Hair to stay: Will hair care keep its pandemic momentum?

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Hair to stay: Will hair care keep its pandemic momentum?

By Seth Mendelson - 07/08/2020

Will consumers stay the course now that things appear to be returning to a new normal across much of the country? 

Over the past three months, mass-market retailers saw a spike in most segments of hair care as salons, beauty supply stores and specialty beauty retailers were forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now marketers and merchants hope the habits consumers adopted during their time sheltering at home will stick and the category will continue to produce robust volume. A pipeline of new products from multinational brands and niche marketers also is in the works to maintain the sales bounce.

Not surprisingly, hair color sales rocketed, but data also supports the acceleration of sales of at-home grooming tools, shampoo/conditioner combo packs and relaxer/perm kits. Many of these purchases were out of necessity as consumers couldn’t seek professional services. 

Spate, which uses data science and publicly available consumer data to identify shifts in consumer behavior, also noted the acceleration of interest in hair dyes, scalp treatments, root touch-ups, hair masks, hair loss products, hair extension items and hair tools during the tracked period from February 19 to April 19.

Trendalytics, which scours Google data, also noted hair clipper searches skyrocketed 642%, while “holographic” hair search rose 555%.

As salons start reopening across the country, all eyes are on the impact on hair care sales at retail. The experts at Spate are laser-focused on what will stick and help create the new beauty basket. Hair color could remain DIY, according to Spate’s Olivier Zimmer, because it can save money.

Mary Dillon, Ulta Beauty’s CEO, said in the retailer’s recent quarterly earnings call that consumers are booking salon services “several weeks out.” Yet in the same call, she said COVID-19 changed the way beauty consumers shop, noting a shift to wellness and such categories as hair color, hair care and removal. Dillon also said the crisis “accelerated” some trends, such as the reduction in the use of makeup, but that hair, skin and wellness remained strong. 

Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and COO of North American beauty and personal care at Unilever, said her company introduced social support for advice on its brands, including Dove, Shea Moisture and Suave as people sheltered at home, especially with advice for caring for textured and curly hair. “I’m confident DIY habits will persist post-quarantine for convenience, affordability, and for people who have discovered new skills,” she said in an email.

Psyche Terry, the founder of hair care brand Urban Hydration, shared similar thoughts. “I think more people will be doing their hair at home now that they realize that they are powerful and creative enough to achieve the results they are looking for,” she said. “I think customers are, however, more price-conscious than ever before in their hair care items. Customers in hair care are looking for even more value than before.”

Terry also said that Urban Hydration responded by creating a value-conscious collection of hair care that is exactly like it’s salon-inspired care at JCPenney InStyle Salons. “It is formulated exactly the same and achieves the same great results, and now is more economically affordable for OTC customers that shop at drug and value-conscious stores,” she said.

To date, two types of consumer behaviors in the markets where salons are open have emerged. Some are first in line, while others are still skittish with safety concerns. Deborah Weinswig of Coresight Research said people put seeing friends ahead of salon visits and shopping. She said her company’s research shows only one in three want to get a haircut in the first month of opening. 

With DIY hair coloring on the rise (custom color e-commerce site Madison Reed reported a 750% increase in sales), retailers have seen brisk sales of traditional products like Clairol’s Nice ‘n Easy and L’Oréal Paris’ Preference, but also root touch-ups like Color Wow and vibrant hues like pink from Splat. Influencers dubbed the bold colors “quarantine hair.”

Hoping to keep relationships solidified, professional stylists offered clients their custom colors to do at home. The future is up for grabs, according to Mintel Research, which suggests people feel more comfortable washing and cutting hair, but might want to return to professionals for color. Yet mass-market retailers, who welcomed the uptick in hair color after several years of declines or flat sales, hope to at least get some converts.

According to Mintel, consumers are washing their hair as often if not more since they have more time than they did before they were forced to stay home. However, IRI data suggested they might be looking for better value as combo pack sales jumped almost 10% in mass doors for the three months ended April 19. Mintel also singled out a jump in dry shampoo volume.

The closure of beauty supply stores altered some of the habits in the multicultural market. Consumers are shifting to mass stores for needs they previously may have secured at a beauty supply store or a salon. “We’re seeing a bump. There are fewer options,” said Michael Jeffreys, national sales manager at J. Strickland & Co., based in Olive Branch, Miss. Another interesting movement he’s witnessed is demand for proven products, such as its Sulfur8 brand, which he said is posting strong double-digit gains. 

Jeffreys said his company has recently seen consumers experiencing more ingredient-caused hair issues, including psoriasis, seborrhea and dandruff. He attributed the big gains in Sulfur8 for its track record in resolving those issues. Sulfur8 is sold in such chains as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy and Rite Aid. “We are the leaders in medicated in multicultural,” he said. 

Bruce Kramer, senior vice president at Wahl Clipper, based in Sterling, Ill., said that consumers are starting to feel more confident doing their own hair grooming. His company helped by offering a Haircuts 101 tutorial. Household penetration of Wahl’s products zoomed from 48% to 60%. “I believe this category growth will abate to some degree, but still level off at a rate higher than before we entered this time,” he said. Beyond feeling more adept, he added, consumers want to save money.

Hair growth formulas, industry observers said, also seem to be on the rise, again perhaps since people have time to apply the products. Thick Head is one brand showing growth even without a major marketing push, according to the company. 

Hair care brands are not backing off of launches to keep the momentum going. The Mane Choice, which was recently added to the MAV Beauty Brands’ growing portfolio, just introduced a collection called POW, which stands for Products Obsessively Working. One of the cornerstones of the range is a deep treatment mask. The Mane Choice also added Ulta Beauty to its distribution list.

Strength was a big theme even before COVID-19 hit and has gained steam throughout. Carol’s Daughter, the L’Oréal-owned brand, was on top of the trend with its new Carol’s Daughter Goddess Strength Collection. 

Adding volume also is top of mind. New from Kao’s John Freida is the Volume Lift Collection that adds fullness to finer hair, with lightweight formulas that won’t hold it down. Urban Hydration has a Honey Hair Care collection in the works for 2021, which includes repairing shampoo, deep conditioner, daily moisturizer and detangling spray.

Wet Brush launched The WetBrush BreakFree Collection at a time right for consumers who are willing to experiment with styling while at home. While people might not need to dress below the waist for a Zoom meeting, they do want their tresses to look professional. The collection includes new shapes and a proprietary complex that infuses strand-boosting keratin and biotin back into hair, according to the company. Newly minted ambassador Justine Marian helps promote the range.

Conair is trying to make it easy for consumers to find the right tools for DIY hair care at home. Under the banner of its Home Essentials Collection, the appliance giant pulls together its array of The Knot — an all-in-one dryer brush, a bonnet hair dryer, a 20-piece men’s hair cutting kit, and women’s wet/dry shavers, among other items.