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Commentary: CVS Moves to Home-based Care with Acquisition of Signify Health

Retail health companies increasingly invest in primary care, particularly home-based care, with patients demanding low-cost and convenient care delivery. The recent acquisition of home healthcare company Signify Health by retail health giant CVS Health highlights the industry’s growing interest in home-based care.

There is an increased demand for at-home healthcare services and health assessments, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic changed customer preferences towards access to convenient at-home services.

At-home care can bring down expenses by reducing hospital visits and detecting health problems in advance. A study published by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in April 2021 indicated that at-home patient care could reduce hospital expenses by 32% and hospital readmission rate (within six months after discharge) by 52%. The study claimed that patients receiving at-home care were less exposed to other illnesses, and this kind of care provided consistent attention, which resulted in better management of chronic diseases and prevention of health problems, reducing hospital readmissions. Apart from lowering the overall cost of care, healthcare providers are also incentivized to lower readmission rates under Medicare incentive programs, and hence, many healthcare companies have realized the potential of investing in at-home services.

One example of this was CVS Health’s acquisition of home health company Signify Health, completed in March 2023, for a total value of US$8 billion. Signify’s network of 10,000 clinicians, nationwide healthcare providers, and proprietary analytics and technology platforms is expected to help CVS extend its at-home health business. Adding Signify’s capabilities, such as at-home healthcare services, health assessments, patient data analytics, Accountable Care Organization (ACO) management, and provider enablement solutions, is likely to strengthen CVS’s abilities to offer better accessibility to services, improved patient-provider connectivity, better coordination of services, and improved quality of services.

CVS increases focus on the Medicare population with at-home health offerings

Looking at the recent acquisitions in the healthcare industry, it can be seen that major players in the retail health space, such as CVS Health, Amazon, Walgreens, Walmart, Dollar General, and Best Buy, are acquiring companies to strengthen their capabilities in offering primary care. These retail health companies are trying to tap into the growing demand for consumer-centric care. In particular, there is an increased focus on senior citizens and patients with chronic diseases.

Almost 19% of the US population is covered under Medicare plans, making it one of the most lucrative segments. In 2022, McKinsey estimated that, by 2025, up to US$265 billion worth of healthcare services provided to traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries by traditional primary care facilities could potentially navigate to at-home healthcare providers offering at-home health services and virtual primary care services. Retail health companies view primary care services offered at home, traditionally dominated by independent clinics, as an opportunity to enter the healthcare delivery segment. CVS is also heading in the same direction.

CVS Health began expanding beyond its pharmacy services by acquiring health insurance company Aetna in 2018. Aetna is the fourth-largest Medicare Advantage plan, with 3.3 million enrollees in 2023.

In recent years, CVS Health has made significant efforts in building value-based care capabilities. Apart from acquiring Signify Health, which also includes Signify’s Caravan ACO business, the company acquired Medicare-focused primary care provider Oak Street Health in May 2023. These acquisitions indicate CVS’s increasing focus on enhancing healthcare services for the Medicare population.


Read our related Perspective:
Retail Health Clinics Eye a Larger Piece of the US Primary Care Market 

Signify’s acquisition brings CVS closer to its aim to become a full-service health provider

With the acquisition of Signify Health, CVS should be able to enter the at-home healthcare space in addition to its existing 9,900 retail drugstores and 1,100 MinuteClinics. CVS now has the capabilities to fulfill patient needs across the entire care spectrum, operating as a payer, a pharmacy benefit manager, an ACO manager, a chain of medical clinics, a network of primary care centers, and a home-based care provider, becoming a full-service healthcare provider.

This means CVS can make it simpler for patients and providers to navigate the complex healthcare system by centralizing services, as all these healthcare activities are performed under the same company. For instance, CVS can offer Medicare Advantage programs to patients, provide home visits, prescribe medicines, which can be delivered by CVS pharmacy, and track patients’ medication intake, which helps in making pharmacy reconciliations and offering follow-up care by primary care centers if needed. CVS can be able to access accurate and real-time data updates from all patient activities, which would improve care coordination and navigation of healthcare services for patients with real-time data sharing with providers.

CVS-Signify synergies can amplify companies’ growth and capabilities

CVS is enhancing digital capabilities to improve interoperability of electronic health records (EHRs) and enable remote patient monitoring. The company has already developed digital capabilities such as automated messaging on prescriptions, appointments, and vaccinations. CVS can integrate these digital capabilities into Signify’s systems to streamline communication between providers and patients.

