DTC beauty brand Glossier recently revealed that it would be laying off 80 employees – a third of its workforce. This is not the first spell of difficulty the brand has gone through since its founding in 2014. Retail Week examines what Glossier’s challenges mean for the beauty industry.

  • Glossier products are only available to purchase via the brand’s website or in one of its three stores, limiting reach
  • The brand was forced to discontinue a product upon discovering that the glitter it used was not biodegradable
  • Racism allegations have contributed to an ongoing feeling of disconnect

Last week, Glossier stated that it had informed the team it would be letting go of 80 employees.

A spokesperson for the brand told Retail Week: “This was a difficult but necessary decision. We’ve always been a people-powered organisation and are grateful to all of our current and former team members for their contributions to Glossier.

“We believe these changes leave us well-positioned as we continue to grow the brand long into the future.”

First launched as a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand in 2014, Glossier currently has a valuation of $1.8bn (£1.3bn). While revenues for recent years are unknown, sales reached $100m (£74m) in 2018 when the brand offered only 36 products.

However, the decision to part ways with a notable portion of its employees marks the latest instalment in a string of difficulties for Glossier.

How did a brand on the fast track to success lose its way and what lessons can the wider beauty industry learn from Glossier as it looks to the year ahead?

Disconnect from mission

Glossier interior with bench

Racism allegations and sustainability concerns have dogged the brand

Glossier’s initial focus was to democratise beauty and provide products that offered a barely-there natural look.  

In its mission statement, it says: “We create the products you tell us you wish existed. We believe in thoughtful design and enabling conversation (which is where it all starts).”

However, racism allegations have contributed to an ongoing feeling of disconnect as Glossier moved away from the mission that first allowed it to stand out from competitors.

Last year, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, a group of more than 50 former retail employees of the brand came together to pen an open letter to highlight existing racial and leadership issues.

The group wrote: “[Senior management] approach cultivated a commitment to customer satisfaction that undermined workers’ wellbeing.”

While Glossier responded with plans to improve communication and management, chief executive Emily Weiss was called out for not issuing an apology two months after the brand pledged $1m (£743,000) to support Black Lives Matter and black-owned beauty brands.

This disconnect was cemented further by the introduction of the Glossier Play range in 2019, which focused on colour products.

The range’s lack of sustainability was highlighted, firstly due to its individually wrapped products.

Glossier was then forced to discontinue its Glitter Gelée product in 2020 upon discovering the glitter used was not biodegradable.

The company eventually cancelled the entire range in February 2020.

As Glossier strayed from its own brand ethos, consumers have noticed and this disconnect is presenting opportunities for other beauty brands.

According to GlobalData, three in five people globally agree that they are either completely or somewhat more loyal to brands that align with their values.  

“This is essential for the long-term success of brands as two-fifths of people generally agree that they will boycott a brand that doesn’t align with their values,” GlobalData analyst Carmen Bryan explains.

“In competitive industries such as beauty, this can present real challenges.”

Makeup samples

As coronavirus restrictions lifted there was a spike in cosmetics sales

Incidents that show a disparity between what a brand says and does around issues such as diversity and sustainability can have an impact on a brand’s reputation, particularly for younger consumers. 

Mintel reports that 71% of UK consumers think brand ethics are important when purchasing beauty products.

Two-fifths of people will boycott a brand that does not align with their values

GlobalData

“Ahead of making a new purchase or buying a new brand, consumers increasingly want to know as much as possible,” Mintel global beauty analyst Samantha Dover says.

“There’s an added layer; it goes a step further. They start to actively research what that brand does from a sustainability perspective, broader ethics, diversity and inclusion.” 

In the UK, 25% of adults research beauty or grooming brands or products ahead of purchase, rising to 34% of women aged 16-34, according to Mintel.

Reports such as those circling around Glossier’s treatment of employees or sustainability credentials could deter new customers.

Glossier interior

Glossier has not yet introduced a loyalty programme

While the Glossier no-makeup-makeup look dominated trends pre-pandemic, the easing of restrictions shows that consumers are ready to experiment again.

“Natural beauty is still an important trend in beauty, whether it is the product formulation or makeup style,” Bryan reports.

“However, as restrictions lifted, there has been a spike in cosmetics sales such as lipstick, perhaps revealing a renewed interest in makeup after the success hair and skincare products saw under lockdowns.”

Dover points out that brands such as Glossier target the younger consumer with its barely-there makeup products.

However, this group is more likely to invest in products that offer more coverage – even while in pursuit of that natural glow.

“The reality is that the younger consumers who Glossier are targeting do often need very functional products around things like acne.”

“Consumers want that convenience – they want all the different brands they buy in one place”

Samantha Dover, Mintel

Brands such as Starface and Hero Cosmetics have soared in popularity by letting Gen-Z consumers embrace skin struggles with products such as colourful pimple patches in different shapes.

Brand assortment is also important to beauty enthusiasts today, as Dover explains.

“Consumers want that convenience – they want all the different brands they buy in one place,” she says.

“Consumers are actively using a lot of different brands in their skincare routine. We like to curate what we are calling a brand wardrobe in the same way that we wear a lot of clothing brands, for example.”

This consumer urge to experiment is a challenge for DTC brands, particularly as Glossier products are only available to purchase via the brand’s website or in one of its three stores. 

A potential approach for Glossier to offer a wider number of consumers the chance to try before they buy would be introducing wholesale partnerships. 

“Partnerships with leading retailers such as Sephora can help online-only brands expand their reach to new demographics while retaining their loyal customers via their DTC channels,” Bryan adds. 

Rewarding the community

glossier-flagship-gachot-studios-manhattan-new-york_dezeen_2364_col_5

Glossier products are only available to purchase via the brand’s website or in one of its three stores

One area in which Glossier has achieved undeniable success is building an enthusiastic community. While it did lose followers following the employee complaints in 2020, the brand currently boasts more than 2.6 million Instagram followers.

However, Glossier has not yet introduced a loyalty programme – although shoppers can receive a discount if they refer a friend. 

“They have that really loyal following. It’s about adding that next step in terms of the value proposition, which could be a really big opportunity for the brand. It’s what consumers now expect,” Dover says.

“Young women in particular are looking for those loyalty schemes and it’s influencing where they will shop.”

While Glossier was a pioneer in the era of shopping for beauty online, it has encountered challenges in maintaining its position as a must-have brand. 

For brands today, the availability of products and rewarding the loyal customer appear to form the crux of a beauty enthusiast’s decision to purchase.

While Glossier has performed strongly since its founding, it may need to undergo a makeover of its own to ensure its natural beauty looks remain as popular in 2022.

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