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Why companies like Bumble and 7-Eleven are trying to sell you skin care and makeup

The beauty business is so lucrative that Spotify and SodaStream want a piece of it too.

A hat sold by Bumble, the dating app.
Bumble

Bumble, the dating app, is launching its own line of skin care. That’s right — you’ll soon be able to swipe on some moisturizer while you swipe on potential life partners.

According to an interview with CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd in October’s Marie Claire, Bumble “spent several months working with psychotherapists and dermatologists to make serums that simultaneously solve skin and emotional issues.” The details are still fuzzy, but the line will launch in 2019 and will reportedly include products with names like “Breakup With Bad.”

You would be right for thinking that this is an extremely random thing for a tech company to sell. But you would also be wrong, because there has been a rash of companies lately that have nothing to do with fashion or beauty either launching their own beauty products or collaborating with beauty brands to sell their products.

All kinds of companies seem to see beauty as their own next step. 7-Eleven blew the minds of casual snack lovers and beauty enthusiasts alike last year when it announced it was launching its own line of makeup to be sold in its stores. Spotify teamed up with a famous makeup artist to sell products. Even Expedia and Estée Lauder had a collaboration.

This is part of a bigger push where more expected entities have been leaning into beauty. Fashion companies, like Madewell and J. Crew, added beauty assortments recently. Instagram favorite Revolve launched a beauty department that is reportedly doing gangbusters business. Urban Outfitters, which has long sold outside beauty brands, just launched its own proprietary line called Ohii.

So while these unrelated partnerships may seem completely absurd, it’s actually a sign of the selling power of beauty right now. People buy beauty products as much more than just a pragmatic purchase — they are looking for self-care, comfort, and self-confidence. Beauty ticks those boxes in a way that few industries do lately. It’s not surprising that more industries are looking for a beauty halo effect.

Need some fake eyelashes with your Big Gulp?

These companies roughly fall into two camps: companies that make their own beauty products, like Bumble, and those who use existing brands to expand their own reach. 7-Eleven is the former.

7-Eleven’s line, called Simply Me Beauty, features a surprisingly broad range of 40 makeup products that are, sadly, not Slurpee-themed. And they aren’t just utilitarian convenience store-type products like lip balm either. There are fake eyelashes and bronzers and BB creams. To put it in snack terms, it would be like going in for the regular Cheez-Its and coming out with the Sunshine® Cheez-It Duoz™ Caramel Popcorn and Cheddar flavor.

7-Eleven’s makeup brand, Simply Me Beauty.
7-Eleven

Every product costs between $3 and $5. In this case, 7-Eleven saw a weakness in the market and went for it. The traditional inexpensive drugstore brands like Covergirl, Almay, and Revlon are struggling while social-media savvy cheaper brands like NYX are booming. A lot of people still buy cheap makeup. “Drug stores and supermarkets have 30 percent of the market, and 7‑Eleven plans to gain market share in a big way with this introduction,” the press release said.

It’s not clear if this line is thriving. Local scouting of two 7-Elevens in my neighborhood in New York City was not promising. At one store, an employee said it received the display case months ago but had never received the products. In the other store, I found the products piled up on shelves underneath some dental floss and nail files, gathering a lot of literal dust. At launch, they had been prominently displayed at the front of the store.

But according to a statement from a 7-Eleven corporate spokesperson, “Simply Me Beauty products are resonating very well as sales continue to perform at an accelerated pace.”

Also trying to extend its brand into beauty is SodaStream, the DIY seltzer making machine that Pepsi Co. just announced it was buying for $3.2 billion. The company held a press event for beauty editors in New York City to tout the fizzy water’s benefit as a face cleanser.

The company said that a good chunk of its sales in Japan stemmed from people buying it to use the water to wash their faces. A SodaStream executive at the event said that it was not going to be a big marketing push in the US, but you should definitely expect to see articles about this new “trend.”

The Spotify of eyeshadow

Then there are the tech companies who have collaborated with already existing beauty companies. Spotify sold makeup for the first time at the end of 2017. Pat McGrath, an influential makeup artist who has had experience working behind the scenes for years at major fashion shows and as a creative director at several beauty brands, launched her own high-end line of makeup in 2015, which is carried at Sephora.

For the Spotify collaboration, McGrath teamed up with musician and makeup enthusiast Maggie Lindemann after discovering her on Instagram to sell several eye palettes and lip products that were part of the brand’s bigger collection. The products were offered on Lindemann’s artist page via Merchbar, a third-party platform Spotify partnered with last year to allow artists to sell their own merchandise, like T-shirts, via Spotify.

Spotify did not get a cut of sales, but anything that keeps people on the service longer is a good thing, not to mention it gives the company data on users’ habits. It also could be attractive to artists who want alternative revenue streams. “In partnering with Pat McGrath to offer beauty products in this innovative new way, [Lindemann] will be connecting directly with her fans in the place where they go to enjoy her music already on Spotify,” an executive for the company told Techcrunch.

