NEW YORK— When makeup artist Natasha Denona, beloved by beauty junkies and vloggers, first released her Metropolis eyeshadow palette in early 2019, the product quickly sold out. As with many of her launches, customers who missed out on the release could find the $129 palette reselling online shortly after, marked down by a slim $10-15 margin.
Many of these resold palettes could be found on Glambot, the makeup and skincare resale platform founded by Karen Horiuchi in 2013 that has emerged as a go-to secondhand market for beauty products. Modelled similarly to Thredup, consumers send in new or lightly used makeup, skincare products and beauty tools Glambot, which then makes an offer to pay out the sender and then sell the products directly on its website and app.
There are no clear growth figures for the beauty resale market. But it has expanded slower than the apparel resale market, which has been propelled by the rise of digital platforms like Thredup as well as The RealReal and accounted for $7 billion of the overall $29 billion secondhand clothing market, according to GlobalData. Increased interest in the beauty category can be attributed to the fashion resale boom, according to Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at WGSN. The trend is further along in Japan, where digital secondhand marketplace Mercari, valued at $1.2 billion when it went public in 2018, has become a significant platform for beauty resale.
A survey conducted by market research firm Ipsos for Vogue Business found that 37 per cent of people were interested in buying previously owned but unused and unopened beauty products. Nearly half of respondents (49 per cent) named better value as the key driving trend for beauty resale, the survey found. Interviews conducted by WGSN also found that, beyond lower costs, environmental concerns and a sense of community are central to its consumer appeal. “The social shopping aspect of beauty resale sites really appeals to Gen Z and millennial shoppers,” says Middleton.
WGSN, which began tracking beauty resale in 2019, says it’s too early to quantify the market size but predicts it will grow next year. Fashion resale companies have also begun testing the beauty category: Poshmark started permitting makeup sales in 2015 and launched an official makeup market late last year. Ebay has also become a go-to platform for customers looking to clean out their beauty cabinets or find a good deal on an otherwise sold-out product. Though she declined to comment on overall sales, Ebay’s head of fashion, Nicole Colombo, called it a strong category for the site.
Beauty is shaping up to be the next frontier of resale, as customers embrace and online companies normalise secondhand selling in a category once held back by hygienic concerns. Thanks to the rise of platforms practising the process of cleaning and repackaging products, alongside the influx of buzz-garnering limited product drops, beauty resale is positioned for growth in 2020.
What sells best
Since beauty is generally an entry-level category, customers tend to accumulate vast product collections, including items that are barely used. “We know that consumers have graveyards of products,” says Kristy Click, who leads client work for several beauty brands at Ipsos. Beauty junkies share photos of overflowing cabinets and product stashes to Instagram using the hashtag #shelfie, which has 1.8 million posts, to show off just how much they’ve amassed.
Certain beauty products sell better than others on resale platforms. On Ebay, for example, the most popular products are new and refurbished beauty tools, trending and sold-out collaborations and fragrances. Refurbished Dyson tools like its Supersonic Hair Dryer and Airwrap are especially popular, with the brand receiving more than 150,000 search inquiries on the platform and witnessing its highest sales week over Cyber Monday last November. One refurbished Dyson Hair Dryer on the platform is currently selling for $279.99, $120 less than shoppers would pay for a new one.
Ebay has also become a go-to platform for customers looking to clean out their beauty cabinets or find a good deal on an otherwise sold-out product.
Fragrances by brands like Chanel and Tom Ford, as well as refurbished massage tools like the Theragun, also drive millions of dollars in sales on the platform each year, according to Colombo.
Buzzy, limited-edition collaborations give some beauty brands an active afterlife, similar to the sneaker resale market, with resale prices inflating due to demand. After Kylie Cosmetics’s $350 Holiday Collection Bundle sold out on her website in December, it began popping up on platforms like Poshmark and Ebay for as much as $750. Makeup artist Jeffree Star’s namesake brand has become one of the fastest-growing brands on Ebay, according to Colombo, with sales up 10,000 per cent since last year. Star’s Conspiracy eyeshadow palette alone drove over $120,000 in sales, with units selling for upwards of $150, compared to the original price of $52.
“Beauty consumers tend to be massive fans of specific brands and products, and they want to use apps and websites to share their passion for those brands by sharing, trading or exchanging products for [other ones they love],” says Middleton.
Despite its growing popularity, beauty resale faces significant hurdles that fashion does not. Product hygiene and expiration dates are largely self-regulated on these platforms, which can lower consumer confidence in buying these products secondhand.
“The biggest hurdle for any used personal items is the hygiene or ‘ick’ factor, which is even higher for beauty products,” says Click. “There’s also a mysteriousness around who the prior owner was and [what they did with the product].” Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed by Ipsos cited concerns around hygiene and bacteria as the top reason they wouldn’t buy resold beauty products, while 34 per cent pointed to the ambiguity around who they were purchasing from.
In response to these concerns, Glambot built product cleaning into its offering: every product sent is said to be professionally sanitised, with different methods used for different products. The top layer is removed from pressed powders, for example, using pressured air, cling film, putty or a Q-tip. The top layer of lipstick is sliced off with a clean blade. Certain products, like those that come with reusable applicators, will only be purchased and sold by Glambot if they’re new and unused.
Poshmark, meanwhile, relies largely on “credibility and history in reselling and authenticating upscale brands”, says Click. A representative for Poshmark says that the company does not support the sale of any beauty product that has been used or opened. But used beauty products and products without the original packaging can be found on the peer-to-peer selling site. While products that still have packaging and tags can be labelled “New with Tags,” the veracity of those claims are dependent entirely on the sellers and customer ratings.
Similarly, Ebay follows FDA guidelines barring the sale of used cosmetics, sponges and applicators, threatening to enact seller restrictions or suspend an account that’s found to have broken the rules. But actually regulating seller claims can be tricky, and faulty products are not always obvious.
One solution suggested by beauty product designers, according to Middleton, is packaging designed to be easier to resell, such as skincare dispensers used in lieu of jars and airless pumps that help to preserve a product. These formats are popular with brands like Drunk Elephant and MDNA Skin for hygiene and potency reasons. While it doesn’t work for every product type, Middleton predicts that beauty brands will get increasingly innovative, especially if resale becomes a bigger business.
For brands, the monetary benefit and overall appeal of such programmes is uncertain. Fashion resellers, like Rebag, have argued that lowering the barrier to entry for pricier purchases is a boon for customer acquisition in the long run: once someone buys into a brand, they will be more likely to save up and buy directly from that brand in the future. In the Ipsos survey, 30 per cent of respondents said that not being able to afford the retail price of a product was their primary driver for shopping beauty resale.
However, not everyone is sold on the idea that this market will eventually lead to sales for the original brands, with some analysts seeing it more as savvy marketing from resellers than the reality. One incentive, instead, is an association with the eco-friendly aspect of resale. In the survey done by Ipsos, 29 per cent of people interested in shopping resale reported that they did it to be less wasteful, while 25 per cent saw the choice as good for the environment. “A big benefit of beauty resale for consumers is that less will be thrown away, creating less impact on the environment,” says Click. “Younger generations are especially keen to align themselves with brands who are taking this on.”