What women want: Insights from Net-a-Porter's beauty buyer

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What women want: Insights from Net-a-Porter's beauty buyer
Net-a-Porter has been quietly growing its beauty category and now features 146 brands on its Asia Pacific site. We set down with senior merchandiser Sophie Bottwood to find out more

You can tell a lot about a woman's habits from a shopping site. Take online mecca Net-a-Porter. Besides being the purveyor of everything luxury from the most covetable Gucci tromp l'oeil sweater to the latest cult pump from Mansur Gavriel, the site is also able to tell us about which shade of lipstick women around the world love. Pink is a perennial top-seller, but interestingly, the exact, preferred shade differs from place to place. Nude pinks sell in the US, while bolder and brighter pinks do well in Europe. In Asia, punchier, berry tones are in demand, while in France the women prefer red lipstick instead.

Sophie Bottwood, the senior merchandiser for Net-a-Porter Beauty, revealed how in Singapore specifically, cult skincare brands like Sunday Riley and Tata Harper sell particularly well. In fact in Singapore, the buying patterns are slightly reversed, with skincare purchases making up 40 per cent of total buys — whereas makeup does better in general worldwide. Other interesting trends: the Middle East is the fastest growing market for beauty and there is a growing demand for luxury beauty items like Artis Brushes (a high-end makeup brush maker) and even Slip mulberry silk pillowcases. New brands that Bottwood showcased at our meeting included Kjaer Weis, a gluten-free cosmetics that come in weighty, recyclable metal packaging, Edward Bess, a luxury makeup brand, and Buly a Parisian apothecary brand with gorgeously decadent packaging. We spoke to Bottwood to find out some of her favourites, how Net-a-Porter curates its beauty selection and why you won't be seeing a Kylie Lip Kit on their (virtual) shelves anytime soon.

Edward Bess Black Sea Extreme Cover Cream and All Over Cream Base in Seducti
You've help grow the selection of beauty brands on the site from nine brands to over 200. What makes a new good Net-a-Porter beauty brand?
Over the past few years it was about growing the category and establishing ourselves in the industry, so we were focussed on the big brands and making sure we had what was expected from a big beauty website. Now we're focussed on having a point of difference. We love more exclusive brands. Our customers are more educated in beauty and techniques, and they want high-end products and things that perform. We add products that do something different than what we offer currently. It's about finding new, fun brands like Edward Bess — his products are amazing, but no one has heard of them yet. We like to nurture our brands and bring them to a global audience.

Artis Brushes
Why is packaging so important for a luxury portal? How do you decide on what brands fit on the site?
We shoot on a white background, so white products tend to get 'lost', while vibrant colours perform well. If a product comes at a high price point, but the customer finds the packaging cheap, they will not feel it's worth the money, even if the product inside is good. We see brands all the time, and we know what our customer will love. It's about efficacy and performance — every product on the site is tested by the beauty team and even across the company.

The most important factors: if it works, if it does what it says, if the colour payoff is right and if it's worth the price you're going to charge. We always ask, why do we love it... and if it's just because it's amazing, we have to have it. We have such a good beauty team, because everyone is obsessed with beauty and you can find some amazing brands if you're constantly looking. 

What are some new or under-the-radar brands you love?
Kjaer Weis and Edward Bess. There's a new hair brand that just come out called Vernon François. He's Lupita Nyong'o's hairstylist and he's brought out his own haircare line for curly, textured and thick hair. He's incredibly vivacious — which helps when you want to connect with the brand and what it's trying to achieve — and he could never find the right products. He's created spray-in conditioners that actually disperse, and he now owns the trademark for that. He also has a dazzling spritz that makes your hair super glossy. That's one of my favourite brands of the year.

Buly Empire Scented Candle
Buly will be amazing for our customer and I'm excited about that. It's the first time [the owner's] moved into wholesale and it took a lot of persuading to convince him. But he understands about selling online, and making something exclusive available to everyone. And the packaging is amazing — if it was displayed in your bathroom you would be so proud!

What are the popular brands in Asia and Singapore?
Sunday Riley without a doubt. Anything quite cult does well, like Tata Harper. We've seen Dr. Barbara Sturm do well. For makeup Charlotte Tilbury is always number one in the makeup category. Kjaer Weis actually performs fairly well, and Hourglass is a consistently top performing brand. 
For haircare its Oribe that does well globally, and it's interesting that they've moved into skincare and colour, and I think that will perform well.

 Sunday Riley face oils
What are the challenges with selling beauty products online?
For fragrance, what we always ask brands to do is to have candles and we make a discovery set — with something like 10 samples from their fragrance range — and people often come back and buy with us through that. It's less of a challenge to sell makeup and skincare than before. People are more experimental and they'll buy what they saw on a blogger or on social media. It might be quite a bold shade, but if people are talking about it, the customer wants to be a part of it, so it makes it quite easy for us.

What are some products you travel with?
I'm a sleep fanatic and I can't sleep on a plane, so I always take the This Works Balm and put it on my wrist. I will always do a face mask, like maybe an SK-II. I will take the Cleanse by Lauren Napier wipes, as it's the easiest way to remove makeup when I'm stuck in my seat. The This Works In Transit Camera Close Up keeps your skin hydrated on a flight.

What makeup products do you swear by?

The Hourglass Vanish Foundation. I think that foundations have moved on so much over the past five years —  especially stick foundations which have not been around for awhile. This one is amazing. I love the Kevyn Aucoin The Neo Bronzer as it's quite an easy palette to do a bronzer, blusher and highlighter all in one. For mascara, I use Eyeko and Yves Saint Laurent Beauté.

Kjaer Weis
Which brands would you like on the site? How do you get them on board?
The brand I would most love to have on the site is Clé de Peau Beauté . I think it's the most exquisite brand there is. It's not only on brand, the products are great. We normally have brand contacts, and then it's about explaining what Net-a-Porter is, an we talk about the launch plan and what we can offer that's different from someone else, like Sephora. We have an incredible customer base that no one else can access. And that's what the brands want... our customer to be seeing their brand. We can create beautiful content on Net-a-Porter that no one else can.

How do you come up with your Net-a-Porter seasonal kits?
We know more or less what works at different parts of the year. We sit down and we think of what we want in it. Then we talk to the brands. They get so much PR from this box and its great exposure for them and for our customer to try loads of different products at one go. Participating brands always have exclusivity in their category. It takes a long time to curate. This year for holiday, our beauty director has written the copy of all her tips and tricks of how to use the products to share with the customers. It will be at a slightly higher price point, but at a much better value. I want to buy the Christmas one and I own every product in it!

Who is the Net-a-Porter beauty woman?
I think we have two kinds of beauty customers. One is very loyal customer who's slightly older and who earns a high income. She's very sophisticated and knows what she likes, but is willing to try things. She's very loyal in her skincare, but she tends to be quite conservative in her makeup. The other customer is a new one, who has come into Net-a-Porter through beauty. She's a beauty junkie who tries everything and jumps on all the trends. 
She's buying glitter and very bright lipstick. She's far less loyal, but we love her as it's very exciting to buy for that kind of customer. 

Would you do something super trendy like Kylie Lip Kits?
It's always the Net-a-Porter take on things. For liquid lipsticks they're everywhere, and there are some brands that are for us. If you go slightly more high-end, you'll get much better formulas, quality and payoff — and that's what our customer expects from us.

What is your vision for the site?
I think Net-a-Porter is about curation. It's never going to be about having 8000 products. We've got a great base to work with and we've established our core set of brands. We've gotten much better at buying into trends quicker and leaving them when they're done.

Shop Net-a-Porter beauty here 

Text: Renée Batchelor

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