CVS is expected to make use of Signify’s home care services to introduce at-home health assessments, which is a highly-demanded service by customers. Signify provided over 2.3 million unique at-home health assessments in 2022 and has witnessed a 16% year-on-year increase in the number of at-home assessments in Q2 2023. Using CVS’s nationwide primary care capabilities, Signify Health is likely to be able to expand its reach in the at-home health assessment space.

Signify’s technological capabilities are likely to strengthen CVS’s position in the market as customers appreciate increased convenience, such as remote patient monitoring, data-driven health predictions, and better navigation through the health systems. CVS can also benefit from Signify’s technological capabilities, such as provider enablement tools that would help manage population health, turnkey analytics, and practice improvement solutions to help providers transition to a value-based reimbursement model and improve the quality of care.

Furthermore, CVS also offers payer-agnostic solutions such as virtual primary care and pharmacy benefits management (CVS Caremark). CVS Caremark has the largest market share in the US pharmacy benefits manager market, with a 33% share in 2022. Signify’s client network of 50 health plan clients, including government, other payers, and private employers, can help CVS expand its payer-agnostic solutions to a diverse set of health plan and employer clients.

EOS Perspective

CVS outbid its rivals, such as Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, and Option Care Health to acquire Signify. Having acquired one of the most sought-after home healthcare companies, CVS has strengthened its position in terms of its expanded capabilities, such as primary care, home health, at-home health assessments, and provider enablement solutions. The company has the benefit of a large customer base, being the largest pharmacy chain in the US in 2022, which will help it expand its primary care and at-home services quickly. It will be interesting to see how CVS would be able to direct 8 million senior citizens who walk into CVS pharmacy stores annually to Oak Street clinics for a wellness visit or encourage them to schedule a home visit via Signify.

However, the competitors, especially the Medicare Advantage competitors, are not lagging behind. The largest Medicare Advantage Plan, UnitedHealth Group, boasting 8.9 million Medicare Advantage enrollees in 2023, announced the acquisition of two home health companies, LHC Group and Amedisys, this year. Humana, the second largest Medicare Advantage Plan with 5.5 million enrollees in 2023, acquired a stake in Kindred at Home in 2021.

Similar to CVS, UnitedHealth Group and Humana also own pharmacy and provider capabilities (including clinic-based, at-home, and telehealth). All three companies are on the task of deriving synergies among the different businesses they own with the aim to improve patient outcomes and reduce overall costs. To outperform the strong competition, the winning company needs to keep focusing on improving healthcare accessibility and patient experience, as well as catering to the evolving consumer needs.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Retail Health Clinics Eye a Larger Piece of the US Primary Care Market

The utilization of retail health clinics (RHCs), also known as convenience care clinics, peaked during the coronavirus outbreak, with people rushing to get COVID-19 vaccinations or treatment for minor ailments when access to other care settings was restricted. FAIR Health (a non-profit organization managing a repository of 40 billion claim records) indicated that the utilization of RHCs increased by 51% from 2020 to 2021. Accordingly, the US retail health clinic market grew from US$1.78 billion in 2020 to US$3.49 billion in 2021 (as per estimates by Fortune Business Insights). With increasing familiarity and utilization, are RHCs set out to play a bigger role in the nation’s healthcare system?

RHCs move beyond low-acuity care

RHCs began with the concept of providing low-acuity care, spanning from minor illnesses and injuries to occasional visits for vaccinations or wellness screening. Increasingly, retailers are eyeing a larger share of the primary care market by making inroads into chronic disease management. Several are even expanding into mental and behavioral health.

  • Vaccinations

In 2022, nearly 40% of the patients at the RHCs came in for vaccinations. Much of this footfall can be attributed to the public health advisory recommending booster shots for COVID-19 vaccination. Even though the need for COVID-19 vaccinations is gradually expected to decline, the pandemic has established RHCs as a convenient venue for vaccinations. Before the coronavirus outbreak, about 50,000 adults died every year from ailments that could be prevented by vaccines, highlighting the value offered by RHCs in immunization delivery.

