Several challenges to overcome
Why beauty packs don’t get re-used more, notably in the luxury segment? To cite only some of the reasons:
On the users’ side: Beauty consumers like to experiment, and often switch from product to product and from brand to brand. Even when faithful to a brand, they may find it easier to dispose of the used pack and to buy a new product. Moreover, refill processes may involve ‘mechanical’ operations, perceived as complex or clashing with the universe of Beauty.
On the retail side: It is more complex to have to manage two SKUs per product: the full product and the refill. Offering the refill service implies trained staff and consumes time; if the brand wishes that the refill operation happens in the back office – in order to keep the ‘mechanical’ aspects discreet – it requires a dedicated space, etc.
On the brans’ side: They need to redesign packs to make it durable, ensure simple and intuitive refill operations, all while staying coherent with brand values and image. Besides, if a pack is to be re-used (say 10 to 20 times, that is 2.5 to 5 years of usage) it will have to remain relevant with trends that will have changed several times, and remain compatible with formulas that may have evolved.
On the manufacturers’ side: They will have to re-engineer packs to last much longer; materials and finishes will have to stand the test of time and mechanical features (pumps, closing systems, applicators…) will have to sustain much more actuations. And the implication on their Business Model is potentially major, since an increase in re-use will correlatively reduce volumes produced - unless if compensated by market growth.
Directions for the roadmap of the Industry?
These challenges are indicating the directions in which to orient innovation programs, which could, broadly speaking, follow two directions:
For the Mass-Market, invest primarily on Reduce + Recycle, with packs simplified to the maximum, made from single material families to be easily recyclable, and using the strict minimum of material, and that material should be ‘green’ and indefinitely recyclable, in a closed, cradle-to-cradle loop.
For the Luxury, engage in Reuse, with high quality, durable packs made with ‘noble’ materials.
And of course, there exist and infinity of nuances and combinations in between these two extremes.
The challenge for luxury brands is to create packs so beautiful and functional that no one will imagine disposing of them. Brands will then be able to integrate a higher value in their packs since their cost will be amortized over a greater number of uses. If, for argument sake, we imagine that the cost of a pack would double or triple – which opens tremendous design opportunities - the economical balance will still be extremely positive if we consider 10 or 20 usage cycles - and why not much more?
Although refill solutions exist for quite some time for cream jars, some recent pioneering applications open new ways for other products: with Hourglass’ Curator Mascara the user purchases the applicator only once and only repurchases a vial of formula, the steel applicator is gold-plated and will stay beautiful and functional for a long time; Guerlain (with the Rouge G), La Bouche Rouge and Serge Lutens propose refillable lipsticks – one changes only the cartridge and keeps the case, made from high quality durable materials; similarly Cha Ling proposes refillable ceramic bottles and jars for its skincare products.
And of course, these durable and reusable packs may additionally integrate a growing part of PCR or other green materials and be designed in such a way that – at the twilight of a long career, when they will have deserved to be retired with dignity – they could be cleanly recycled to feed a closed-loop economy.
The Beauty Industry as influencer for consumption at large?
Outside of Beauty, similar initiatives multiply. LOOP for example re-invents a modern version of returnable packaging and targets one hundred re-uses for food and personal care packs!
Experience shows that usages are contagious between different consumption areas, and that many ethical and responsible practices appear in food and then propagate to cosmetics – or sometimes vice-versa. Hence, as initiatives like LOOP multiply, consumers will come to expect these benefits as mandatory in all consumption fields. Beauty brands may find it beneficial to act proactively rather than letting consumers taking the initiative – with potential backlash for brands perceived as not going fast and far enough.
The beauty industry is one of the most visible (it gathers one third of all interactions on social media), it comprises some of the best known and most powerful brands in the world, who might lead the way towards more virtuous and durable consumption models.
What is at stake is largely proportionate to the magnitude of the challenges: it is no less than inventing tomorrow’s really durable beauty, while generating engagement and new levels of brand loyalty.