X Files #2 Glossier

Our second X Files covers Glossier, a direct-to-consumer beauty brand created in 2010 and whose founder and CEO, Emily Weiss is presented by New York Magazine as the “Estée Lauder of the millennials”.

What started as a beauty blog is now a company valued at more than a billion dollars. Why Glossier is here to last? Because Emily has a rare quality: she listens to her customers and gives them a voice through beauty.

“Beauty is so social”, Emily Weiss, at Recode, January 2019.

X Files are produced in collaboration with the retail and consumer expert Laurence Faguer. For more information, visit: customer-insight-consulting.com


At the beginning was babysitting

“Put me to work. I love work!”, Emily Weiss
Source : CNBC

The helping hand of fate
Emily Weiss is a hard worker but fate can help too... Originally from Connecticut, she learns the value of her parents' work (her father worked in the Pitney Bowes printing group at the time). At 14, she was babysitting with a neighbouring family whose father was an executive at Ralph Lauren's, a real stroke of luck for the fashion enthusiast. She will do a summer job for two years in a row there, a stepping stone to an internship at Teen Vogue. And everything follows. Art degree, position at W, Vogue. Enough to study the beauty sector from the inside. And to find – according to her – that something is not right between brands and beauty consumers.

Then comes a blog

Emily Weiss starts a blog – “Into the Gloss” – in 2010 (a few months before Instagram launched). She works on it from 4 am to 8 am before going to her office at Teen Vogue.

The blog brings a fresh tone of voice by not imposing any beauty diktat on the readers. “I grew up at a time when beauty brands were talking to customers from top to bottom, telling them, you're not sharp enough on the subject, meaning you don't know exactly what you need, let us tell you what you need” explains Emily Weiss. Brands dictated rules, without letting customers express themselves. Emily also remembers that not so long ago – 5-6 years ago – major beauty brands did not want to invest in Facebook, or even appoint a social media manager.

Into the Gloss has the mission to make the “voice of customer” heard so that consumers can decide what is good for them. Emily Weiss, a visionary, thought that the consumer would in the future make her own purchasing decisions. “No algorithms, no upselling or cross-selling. If anything, upselling and cross-selling people’s opinions”.

One year after the launch of the blog: 10M page views per month.

The roadshow to investors

In 2014, Emily decides to create her company to launch her own line of products.

Investors, most of them men, listen politely to the pitch but have difficulties projecting themselves into such an unconventional business model.

After knocking unsuccessfully on the door of about thirty investors, Emily Weiss finally meets the female venture capitalist Kirsten Green, founder of Forerunner Ventures, in San Francisco.

Kirsten discovers in Emily Weiss not only an incredible strength but also a unique ability to federate around her posts a community of loyal beauty lovers eager to buy products corresponding to her spirit.


Glossier in 2019

Today Glossier is a line of 26 products (skin care, body care, cosmetics and perfume), distributed in 7 countries, including US, UK and France. Glossier has experienced a three-digit annual growth in turnover since its creation. In 2018, the company generated $100 million in sales and acquired one million new customers over the year alone, which the company claims are profitable from their first purchase.

Glossier has 200 employees, 60% of whom are women. Product designers, marketers, supply chain experts, sales associates recognizable in the 3 stores by their pink overalls, as well as one of the largest tech teams in beauty. Technology represents a third of the jobs (with 1 in 2, a woman).

In total, Glossier raised nearly $200M – thanks to a new $100M capital injection from Sequoia Capital, Tiger Global Management and Spark Capital in March 2019 – and is valued at $1.2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Ever since Day 1, we’ve dreamt of making Glossier, a global beauty movement that celebrates real girls in real life” says Emily Weiss.

Beauty company or Tech company?
Neither beauty nor tech company, Emily Weiss calls Glossier a people-powered ecosystem. The strength of Glossier is that it is based on a community. Since the beginning, the blog has allowed the brand to listen to customers and learn about their aspirations around beauty.

Key social metrics
Instagram: 2.2M followers
Facebook: 279K likes
Twitter: 91.7K followers
Pinterest: 8.3M viewers a month
Youtube: 143111 subscribers


Why is Glossier here to last?