  • Diagnostics

During the pandemic, RHCs became a key provider of COVID-19 testing. Almost all the RHCs today have point-of-care testing capabilities. Flu and strep tests, lipid tests, pregnancy tests, glucose tests, etc., are among the diagnostics tests commonly offered at the RHCs. As RHCs aim to expand their services to penetrate deeper into the primary care market, the scope of diagnostic services is likely to widen. For instance, Walmart, which opened its first RHC in 2019, provides EKG tests and X-ray imagining services on-site as well.

  • Chronic disease management

In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that six in ten adults live with a chronic disease. This data indicates the vast opportunity this segment has to offer, and RHCs are vying for a piece of it. Analysis by Definitive Healthcare suggests that, in 2022, about one in ten diagnoses at the RHCs was related to a chronic condition. Nearly 6% of the claims were with the diagnosis of diabetes (Type 2 diabetes mellitus without complications and Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hyperglycemia).

As the opportunity for RHCs to contribute more to chronic disease management is vast, retailers are focusing on evolving the clinic offerings to provide treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, etc. For instance, in 2020, CVS launched HealthHubs, an enhanced RHC format, offering a larger suite of services including chronic disease management.

RHCs are able to provide chronic disease management at a lower cost. For instance, in 2022, the average charge per claim for Type 2 diabetes mellitus without complications was US$160 at an RHC compared with US$367 at a physician’s office, whereas for Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hyperglycemia, the average charge per claim was US$255 at RHC vs. US$639 at a physician’s office. Given that a chronic disease requires continuous long-term care, patients see RHC as a cost-effective and viable option for chronic disease management.

  • Mental and behavioral health

In early 2022, the Harris Poll data (based on a monthly survey among 3,400 people over the age of 18, physicians, and pharmacists) indicated that 41% of Gen Z and younger millennials were suffering from anxiety or depression conditions. However, the same study found that only 16% of those struggling with these mental conditions were comfortable seeking treatment from a therapist or mental health professional. A mystery shopper study (conducted in 2022) investigating 864 psychiatrists across five US states indicated that only 18.5% of psychiatrists were taking appointments for new patients with a significant wait time (median = 67 days). A person going through a breakdown or depression needs immediate attention. Thus, the low availability of psychiatry outpatient new appointments is concerning and one of the main reasons why mental health issues remain under-treated. With walk-in appointments and easy accessibility, RHCs are well-positioned to fill this gap.

Leading RHC chains have forayed into mental and behavioral health services. In 2020, MinuteClinic (an RHC chain owned by CVS) started offering mental and behavioral health counseling services. The company also added Licensed Mental Health Providers to its staff at select locations. In the same year, Walmart announced counseling services for US$1 a minute in partnership with Beacon Care Services, a subsidiary of Carelon Behavioral Health (formerly Beacon Health Options).

Retail Health Clinics Eye a Larger Piece of the US Primary Care Market by EOS Intelligence

Retail Health Clinics Eye a Larger Piece of the US Primary Care Market by EOS Intelligence

Patient-centric approach differentiates RHCs from traditional providers

Definitive Healthcare estimates that as of March 2023, there were 1,800+ RHCs, of which 90% were owned by retail and pharmacy giants CVS (63%), Kroger (12%), Walgreens (8%), and Walmart (2%). Noticeably, the consumer-centric concepts and learnings from the retail segment have helped RHCs improve patient experience and satisfaction. Implementation of proven retail strategies is, in turn, defining and shaping the convenient care model and setting apart the RHCs from traditional healthcare providers.

  • Omnichannel engagement

Omnichannel engagement is a key retail concept enabling companies to offer a seamless consumer experience across various touchpoints. Health Care Insights Study 2022, based on a survey of 1,000 US-based respondents, indicated that four in ten people had a virtual consultation in the past year. The same study suggested that ~70% of the respondents think that the virtual consultation is better or about the same as the in-person visit. RHCs, owned by big-box retailers and pharmacy giants, are seizing the omnichannel opportunity by complementing their in-person visits with virtual care services.

MinuteClinic (owned by CVS) started piloting telehealth services in 2015. In 2021, the company provided 19 million virtual consultations, of which ~10 million were for mental and behavioral health. The Little Clinic (owned by Kroger) stepped into telehealth services following the country-wide shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020. In 2021, with the aim to extend virtual care, Walmart Health acquired MeMD, a 24/7 telehealth company providing on-demand care for common illnesses, minor injuries, and mental health issues.

