Metaverse – Fad or the Future of Beauty Commerce?

Staying relevant in the always changing beauty industry took on added meaning in the context of the recent news that one-time darling startup brand Glossier has seen sales declines of ~20% for the past two years in a row, and just laid off a third of its workforce. 🙁

What happened to Glossier?

Some of it was bad luck and timing – they got NPD timing terribly wrong, launching their Play makeup line right before the pandemic accelerated the trend away from color cosmetics, and then discontinuing the line last year, right before color started coming back as people returned to the office, bars, and restaurants. Ouch. (and by the way, I’m not throwing shade here – I’ve made many similar or worse mistakes, just farther from the public eye)

But a big part of it, according to the popular press, was a failure to evolve with the times. Millennial pink, stickers on your phone, selling DTC-only (though they’ve recently started opening stores IRL), building community mainly on Instagram – all these worked amazingly well…until they didn’t. It’s a reminder that in our industry, we constantly need to be evolving our brands and how we connect with consumers.

Which brings me to the metaverse. The what? Exactly. This feels for me a little bit like Tik Tok did 12-18 months ago – most people haven’t heard of it or aren’t sure what it is, some people think it’s a fad, and others think it’s the future. Facebook rebranded as “Meta” and they’ve bet big on it. Some say it’s the future of commerce; others are more cautious.

So what is the metaverse?

I’m not 100% sure on this but I think of the metaverse as a virtual online world (or worlds) that is a 3D version of the 2D web. OK, so far so good. In many cases, people have avatars in this online world that they use to interact with other people/avatars, and with companies, brands, games and other experiences.

As Beauty Independent recently described it, “[d]epending on who you ask, it can extend to social media, augmented and virtual reality, live shopping and video games. The term was coined in 1992 by science fiction writer Neаl Stephenson. He defined the metaverse as “а highly immersive virtuаl world where people gаther to sociаlize, plаy аnd work.”” If you’ve played Fortnite or any of the other multi-player virtual world games that’s kind of it.

And what are beauty brands doing with it?

The first thing to remember is that it’s early days, much like the mid-90’s and the advent of the Internet – we’re still at AOL accounts on dial-up modems. It’s evolving as people figure out how to utilize the new capabilities, though my sense is that, like the Web, the metaverse will evolve over a span measured in years and decades as opposed to Tik Tok which blew up in mere months.

Here are a couple of examples of beauty brands experimenting with the metaverse in different ways:

  • Dermalogica “store” with Obsess, which is kind of like Shopify for the metaverse
  • P&G’s BeautySphere, likely custom made. Feels like more of a novelty than something useful, but people said that about the world wide web in early days…
  • Valde Beauty dropped NFTs (a whole other topic) in kind of a metaverse way (though I can’t seem to figure this one out)

Should your beauty brand get involved?

At the risk of missing the next Tik Tok, I think for now I’m content to see how this plays out.  The above examples are innovative, fun and interesting but I don’t see them overtaking current forms of commerce or community building anytime soon. At Rare Beauty Brands we will monitor happenings in the metaverse but we’re not ready to re-orient the whole company around it (though it’s tempting to think about selling virtual Patchology eye gels for your avatar!). Again, I am also very open to the possibility that I’m completely wrong here.

And as Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, recently said of the metaverse, “Let’s remember this is a virtual world and we sell real products in the real world. This reminds me of the early days of the Internet, there were all these would-be Facebooks. But in the end, only one worked. Let’s be cautious.” Of course, he can afford to be cautious, with 75 brands and €12 billion in profit. So don’t be surprised if we all need to stop what we’re doing and take this more seriously!