Once you get past the weirdness of buying a really visual thing on an app that is all about listening, it makes a lot of sense for some artists who also have beauty side hustles. Most obviously, Rihanna has her Fenty beauty collection. How genius would it be to drop a limited edition lipstick the next time she drops a single? Madonna has a skin care collection. Lady Gaga reportedly has a beauty makeup collection coming out. Adele is very good at eyeliner. The list goes on.

And Spotify could monetize this for itself by adding beauty into its algorithm. This isn’t so farfetched when you learn that Spotify just partnered with AncenstryDNA to recommend music based on your genetic makeup. Listening to a lot of 80s music? You’re probably in your 40s and maybe looking for some anti-aging products. Listening to depressing emo breakup music? Here, have some waterproof mascara and undereye concealer to cover up the aftermath of all the weeping you’re doing. There are endless ways a makeup-music algorithm could work.

Then there’s the Dove-doughnut collaboration. Dove and the newly renamed Dunkin’ [nee Donuts] just announced that they will be co-hosting a pop-up shop in New York City. They’ll be giving away spritzes of dry shampoo and free coffee, as well as branded merchandise like tote bags and hair ties. “Coffee and dry shampoo, it’s a huge trend. It’s part of the popular culture. [Millennials on the internet] talk about dry shampoo in particular as a secret life hack to get ready on busy mornings,” a Unilever executive told trade paper WWD. It’s linked to a nationwide social media campaign, of course. Tweet or Instagram yourself armed with coffee and dry shampoo with the proper hashtags and win prizes. If it goes well, perhaps in the future you’ll be able to grab some dry shampoo with your coffee at Dunkin’ shops all over the country.

Finally, there was the several-month Expedia and Estée Lauder collaboration that ended in May. After you bought Estée Lauder products in a department store and received a travel-themed gift with purchase, you were supposed to post a selfie on Instagram with various approved hashtags for a chance to win a trip from Expedia. The connection was that Estée Lauder, the person, was very fond of travel.

Um, okay, so this one really does just seem random. But it was potentially a great way for Estée Lauder to get people back into department stores to buy things, and a great way for Expedia to get people on its mailing lists.

Why beauty is seemingly every brand’s next play

Sutian Dong, a partner at the Female Founders Fund, calls beauty a good “connector” to unite two seemingly different industries. Female Founders Fund has invested in beauty brand Winky Lux and women’s shaving startup Billie as well as a platform called Tinted, a community where women can share product recommendations and tips.

“I do think that beauty has the ability to transcend a lot of consumption barriers that you have within other industries,” Dong says. In other words, it’s easy to buy and pretty inexpensive.

Beauty is often an impulse purchase; that’s why Sephora and Ulta have bin after bin of smaller sized items in their snakelike checkout queues. Maybe you don’t really need a mini dry shampoo, but it’s right there in front of you, so you toss it into your basket, and the fact that it’s only a couple of bucks doesn’t hurt. 7-Eleven recognized this. “Much of the time, makeup items like lip and eye colors are spur-of-the-moment, impulse buys. If the price is right, that makes it easier to justify,” a 7-Eleven executive said in the original press release.

And then there are the margins in beauty. Companies can sell lipstick for a lot more than what it costs to manufacture. “When it comes to attractive markets for investors, that’s a reason beauty has become so hot for us,” says Dong.

And the payoff is huge: Beauty, and especially skin care, has become an emotional ritual for women now that many associate with wellness and self-care. And what’s more emotional and fraught than frigging online dating? The Bumble collaboration is not quite as weird as it may seem.

“Bumble really stands out as a brand that’s created a real affinity between women. It has done that in a way that’s not trite or overwrought, but in a way that’s really authentic and really built around celebrating the power that women have and are coming into,” says Dong. She points to Bumble’s expansion beyond dating to networking and meeting platonic friends. (Bumble also just announced that it is launching a fund to invest in women-helmed businesses, and it is an investor in the Female Founders Fund. Bumble did not respond to Vox’s request for comment for this story.)

The most important thing a brand can do is make you think about it on a daily basis, Dong explains. “I can’t think of any better way to do that than beauty and skin care especially, which is something you use every day. If you were to think less about, ‘Hey, Bumble started as a dating app’ and think more about the mission and the brand ethos of Bumble as a company and skin care as a part of creating rituals and creating ways to really celebrate women, it totally makes sense.”

It might not make as much sense for some companies, like 7-Eleven, who a lot of people associate with cheap coffee and those hot dogs on rollers. But for future beauty ventures to be successful, they’ll have to be a natural extension of both brands. We’re just starting to see how that will play out.

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