  • Walk-in appointments

The average wait time for a primary care physician appointment in the 15 largest cities of the US was 26 days, as per Merritt Hawkins survey data (2022). RHCs typically accept walk-in patients. Moreover, RHCs are open for extended evening hours and over weekends when primary care physicians are not available. This allows the patients to visit an RHC at their convenience.

  • Geographic proximity

RHCs benefit from the wide footprint across the country established by their owners, the big-box retailers. For instance, CVS, operating 1,100 retail clinics across 33 states, indicated that more than half of the US population lives within 10 miles of a MinuteClinic as of March 2022.

However, currently, there is a geographic disparity as the majority of the RHCs are located in urban areas, with only 2% serving the rural population. From the business perspective, it makes sense to concentrate on the metropolitan areas targeting high-income populations. Moreover, just like traditional healthcare providers, RHCs also find it challenging to hire qualified staff to work at remote locations. However, as the popularity and utilization of RHCs increase, expansion to rural areas may come as a natural progression. For instance, Walmart is uniquely positioned to capture the rural market opportunity by leveraging the presence of its 4,000 stores located in medically underserved areas as designated by the Health Resources and Service Administration.

Dollar General is the first retailer to step up and penetrate this unserved market. In January 2023, Dollar General, in partnership with DocGo (a telehealth and medical transportation company), piloted mobile clinics set up at the parking lots at three of its stores in Tennessee. This initiative is Dollar General’s first step into retail healthcare, and there is no clarity yet on whether the company is looking at the in-store clinics model.

  • Fixed and transparent pricing

RHCs have fixed pricing for different types of treatments offered, and the treatment costs are communicated up-front to the patient. The Annual Consumer Sentiment Benchmark report based on a survey conducted in January 2022 indicated that 44% of the 1,006 respondents avoided care because of unknown costs. It is evident that besides the concern over affordability, the anxiety and fear around uncertain costs are making patients avoid healthcare services. RHCs help patients to evade this anxiety through cost transparency.

  • Multiple payment options

At RHCs, patients receive a more retail-like experience at the time of the payment. Besides the common mode of payment such as cash and cards, the RHCs also allow for contactless payments, including digital wallets, tap-to-pay platforms, touchless terminals and, thus making the payment process faster, simpler, and more convenient. This aligns with the growing popularity of contactless transactions. 80% of US consumers used some form of contactless payment mode in 2021, as per a survey of 1,000 US consumers conducted by Raydiant (an in-location experience management platform).

  • Technology and automation

Technology and automation have been an integral part of modern retail. A reflection of this is seen in an RHC setup. For instance, at CVS MinuteClinic, the reception is a form of self-service kiosk. The patient is notified of the wait time (if any) and directed to fill out the electronic forms to share important personal and health-related data. The information submitted by the patient is directly shared with the healthcare professional on-site, who then confirms the details and proceeds with the diagnosis and course of treatment. Details of the diagnosis and treatment, along with the bill payment receipt, are automatically shared with the patient at the end of the visit. The communication for follow-up consultations or other reminders is automated. The process is highly streamlined and backed by automation.

Moreover, in the RHC model, the application of technology can be seen not only to improve patient experience but also to support clinical decision-making. For instance, in 2019, CarePortMD RHCs (owned by Albertsons grocery stores) started using the autonomous AI diagnostic system called LumineticsCore to detect a leading cause of blindness in diabetic patients. Such technological additions reduce the chances of human error, thus eliminating potential liability issues as well as increasing patient confidence. Walgreens, leveraging Inovalon’s Converged Patient Assessment decision support platform that provides insights into possible diagnoses using predictive analytics, is another case in point.

EOS Perspective

With all the growth and progress, RHCs are penetrating the underserved population and strengthening the current primary care delivery model. A report released by the National Association of Community Health Centers in February 2023 indicated that about a third of the US population does not have access to primary care. RHCs are well-positioned to fill this gap. Moreover, according to the data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2021, the USA could struggle with a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians (across all specialties) by 2034. In the face of physician shortage, RHCs providing non-emergency care can help to alleviate the burden on the primary care providers.

To what extent the RHCs would be able to carve out a space for themselves in the primary care segment is still an ongoing debate. However, the owners of RHCs are determined to compete head-on with the traditional providers for the primary care market share and are rapidly foraying into alternative primary care models.

