polls, crowdsourcing initiatives and in-store events. I have found that women associate the act of buying beauty products with a feeling of acquiring something they deeply desire, and it does create a sense of hopefulness and positivity. Studies have shown that shopping boosts serotonin (the feel-good hormone) levels in the brain and buying something to gift to someone bolsters it even further, leading to a sense of pleasure.” At Guerlain too, shopping is designed to be a unique experience. “Once you purchase a Guerlain product, you’re invited for a monthly facial and pampering session at a VIP skincare lounge consisting of a facial along with a shoulder, under-eye and hand massage. We also offer you a consultation with a make-up artist,”says Monisha Jayaraman, training manager, Guerlain.

In the digital age, though, it’s no longer just about heading to your favourite beauty haunt. But in a field where touch-and-feel of a product is key, how do brands handle online sales? Simply by being innovative. “An insight we had was that most of our online customers shop while at the office perhaps to ‘brighten up’ a dull day with some retail therapy; so we started a campaign called ‘sneaky office shopper’ that rewarded orders with an office address with freebies. Interestingly, some customers asked for these even with residential addresses claiming they were work-from-home Wentrepreneurs. Sales more than doubled that month. Unlike in stores, you cannot smell a product or feel its texture when shopping online. That always felt like a deterrent to online-driven brands — including us — in the early days. But we were pleasantly surprised to see that reading ingredient lists, checking reviews and watching how-to tutorials about a product makes up for the lack of a physical store,” explains Chopra.

Technology plays a vital role in boosting sales. “According to Google, 66 per cent of beauty product buyers say YouTube influenced their purchases by helping them visualise how products fit into their lives. In addition to brand-published videos, YouTube tutorials from popular influencers help spread awareness and exposure. Savvy brands are riding this digital wave by publishing original content, blogs and media to amplify their brand’s message. It’s not just about gaining readership, it’s about creating an engaged community. In a world where content is said to be king, engagement is queen. When paired together, the results are phenomenal. While beauty trends and products change, service stays. These modern innovations and customised services are integral to a business owner’s success. There’s never been a better time to step into the world of beauty,” says Avni Amlani, international skincare expert for Dermalogica India.

But using cosmetics as a panacea for all ills is certainly not the answer, warns counselling psychologist Aarti Rewari. “Retail therapy in moderation is beneficial but discretion is necessary. It’s a way of feeling temporary relief and that’s only a short-term solution. A longterm, wider perspective into the predicament on hand is essential,” she says.

As armour, as a way to increase the feel-good factor or make you feel on top of the world, the chemistry of cosmetics, it is clear, is a potent mood changer. But at the end of the day, can it buy you happiness? “Well, not happiness but pleasure, certainly! A human brain is wired to draw aesthetic pleasure out of everything beautiful, and thus the thought of being able to look more attractive (at any age) leads us to a beauty brand. It indeed is a mix of a lot of chemicals at play in our brain, which are also responsible for making us go back for more,” says Mathur Dayal.