Emotional shopping
In a conversation last January with Recode's famous founder and editor-in-large, Kara Swisher, Emily Weiss clarified her vision: “One thing that I’m very, very excited for is to create this new paradigm of commerce that is much more emotional. So, in some ways, I think Amazon really solved buying, but it killed shopping in the process”. Tomorrow's beauty shopping “is going to be this intersection of topic-based networks, or topic-based communities, and inherent in this is how are you solving this kind of beauty conundrum where it’s not about a perfect answer, a perfect score, a perfect algorithm, it’s like a head scratcher. And so you need people to populate this kind of emotional space around beauty”.

A unique and active Community
Glossier has a complete view of the customer journey across glossier.com and Into the Gloss. Glossier asks customers directly and via the brand's social platforms what products to create, in which cities to install a pop-up, in which next country to launch. “Basically,” explains Emily Weiss, “we have been able to change the relationship between brands and customers”. The company responds to more than five direct messages on Instagram every minute – an unprecedented scale of individual conversation for a brand of any category.

The choice of Direct-to-Consumer 
Glossier has no intention of being sold elsewhere than in the Glossier ecosystem namely its site, its stores and some pop-ups. Glossier considers that its model, highly invested in tech and analytics but without commercial intermediaries, offers a unique opportunity to own the data, establish a direct link with the customer and organise a large-scale listening with its community. Besides online data, purchase in a store is fully monitored too as customer name and email are requested to send the invoice. It is a non-intrusive way of starting the relationship without the need for registration or subscription to a loyalty program.


Stores, but moderately
Glossier could open a lot of shops to quickly increase sales but prefers to focus on three permanent stores (New York, Los Angeles, just-opened Boston) and pop-ups (5 planned in American cities this year as well as London this Fall). The New York boutique, opened at the end of 2016, receives 2,000 visitors on busy days. Its store conversion rate is 50%. It is thought that profitability per square foot is higher than the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.

E-commerce remains the main channel. “Most of our growth is and will continue to be digital,” says Emily Weiss. “We are fortunate to be in a position where profitability is a choice. We really choose to invest in growth,” according to comments reported by the Wall Street Journal.


The customer experience
On busy days, customers queuing to enter the store are entertained by Glossier sales associates offering to test the latest products.

In store, customers place their order to Glossier store associates equipped with tablets and the order is then automatically prepared and delivered through a moving beltway at the reception of the store, quite a captivating experience!

A Content-First Company
Glossier does very little advertising. Emily Weiss created Glossier to “make quality products that make people want to talk about them”. And it works, the products themselves are what drives brand content: 70% of Glossier's growth is attributable to earned media, peer to peer and organic “because our customers want to talk about their Boy Brow eye-shadow they love so much,” explains Emily Weiss.


Packagings for millenials
Packagings are minimalist, “instagrammable”, white and pink (but some might find them not eco-friendly enough). In the shop or at home, in a very modern pink transparent bag, there is a re-usable bubble zipped pocket containing the products purchased, as well as a sheet of fun stickers to personalize your products or posts on social networks. It also contains samples (creams, perfume miniatures...) with leaflets saying “If you like it, buy it on glossier.com”.


Original products
The products are exclusively from the Glossier brand (a new product is launched every 6 weeks or so) at affordable prices (from $18 to $35, the Glossier perfume is at $60). Online, the brand offers product bundles (such as a Body hero duo: 2 products for $35 versus $40 when purchased separately).

Local spirit
If the brand is managed in a very centralized way, it knows when to add the local touch… “Glossier: Now in France | Liberté, égalité, Glossier | glossier.com‎

The human touch
Emily Weiss doesn't really believe in bots. “No. I would say that the number one way to do that and to listen and to serve people better is, obviously, a lot of technology, a third of our company is tech it will probably go to 50 percent in terms of our tech team. I would also say so much of how we serve our customers is actually our customers talking to each other. If you go into one of our two stores, or even if you look in our comments section on an Instagram post, people are answering each other’s questions”. Kara Swisher(Twitter)

A culture of transparency
Everyone in the company, from the trainee to Emilie Weiss, can read at any time in Slack how customers answer satisfaction questionnaires and follow the Net Promoter Score (NPS) of the brand.