In May 2023, CVS completed the acquisition of Oak Street Health providing primary care to Medicare patients through its network of 169 medical centers across 21 states.

Walgreens holds a majority stake in VillageMD, offering value-based primary care to patients at 680 practice locations (including independent practices, Summit Health, CityMD, and Village Medical clinics at Walgreens, as well as at-home and virtual visits) across 26 states. In October 2021, Walgreens acquired a 55% stake in CareCentrix, an at-home care provider serving post-acute patients. The company has plans to acquire the remaining stake by the end of this year.

Amazon is another prominent retailer that made inroads in the primary care space this year with its acquisition of One Medical, a primary care provider with a network of 200+ medical offices in 27 markets across the USA.

It is foreseeable that at some point in time, the retailers will try to bring in the synergies between the RHC business and other alternative primary care service offerings with the aim to become a one-stop shop for all healthcare needs. As retailers take on a larger role in primary care delivery, the retailization of healthcare is certainly on the way.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

K-Beauty: A Trending Obsession Losing Its Novelty but Not without a Fight

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South Korea is the 9th largest cosmetic market globally with a market size of nearly US$ 12.6 billion. Innovative and affordable products made using exotic natural ingredients that focus on enhancing skin health and prevent skin concerns drive the success of K-beauty brands. Moreover, the launch of the first global customized cosmetics regulatory guidelines, along with support from the government to enhance R&D capabilities and to improve infrastructure, seem to reinforce further stability to the already growing sector. However, rising trends such as minimalism and concerns about sustainability might pose a challenge for the Korean beauty brands that thrive on the tenets of long product lines, multiple products pushed on a daily basis, and focus on packaging that tend to use plastic.

K-beauty brands are uniquely well-known due to the use of natural and unusual ingredients such as snail mucin, bee venom, ginseng, pearl, mushrooms, carrot seed oil, royal honey, and yuzu, among others, in their skincare and beauty products. Products incorporated with such ingredients may, at first, sound too out of the ordinary to be a part of one’s beauty regime but they are believed to be effective.

Korea’s beauty and cosmetic sector backed by strong government support

Korean domestic cosmetics industry, which offers growth prospect of more than 5% per year on average, draws huge support from the government. In November 2021, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare declared plans for 2022 to support the cosmetics industry through technology development, preparation of legal system, overseas expansion, and professional manpower training.

On the technology side, the government is focusing on developing a ‘skin genome data platform’ that can collect and utilize skin characteristics and genomic information by country and race. The government will also continue to make mid-to-long term R&D investments towards development of local and sustainable innovative raw materials.

Additionally, plans are underway to complete the construction of the K-Beauty Comprehensive School and Academy in Osong, North Chungcheong Province, for providing professional and comprehensive training to beauty professionals by 2023; the school is to provide comprehensive consulting and train workforce for the industry’s needs.

Another way the government supports the domestic Korean beauty companies is by offering tax breaks if they have an all-export business model.

With an aim to promote the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in cosmetics industry in Korea, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare along with Foundation of Korea Cosmetic Industry Institute, launched a pilot concept of ‘K-Beauty Experience and Promotion Center’ in September 2021. The center is a comprehensive exhibition space for domestic SMEs in Seoul, allowing SMEs to promote their innovative cosmetic products that they would otherwise be unable to promote due to lack of funds. This is expected to not only enhance brand awareness among domestic consumers but also to strengthen export competitiveness among foreign tourists visiting Korea as potential customers. A monthly event is to display more than 100 products from 30 companies (selected through monthly application process).

In another initiative to promote the beauty sector, the Seoul Metropolitan Government conducted an online beauty industry branding conference in September 2021. Held under the theme ‘Branding Seoul’s K-beauty Industry’, the conference was attended by domestic and international experts and content creators active in the fields of beauty and tourism. Aiming at expanding the K-beauty industry through the Seoul city brand, which constitutes 45.7% of the country’s domestic cosmetics distributors, plans are underway to develop beauty specific tourism products and tourism courses by partnering with beauty creators and beauty flagship stores.

In September 2022, the government also plans to set up K-Beauty consumer hotspots or zones, a place with several K-beauty shops offering discounted deals on beauty and cosmetic products in areas frequented by tourists.

