Net-a-Porter’s beauty section celebrates its fifth anniversary in April, and it’s well-timed: The beauty category has never been more popular, growing six percent in the U.S. last year to reach $17.7 billion.
For the luxury website, things are looking similarly rosy: Its beauty sales have grown 10 times since its launch in 2013, according to the company. They now sell 265 different brands (including Tom Ford, Hourglass and Oribe), up from 86 its first year, and 8,138 products, a huge jump from the initial 1,000.
Unsurprisingly, the category has become significantly more important to the brand, according to Newby Hands, the company’s beauty director, who joined from Harper’s Bazaar UK in 2015. “The reaction to it has been quite a surprise,” she said, noting that it was initially launched as more of a cart-filler option for its fashion-loving shoppers.
Today, it’s grown beyond that, she said, bringing in more new customers than every other category. Those customers tend to be younger and perhaps less financially comfortable than Net-a-Porter’s usual clientele: “She’s someone who’s always looked at us from afar, and beauty gives her a more accessible way to experience everything Net-a-Porter is about.” More often than not, though, these shoppers trickle over to shop the site’s fashion section, too, she reports.
Breaking new ground
Outside of the obvious — skin care and makeup — Net-a-Porter’s beauty subcategories are now wide-ranging, touching everything from nails and fragrance to tools and devices. Last year, it introduced a clean beauty section to highlight its assortment of non-toxic, natural-leaning products, which includes brands like Kora Organics and Rahua.
Of course, “clean” is an elusive term these days, one that means different things to different people, so the criteria for this section isn’t as strict as one might find at a retailer like Credo or CAP Beauty.
“I like to call it ‘considered beauty,’” said Newby. “Nowadays, women everywhere are very specific about what they want and don’t want in their products.” Net-a-Porter’s clean beauty section, then, offers products with less of what consumers might not want, like artificial fragrance or synthetic ingredients.
There’s also a section for the ever-growing cohort of wellness fiends, which includes items like supplements and protein powders from buzzy brands like Moon Juice and WelleCo.
But, trends aside, its a classic — lipstick — that Net-a-Porter’s customers pine for most consistently, said Newby. Charlotte Tilbury, Christian Louboutin and Tom Ford are the top sellers in the category.
“People always said women would never buy makeup online, but they certainly do from us,” said Hands.
Still, the last six months have seen a spike in skin-care sales, she notes. This makes sense, given the larger industry skin-care boom: U.S. sales in the category rose by 9 percent last year, and those sales contributed to 45 percent of the beauty industry’s total gains.
Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury’s line — made up of products that tap into both categories — appears to be the site’s crown jewel of sorts. Her Full Fat Lashes 5-Star Mascara is its most popular beauty product, and her Magic Cream follows close behind. Other items in the top 20 include This Works’ Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, WelleCo’s The Super Elixir and RMS Beauty’s Raw Coconut Cream.
Sourcing large and small
Despite the site’s growth, however, Hands is quick to stress to that its still wedded to tight curation. On average, the retailer launches two brands per month and doesn’t plan to increase that anytime soon.
When sourcing products, she and her team of buyers try to go in with an open mind, she said, but they don’t want anything that’s too readily available. “What’s the point?”
It’s for that reason the company tries to be uber-selective with more established brands. There are only nine Estée Lauder products on the site, for example.
“Even if its a well-known, respected brand, we still want to keep a careful edit, and we very rarely take a full range from them, which is our point of difference,” said Hands. The goal, instead, is for most products on the site to be new discoveries.
But for those brands, like those under The Estée Lauder Companies — which sells not just its namesake line on the site, but seven of its other brands, as well — the association with high fashion is a key benefit.
“It complements our brands’ high-touch service, prestige positioning and reputation,” said Jessica Rotnicki, senior vice president of North American e-commerce for The Estée Lauder Companies. The aspirational, original content created by Net-a-Porter’s editorial team, both online and in print for Porter Magazine, is another selling point, she said, as it enhances overall brand equity and helps to drive sales.
And for those that aren’t nationally recognized, it’s a major coup.
“It helped establish our credibility within the beauty space, and has allowed for exposure to new markets and like-minded communities,” said Ariana Mouyiaris, the creative director of Make Beauty, which has seen a significant boost in sales since debuting on the site last April.
When sourcing new product, price points — which currently range from $5 to $2,500 — don’t matter as much to the Net-a-Porter team as an acclaimed, proven-to-work formulation. “Luxury can be many things; there can be luxury of knowledge and pedigree,” said Hands. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.” Still, the site’s average selling price for beauty increased by 15 percent last year from the year prior.
The company hasn’t seen any price resistance in the category, however. “Customers are willing to spend more on premium skin-care brands,” said Hands.
While that customer’s age isn’t concrete, she is said to be well-off and busy, providing the Net-a-Porter team with lots of opportunity for category expansion. “She has lots of specific beauty touch points beyond her bathroom,” explained Hands, pointing to the gym and in-flight as examples. “She travels 9 to 11 times a year.” As such, special sets, like an On the Go Beauty assortment ($98), have been created to help customers one-stop-shop for these different venues.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary, the company will be launching a few more as-yet-unannounced sets in early April. They are also working with over 12 brands on exclusive products, including limited-edition versions of Eyeko’s Bespoke Mascara, Vintner’s Daughter’s popular Active Botanical Serum and 111Skin’s Multi-masking Planner. And it’s doing a series of events to celebrate the anniversary.
Hands will also be holding presentations that month in New York, London and Singapore for press, where she’ll unpack the global beauty trends Net-a-Porter is seeing from its customer data: “We’ll be talking about all the different types of women out there: who’s buying what, where, and how are they using it.”
Onemight assume it would want to keep that information private and use it to develop its own Net-a-Porter branded beauty products instead, tapping into the current private-label craze. But, according to Hands, no such plans are in the works: “We have a long way to go until we’d feel comfortable doing that.”