BY ELISABETH KING
Faster connections, better imaging and a wider variety of merchandise have completely upturned the way consumers look at buying cosmetic products online. Kate Morris, the co-founder of Adore Beauty, is the pioneer of online beauty retail in Australia and has been the subject of countless interviews and profiles in the media. But even though her entrepreneurial progress has been well-documented, it’s worth remembering she took a huge gamble when she founded the nation’s first beauty e-commerce site in 2000 with startup funding of $12,000.
Back then, there was no broadband, no smartphones and no social media, says Morris. “Today Adore Beauty has over 200 brands and 13,000 products, and mobile phone sales have now surpassed desktop purchases”. A revolutionary journey that has earned Morris and Adore Beauty a roll-call of major awards and business rankings. In 2014, Morris was awarded the Business Innovation Award for Victoria at the Telstra Business Women’s Awards and was inducted in the Australian Businesswomen’s Network Hall of Fame the following year to name two highlights. In 2017, she became the first woman to receive the Industry Recognition Award in the nine year history of the StarTrack ORIAs.
Adore Beauty has been an online beauty retailer longer than anyone else in Australia, says Morris. “What consumers expect is constantly changing and the path-to-purchase has become more democratic. More and more consumers prefer to cherry-pick than to stick to a single brand. But being successful in online beauty retailing is not only about choice. Building trust is crucial and beauty e-tailing is going from strength to strength because when customers trust a website they also consider it to be a seal of approval for brands”.
Trends are changing faster than ever, says Morris. “There are more and more skincare nerds and high-strength cosmeceuticals are currently massive. Foundation is also white-hot because women want to be selfie-ready, so there’s been a strong preference for full coverage. The selfie craze has also affected haircare sales because so many women also want their hair to look perfect - strong and healthy. Hair tools, repair and boosting products based on new technologies have also become major sellers”.
Content has become key in the evolution of beauty e-tailing, says Morris. “Our blog - Beauty IQ - educates consumers so they don’t have to go anywhere else for help and guidance. It’s a confluence of media and retail and offers advice on ingredients, trends and much more. Customers now see Adore Beauty as a valued resource, not just a place they come to when they are ready to buy products”.
Selecting the right shade of foundation has long been a bugbear for consumers shopping at both bricks-and-mortar and online retailers. “Every single day we had customers saying - I want to buy this product but I don’t know what colour I need”, says Morris. “On-screen swatches look different on every monitor. Online foundation sales used to be mostly re-purchases, but we created a spinoff software product called Findation which really solves the problem”.
Findation’s “Find My Shade” tool allows customers to find their matching foundation colour across different brands completely online. The database features over two million shade pairings and over 7800 products and is the world’s most comprehensive data base of foundation shades. “The tool not only increases online sales, it also reduces the number of returns,” says Morris.
Adore Beauty’s customer base is very broad, says Morris. “Ages range from 18 to 70 but our strongest cohort is aged between 25 and 45. They are also influenced by YouTubers and Instagrammers and are early adopters. Sales through mobiles skyrocketed last year and our ongoing investment is geared towards mobile through 2018. Two years ago, consumers were using mobiles mainly to check information, but now they are completing the entire purchase journey on their smartphone. It’s all about speed these days at every step”.
Morris is proud of the fact that the Adore Beauty team still thinks like a startup. “We set ourselves lofty goals and are constantly asking - How fast can we get things done. To be an ongoing commercial success, you have to evolve, and that means having the courage to fail. If an idea doesn’t work, move on to the next experiment. The one thing that’s non-negotiable is to remain customer-centric all the time. We constantly look at feedback, data and scout for trends and products we think our customers will like. We still have to test first though! Even though I have been in business for 17 years, the results still often surprise me”.
Like many leaders in the beauty industry, Morris believes AR (Augmented Reality) has enormous potential as it continues to develop. “It will be amazing to be able to invite customers to ‘try on’ products once the tools become accurate. But even more important than bells-and-whistles technology is being honest and respectful of your customers. None of our sales staff are on commission. They are brand agnostic and are free to say to customers - Don’t buy that”.
One of the biggest changes since the launch of Adore Beauty is speed of delivery. “In the early days, people were just happy if the product they ordered actually arrived! Then one week became standard; but today people aren’t prepared to wait for even a few days anymore. If customers order something by 1pm from Adore Beauty, it will arrive the next day. We are constantly investing in accelerating delivery times because quicker service boosts sales”.
In February of this year, Adore Beauty was awarded the Top Customer Rated online retailer in Australia at the Power Retail Awards; further testament to its commitment to customer happiness.
Even though better photography and tools like Findation have eased consumer doubts about what a final look will be, replenishment is still very important to e-tailers, says Morris. “Some customers will always prefer to buy a new product in-store for the first time. But what we’re seeing now is more and more customers willing to explore and buy new products online. This is a big shift and we’re investing heavily in creating the tools and content our customers need to feel confident about buying sight-unseen”.
Morris has carved out an enviable reputation as a public speaker. “Resilience and tenacity are among the two most important qualities when you start a business. Timing and identifying a market niche are also as important as they ever were. You also have to take a longterm view and should always stand by your word. We have always been respectful of our brand partners. Sometimes it takes longer to get some brands on board, but doing the right thing remains key to building a reputable company and being a market leader in your space”.
It’s an attitude that’s paid off handsomely. In 2015, Woolworths became an investor in Adore Beauty acquiring a 25 per cent stake, but in early 2017 Morris bought it back to become independent again. She’s not overawed by the arrival of Amazon, principally because the online giant has been present in the Australian marketplace for some time. Adore Beauty’s far-greater passion for beauty continues to drive its growth, says Morris. “We operate 7 days a week and our team of skincare specialists, hair stylists and makeup artists is second to none for the best advice and customer care”.
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