New initiatives: customized cosmetics regulations and product refills

The South Korean Ministry of Drug and Safety (MFDS), in March 2020, introduced the world’s first regulatory guidelines on custom cosmetics. This will allow manufacturers to provide consumers with cosmetics made on the spot by mixing ingredients based on personal preferences. The regulations came into effect in October 2020 and aim at ensuring that businesses (manufacturers or retailers) comply with safety management standards for the formulation of custom cosmetics.

The authorities also encourage cosmetic companies to offer cosmetic product refill services keeping in mind environmental benefits as well as cost effectiveness. People can purchase refill products at 30% to 50% lower prices when compared to a newly packaged product. As of June 2021, the country had 150 custom cosmetic stores, out of which 10 stores offered refill services where consumers could refill products such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and liquid soap. The program will allow consumers to refill products on their own without the need of a customized cosmetics dispensing manager. To make this initiative more effective, a pilot program, which will run for two years, is being conducted wherein existing store staff (who have been trained to work at refill stores) can replace the customized cosmetics dispensing managers.

A customized cosmetics system, wherein certified individuals can mix cosmetics according to a consumer’s individual skin condition and preference at stores, is a revolutionary change in the beauty industry where any concerns related to product usage or suitability can be minimized, if not eliminated completely.

International brands and PE firms investing in Korean beauty brands

Innovation is at the forefront of the Korean beauty industry. A number of consumer goods and international beauty players have invested in innovative Korean beauty brands.

Estée Lauder, a multinational beauty company, acquired Have & Be Co. Ltd., a Korean beauty company, for nearly US$ 1.1 billion in 2019. The deal was made with a key focus on acquiring Dr. Jart+ brand, an innovative high-performing skin care brand, and Do The Right Thing (DTRT) men’s grooming brand.

In October 2021, Glow Recipe, a Korean skincare brand whose products are made with fruit extracts, received an investment from the US-based private equity firm North Castle Partners (for an undisclosed amount). The brand aims at using the investment funds for marketing and global expansion.

Private equity firms are also investing in local brands based in Korea. Helios Investment Partners, a London-based emerging markets-focused private equity firm, signed a stock purchase agreement (SPA) in October 2021, to acquire management rights with a 67% stake in Soleo Cosmetics, a cosmetics and household goods development and production company. The value of the transaction is said to be around US$ 32.5 million. Additionally, in September 2021, JKL Partners, South Korean private equity firm, announced that they will acquire Perenne Bell, a domestic brand that offers organic and sensitive skin products to consumers, and will help the brand focus on entering new markets, including the USA, Japan, and the Middle East.

Not everything is as ideal as it seems

Despite beauty brands claiming their products to be well-researched, organic, and environment friendly, issues exist. In early 2021, sunscreens from Korean brands such as Purito, Dear Klairs, and Keep Cool were under scrutiny when, on the basis of independent lab tests, it was found out that their sunscreens have far lower SPF that what was indicated on the packaging. Following the controversy, the brands withdrew their sunscreen products from the international markets and issued refunds to the customers.

In another incident, Innisfree, a cosmetic brand owned by Korean firm AmorePacific, was called out for misrepresenting the product’s eco-friendly credentials – on the packaging, the product was wrongly labelled as “paper bottle” whereas it actually came in a plastic bottle wrapped in paper.

Loyalty and trust are important in the beauty business and while it might be incorrect to write-off all Korean beauty brands based on a few bad incidents, consumers would not shy away from exploring other brands that offer what they claim.

EOS Perspective

Over the years, South Korea’s cosmetics industry has built a stronger position on the global map especially with the use of innovative and natural ingredients, and a shorter product development cycle. The quality of Korean beauty products, sold with a promise of flawless and crystal-clear skin, is the biggest selling point in a hyper-competitive beauty market.

The popularity of Korean skincare brands is definitely growing but it is not just driven by innovation or quality but also propelled by the mounting fascination for everything Korean, be it culture, entertainment, food, or beauty. Right now, the charm of Korean wave is so prominent that anything Korean will sell and Korean beauty brands are leveraging this opportunity to make big bucks. However, they might not to be able to ride the tide forever.