Curiosity, humility and bonding
“One of the fundamental values of Glossier” explains Emilie Weiss, “is curiosity. And what is interesting when you are curious is that it goes hand in hand with humility. If you're curious, it means you say, ‘I'm asking myself these questions because I don't know’.”
It is easy to imagine the long list of highly qualified candidates eager to work at Glossier. Existing employees must show their enthusiasm, embrace culture. Such growth requires high standards and commitment. And re-engagement! “We had a kickoff 2019 dinner that [...] looked like a vow renewal ceremony of working at Glossier” explain the CEO to Recode. “It was like a big wedding, like a big Glossier wedding. And it kind of was. It was like the new year, it was like, ‘So, you’re all back, we’re recommitting for the year ahead’.”

Unconventional skills
At the head of a unicorn, Emily Weiss could have chosen an experienced CEO from a well-known international Group as a mentor. Instead, last year she brought to the Board of Glossier, Katrina Lake, CEO of Stitch Fix (personal style service for men and women combining human and AI), who introduced her company to the Nasdaq.

“Instead of surrounding ourselves with CEOs who are ‘2000 steps above us’,” explains Emily Weiss, “I find it more useful, compared to what we are today, to look for people who are a few years ahead of us, to really help us face the facts and make sure we hire intelligently”.

The view of investors
Megan Quinn, general partner at Spark Capital, explained why she invested in the latest $100M Series D financing to the Wall Street Journal: “Emily really cracked the code on selling direct to consumers [....] Brands no longer require massive advertising budgets.”

And in Medium, on a more personal tone, she explains: “By making your customer your community, and your community your co-creator, by being patient, thoughtful, and authentic in cultivating her audience with Into the Gloss, Emily earned the brass ring of CPG: customer trust”.


A bigger and better Glossier

The brand is not without its sceptics (Is Glossier worth the hype?).

Some observers point out that such a fully integrated model needs heavy financing for acquiring customers, opening stores and employing local teams in each market.

The brand received some criticism from customers and media outlets that it was not adequately catering to the needs of women of color because of a limited color range.

In January, Glossier just made its skin tint shade range more inclusive for women of color. Its advertising has also become noticeably more diverse over the last year.

In March, Glossier introduced successfully Glossier Play, a short make-up line in vibrant colors. The only teasing ad for Glossier Play ever posted on Instagram attracted 57,000 followers in 24 hours.

© Image by Into the Gloss

© Image by Into the Gloss


A beauty mogul for the new generation

Emily Weiss is charming, her flair is of a rare acuity, everything seems to work for her and yet she is not intimidating, a real change in the classical world of beauty.

Her determination is total however. Just like Helena Rubinstein and Estée Lauder, two famous beauty moguls from New York, she is well on her way to create a beauty empire.

To go further and other useful links

The US cosmetics boom is over: Beauty giants are seeing sales decline due to changing consumer tastes and nimble competitors.

CBD Trends: Consumer Adoption Across Markets – Social Standards

Ulta Beauty launches a platform called Sparked at Ulta Beauty, online and in selected stores beginning  Sept. 22. The platform features “digitally native, and socially fueled beauty brands” that are going into brick and mortar for the first time.  Brands chosen for the program  will also have access to Ulta from a mentorship perspective. CEO Mary Dillon specifically called out in May that being the “partner of choice” for DTC brands was driving traffic to stores from consumers looking to try the products in person. – Retail Dive

Private label skincare at Amazon is not a hit – Marketplace Pulse

Why I invested in Lady Gaga’s Haus Lab – Marie Claire

Amazon’s New Store for Beauty Professionals: How Much of a Threat? 
End of June, Amazon Business launched the Amazon Professional Beauty Store to offer professional stylists, barbers, and estheticians a convenient, custom shopping experience with great selection. – Fortune

The boom of non-surgical cosmetic procedures – Fashionista

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Joel Palix