Online Beauty Customers Want Discounts and Freebies

What Your User Wants: Focus on Beauty Retailers


Market research is a key part of our optimisation research process, and we do that for each client we work with, whether as part of end-to-end optimisation or as one-off projects. We unearth several critical insights into different industries and brands through our research.

Through this user research-focused blog series, we bring you insights we’ve garnered from research into different eCommerce industries.

In this first post of the #WhatYourUserWants series, we talk about users of beauty brands and what such businesses can do to improve their customers’ buying experience.

Beauty eCommerce Is Seeing Unprecedented Growth

Beauty brands stats

Beauty and cosmetics eCommerce in the UK grew by 42% year-on-year[1] and was worth around £1.7 billion in 2020, according to leading market research organisation GlobalData. Experts say this has been possible due to 3 things:

  1. The shift from in-store shopping to online during the pandemic;
  2. Quick advancement of customisation tools that allow users to see how they would look with the product on; and
  3. Accessibility and convenience that online affords.

Now let us deep-dive into what insights our research into beauty brands has yielded.

Online Beauty Brands: Behaviour of New vs Returning Users

Typically, the consumers who visit beauty websites such as ESPA, Penhaligon’s, MAC Cosmetics, and Charlotte Tilbury, display unique browsing habits based on whether they are new to the site or are repeat purchasers/regulars.

While returning customers are action-oriented, know what they want and where to find it, new customers of beauty brands need help with product choice—in the case of cosmetics: shade, finish, coverage, size, etc.

New customers want the website to help them fill their knowledge gap and give them enough information to allow them to make an informed decision on what to buy.

New customers also tend to leave the site quickly and look elsewhere for their needs under the following circumstances:

  • They are unable to find a product fast.
  • The prices appear higher to them.
  • They do not receive discounts, freebies, or free delivery.
  • The site does not match their mental model on how a cosmetics website should be (in terms of navigation, terminology, page layout, product description, etc.).

In general, users tend to shop around for the products they want—our research revealed that more than 30% of visitors considered going to a multi-brand retailer instead of purchasing directly from the manufacturer’s website. In general, they may be loyal to the brand, but they are not loyal to buying direct.

Factors Determining Conversions on Beauty Brand Websites

What affects conversion rates the most when it comes to websites of direct-to-consumer cosmetic brands? Let’s look at the key findings of our research:

1.      Discounts and Freebies

The two main things users expect from a direct-to-consumer cosmetics brand are discounts and freebies. And within freebies, most users were not interested in free samples of products that they don’t want or need.

In GlobalData’s study, 42% of users said they bought online because of lower prices. Interestingly, in our research, 42% of consumers stated price as the main factor that led them to almost not completing a purchase on a D2C cosmetics site. This indicates that they often find the prices of products on D2C beauty brands to be higher.

Beauty brands factors affecting conversions

Factors affecting conversions for online beauty retailers

2.      Drop-offs Before User Reaches PDPs

The highest drop-offs in user journeys on beauty sites happen in the journey between homepage or product listings page (PLP) to product details page (PDP)—around two-thirds of visitors do not reach the PDP.

This indicates that users are either unable to quickly differentiate between products and find what they need, or have already decided they do not want to buy from the site. The best way to counter this is to give them clear navigation and a visible and easy-to-use sort and filter option.

We’ve seen users who use the sort and filter functionalities converting almost 40% more than those who do not. The most common sort and filter is related to price, which again reflects the price sensitivity D2C beauty users have.

Another deterrent on PLPs or search results pages is reviews. While using ratings as social proof is great for many industries, users refrain from clicking on products with low ratings, because with skincare products, they are more risk-averse. This means beauty brands have to find creative ways of using social proof on homepage and PLPs.

3.      Drop-offs on PDPs

Bounce rates are also pretty high on PDPs at over 65%. This page is very important because this is where actual purchases are decided.

Further research can confirm which product requires what kind of approach on the PDP, but in terms of online retailers, the most important thing is to be able to quickly communicate to users why they should buy from them instead of a competitor or a multi-brand retailer.

4.      Search Bar

Typically, users who use the search bar convert more—up to 20% higher—than those who do not. This is generally due to intent, where users are clear on what they want to buy. When this is the case, product-specific searches have higher conversion rates.

However, we’ve also seen search being driven by a lack of understanding of the navigation.

Key Takeaways

So what are the basic measures an online beauty retailer can take to improve customer experiences on their website, and therefore, conversions?

Here’s a quick list:

  • Encourage more users to come to the site and stick by clearly showing the benefits of buying from you.
  • Since most users expect discounts and freebies, they will have to be given in some form, and they will have to be highlighted sitewide.
  • Make it easier for users to find the right products through improved navigation, search prompts, clear paths to a product page, clearer labels, persuasive CTAs, and personalisation.

What do you think of our insights? Write to us at

[1] Electric Growth in UK Beauty and Grooming eCommerce

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