Maybe it’s due to the fact I’ve already lived though bird flu, swine flu, a BSE crisis and a SARS outbreak, but when Coronavirus started hitting the headlines I didn’t foresee it developing into the worldwide issue it’s fast becoming. Whether you’re a health anxious person or not (living and working in London for over a decade definitely made me less bothered than I already was about picking something up – it’s an inevitability!) you can’t fail to recognise the fact it’s holding headlines and snowballing into a potential global crisis. Although for the majority it’s a virus that’s relatively easy to recover from, the impact on the global economy could potentially be long-lasting; China accounts for a huge proportion of componentry and production across the beauty market in particular, so with staff being forced to stay home and factories going into lockdown, the impact of the Coronavirus on the beauty industry could be potentially huge.
After speaking to a friend in retail who wasn’t sure if their new season collections would even be made, let alone imported into the UK (“even if the shoe itself is made in India, they may use heels or buttons or zips made in China!”) I really started to think about the long-term repercussions of a health disaster – albeit superficial ones that rank low on the scale of 1 to ‘my gran just died’. Granted being able to get hold of your favourite foundation or mascara isn’t a priority compared with the wider health crisis, the industry is globally worth billions of dollars and employs millions of people; without it flourishing we could find ourselves in another economic slump that takes years to recover from.
So what has the impact of the Coronavirus been so far?
The annual Italian trade show Cosmoprof is a huge annual moment in the beauty industry calendar, and it’s now been announced it’s been postponed from March to June due to the virus. Suppliers, brands and growing businesses rely on this hub of industry insiders to make connections, secure partners and sell their products, so without this opportunity it wouldn’t be a huge leap to say that technology would be adopted and brought to market far slower than we would’ve otherwise anticipated.
It could impact smaller businesses more than most, who by their very nature have less of a financial buffer to stabilise an uncertain period, and it’s often those more nimble organisations that have the ability to innovate and react to new trends quicker than anyone else. My beauty clients have been struggling to plan their launch calendar for the year because uncertainty around packaging and componentry, while even existing lines may potentially be in short supply in the months to come; this could have a huge impact on the sales they rely to keep their small businesses booming.
But it’s not just the smaller names that could be feeling the downturn. Brands including Urban Decay, Becca, Morphe, IT Cosmetics, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Makeup Revolution, Pixi, Revlon, Maybelline, Essence and NYX are all made in Chinese factories (either in total or to a degree) while many more use components for their products or packaging. If they can’t get products made, it means a shortage in supply – and possibly a premium added to the ones in stock in an effort to capitalise on the situation. (We all know what happened to the price of Kylie Lip Kits when nobody could get their hands on them!)
The impact is further reaching too, with Japanese brand Shiseido (who own Bare Minerals and NARS) calling for their entire 8000-strong workforce to stay home and work remotely for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard on the grapevine that many other brands are limiting international travel, particularly due to the high number of cases in Italy (which also happens to be a big producer of beauty products and accessories) which brings the concern nearer to our own doorstep.
On a far more superficial level, the Chinese market has been fueling the growth of the beauty industry for the past few years – particularly within the struggling prestige sector. According to a CNBC article: “In 2018 beauty sales in China grew 12.9%, compared with just 4.6% in the States… As of June, Estee Lauder grew more than 40% in China over the past year, on top of the 67% growth seen in the previous 12 months.” It’s safe to say that Chinese consumers aren’t prioritising buying lipgloss right now, but that impact could be felt far closer to home if sales take a nosedive; even in the UK we rely on global performance to justify expenditure and jobs.
We’re already starting to see shortages of hand hygiene gel and protective face masks in the UK, and it’s still a relatively small problem comparatively; if the contamination rate doesn’t slow down we could potentially see far more empty shelves in Boots – and probably a lot more ’empties’ videos on YouTube as we’re all forced to use up what we already have rather than shopping for more. (Not necessarily a bad thing!)
The impact of the Coronavirus on the beauty industry may be superficial and of low priority right now, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be disastrous in the months and years to come.
We’ll have to just wait and see.