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Aug 24, 2021
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UK prestige beauty is on the road to recovery, fragrance is key

Aug 24, 2021

The UK prestige beauty sector is bouncing back and saw an 11% year-on-year sales rise in the first half, a new report from The NPD Group showed on Tuesday.


Prestige beauty value sales in the UK reached £693 million between January and the end of June, despite the UK still being in varying stages of lockdown quite a few of those months. 

That said, the bounce-back hasn’t yet seen the sector reaching 2019 levels with sales still down 29% compared to H1 two years ago.

Physical sales remained challenged with much of the latest growth coming from e-commerce, unsurprising given the ongoing lockdown for much of the period covered. NPD said that in the first half of 2021, e-sales rose 23% year-on-year. 

But physical shops remain the primary channel for buying upscale beauty brands when they’re open and as of June, 64% of sales were seen through this channel.

As far as individual categories are concerned, fragrance saw an increase of 25% in the first half of 2021 and accounted for 81% of value sales growth in the prestige beauty market as a whole.

Emma Fishwick, account manager, NPD UK Beauty said the fragrance market benefited from the decline in travel overseas. Where consumers might have traditionally purchased their new or replenished their favourite fragrances in Duty Free, they have instead been buying locally and online.

Fragrance has traditionally had the highest volume sales of prestige beauty sales in physical settings compared to e-commerce than any of the prestige categories (make-up, skincare, and haircare). But this is changing. In the first half of 2019, 18% of fragrance volume sales were reported in e-commerce channels compared to 42% of fragrances volume sales in the first half of 2021. E-commerce fragrance value sales increased 91% in the first half this year compared to two years ago.

Meanwhile, make-up was a troubled category last year and remained so in H1 this year with a decline of 6% compared to 2020 and 49% compared to 2019. Working from home, restricted socialising and wearing masks have all meant consumers have purchased and worn less make-up.  

Brands have responded with new techniques using digital as a gateway to experimentation and offering virtual try-on applications. 

Because of that, despite the overall decline in make-up sales, online sales increased 8% in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2020 and increased 14% this year compared to 2019. 

There were changes seen in what people bought as well with consumers choosing lightweight formulas like tinted moisturisers instead of foundations. 

Sales of prestige skincare increased 7% in H1 year-on-year, but were down 22% compared to 2019. That said, the category picked up pace later in the half and sales of serums, cleansers and exfoliators recorded double-digit growth overall. 

NPD said consumers seem to be choosing more accessibly priced brands and products. Skincare’s average sale price was was down 15% compared to the same period in 2020. 

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