Crossing the Atlantic: What US Beauty Brands Need To Know About Entering The UK Market

With the UK beauty market generating $14.78bn a year, according to the 2022 figures from Statista, it’s no wonder US brands are keen for a piece of the action.

The last five years have seen several US beauty brands launching into the UK market. These include the recent arrival of Bobbi Brown’s Jones Road make-up brand, one of ILG’s newest clients, and launched in style at Liberty in London in October.

While these US brands have gone down well with British consumers, they will all testify that cracking the UK is far from plain sailing and requires key partners on the ground with local knowledge. So, as an American beauty brand keen to enter the UK, what do you need to know?

Key differences between the US and UK beauty markets

There are several aspects of the UK beauty market that will be unfamiliar to US brands, the most notable of which is the level or regulation that applies to beauty products. There are over 1000 ingredients used in American cosmetics that are banned in the UK; the level of detail required when trying to certify a product is much greater in the UK; and the labelling laws are more stringent in terms of the claims you can make.

Brexit is another challenge for US brands wanting to launch in the UK and mainland Europe. Where one set of paperwork used to be enough for both, now that the UK has left the European Union it means doing everything twice, and understanding that different regulations apply in the two jurisdictions.

The structure of the UK beauty retail market is also different to that in the US. Where brands sell mostly through large multi-brand retailers like Sephora in the US, there is no such multi-brand presence in the UK (though Sephora has just relaunched in the UK, two decades after its first attempt). Instead, there is a mixture of department stores, chemists (drugstores), boutiques, small chain stores and beauty salons, as well as online, so deciding where to launch takes careful thought.

The British audience persona is also different to that of American consumers. ‘More sceptical’, would be one way of putting it; some would go so far as to say ‘more cynical’ – although British beauty consumers are always interested in new products and there is an inherent respect for American brands. Furthermore, the courtesy they expect as customers has to be taken into account when producing any launch or ongoing marketing communications.

Having a presence on the ground is invaluable in enabling your business to identify, understand and navigate these differences, some of which can be quite subtle and unexpected. Glossier, for example, had to change their packaging when they discovered that post boxes are smaller in the UK.

Proven tactics for cracking the UK beauty market

Building brand awareness ahead of launch is essential. US brands have discovered the benefit of hiring PR firms with intimate knowledge of the UK beauty scene and its most influential commentators. While Instagram in particular is very powerful for creating a digital buzz around a new beauty product or brand, the UK print media still play a big role in helping to establish new brands. Column inches in Vogue or the Sunday newspaper supplements are invaluable.

The decision as to where to launch depends on your priorities. Prestige stores like Harrods or Liberty can generate serious excitement; chains like the drugstore Boots will give you volume; and e-commerce platforms are a great place to tell your brand story. One thing to consider when launching in a given store is that they will often demand exclusivity, which could slow down your plans for expansion.

Liberty London
Boots Store

Pop-ups are another option. A tactic that works well in the US has also been successful in the UK when it comes to launching new beauty products. And be prepared to hand out samples. The British love samples and they are a great way of introducing your products to the market

Getting the support you need

In addition to PR and retail partners, a third party logistics (3PL) and beauty fulfilment partner on the ground in the UK can save you a great deal of time and administration, not to mention cost. It can also play a key role in building your customer relationships and long-term brand loyalty.

As Janell Stephens, CEO and Founder of Camille Rose, told Beauty Independent, “Getting the goods shipped overseas is a huge expense that brands have to cover. Also, the time it takes to actually land to your retail partner is another added layer to the process.” At ILG, we help our US customers UOMA, Zitsticka, Lashify, MALIN+GOETZ, and now Jones Road, to minimise their shipment costs and transit times by providing a large stockholding capacity.

For the launch of Jones Road, the product in store sold out in the first two days. Fortunately, we had a good amount of stock in preparation for such an eventuality and were able to replenish the store without delay. Had the stock been shipped in from the US, that would have been a problem.

We always strive to offer the best customer experience possible, and we knew that to grow in a new market we’d need best in class shipping and fulfillment for our customers. We wanted to make sure we were properly set up operationally before investing into a new market, and we chose to partner with ILG to do so.”

Chief Marketing Officer, Jones Road

With an in-store presence so important in helping to raise awareness of a new US brand in the UK, a beauty fulfilment partner with experience and knowledge of retailers’ vendor manuals is crucial. These set out strict rules covering delivery requirements like booking slots and labelling, which brands are expected to adhere to, with financial penalties for those that don’t. Because it’s so detailed and the stakes are high, most UK 3PLs specialise either in wholesale fulfilment to retail outlets (B2B) or direct to consumer (D2C).

For US brands wanting to launch both in-store and online, this segmentation presents a further layer of complication, requiring not one but two fulfilment partners. ILG is unique in offering an omnichannel beauty fulfilment solution, with longstanding experience and expert knowledge in both B2B and D2C.

We also help our customers to navigate the regulatory challenges, both in terms of product certification and customs clearance. We have a presence in both the UK and the EU, so can smooth out the bumps brought about by Brexit by providing our customers with a single source for entry into both markets.

All this results in a more seamless entry into the UK market for our US clients and a better experience for their customers in the UK and Europe. Beauty brands enjoy significant economies of scale and efficiency gains, which add up to a whole lot more value. Plus, our expertise at managing the customer journey is hugely valuable in creating the right impression with UK consumers, which results in that all-important repeat business.

And that’s the final thing to keep in mind: the launch is just the beginning. It’s what you do to maintain momentum that really determines whether your brand can gain a permanent foothold in the UK beauty market.

Find out how ILG can help your US beauty brand succeed in the UK market. Get in touch today.

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