Since COVID-19, beauty industry has undergone momentous changes. As lifestyles changed and staying indoors and wearing masks became the new normal, the demand for make-up products decreased and the need for skincare products increased. The trend is here to stay. People want healthier skin but prefer to achieve it through easier, minimal, and effective skincare routines and K-beauty brands might be popular for a lot of things but minimalism. By updating their product lines with the strangest of ingredients, discontinuing products, and asserting the use of multiple products on a daily basis, Korean beauty brands tend to over-tire the consumers. Rising trends such as skinalism that focuses on single multi-functional products and sustainable packaging that demote the use of plastic pose further challenge for Korean beauty brands.

In the ever-changing beauty industry, beauty regimes change rapidly and country-led beauty regimes are no exception. With new beauty trends and regimes such as J-beauty and C-beauty quickly catching up among consumers, the novelty of K-beauty products will definitely wear off sooner or later.

K-beauty can perhaps be considered just a fad that stayed and resonated with consumers for more than a decade. For now, the appeal of this trend is not expected to fade very soon. As for the time when the ‘all things Korea’ fascination is over, only players who have been able to build their brand awareness and gain consumers’ trust are likely to successfully continue when the Korean tag will no longer be a pass for high sales.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Clean Beauty: Next Stop – China

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China is one of the most promising markets for cosmetics and skin care companies globally, only being second to the USA in size. Despite its size and potential, the Chinese beauty market has remained relatively closed to several international players that make cruelty-free and vegan products. This is because of Chinese regulations that required compulsory animal testing pre- and post-market entry for international brands. However, in 2021, the Chinese government squashed the mandated animal testing requirement and introduced other certification methods. While this opens the market for a plethora of players who have till now shied away from entering the Chinese market, steering through the Chinese turf may still not be very simple.

China’s new cosmetic regulations easing entry for imported products

China is currently the second-largest cosmetics market globally, and has an immense potential to grow further. As per China’s Ministry of Commerce, the value of imported cosmetics grew by 30% in 2020, underlining the strong potential for international brands in the Chinese market. At the same time, several international companies have kept their distance from this US$57 billion beauty and personal care market, owing to stringent regulations.

However, in 2021, the government introduced new rulings for cosmetics and beauty products, which have altered the regulatory landscape in China. As per Chinese regulations, cosmetics are divided into two categories, special and general cosmetics, and the two are subject to different pre-market registration requirements.

As per the new regulations, while the former will continue to be subject to pre-registration with National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) before being allowed to be manufactured or imported, general cosmetics now only require filing documentation of the product with the authority. Earlier, the general category also required prior approval before import.

In addition to streamlining the process for the general category, the government has reduced the number of special product categories from nine to six. As of 2021, the only product categories under the special category encompass hair dye products, hair perm products, spots removal and skin whitening products, sunscreen products, and hair loss prevention products. The streamlining of the registration process for general category is expected to have a direct impact on the cost of warehousing and logistics for global brands as it is likely to quicken the import cycle.

Another regulation that was a deterrent to entering the Chinese market was that international beauty companies were expected to perform animal testing for their products both pre-and post-market entry. This created an issue for the growing number of global clean beauty brands who position themselves as vegan or cruelty-free. These brands could either choose to dilute their brand positioning by undertaking animal testing for the Chinese region or had to keep away from this goldmine market.

However, these companies did have one channel to enter this market, and that was through cross-border e-commerce sites, such as Alibaba’s Tmall. Although this resulted in a limited presence as the cross-border market size has government restrictions and is about one-tenth the size of the domestic market. Moreover, physical retail still continues to dominate the Chinese market with regards to cosmetics sale, with growing popularity of multi-brand stores.

As per the new regulations, global companies do not require animal testing anymore before entering the Chinese market. This will level the playing field between international imports and domestic brands, as domestic brands have been exempt from animal testing since 2014.

However, there are a few conditions to be met by companies looking to bypass animal testing. The brand must provide relevant quality certifications from their country of origin, the product should not be aimed at children or babies, the product should not contain any raw material that is not included in China’s approved list of raw materials, and the applicant brand and its Chinese representative should not have been flagged as requiring further supervision by the authorities.

Clean Beauty Next Stop China by EOS Intelligence

Companies responding to the new regulations

This opens the door for several international players who position themselves as cruelty-free. In May 2021, Australian clean beauty brand, Frank Body, welcomed a closed investment from Chinese private equity firm, EverYi Capital, which put the value of the brand at about US$74 million (AUD 100 million). The investment, which includes the creation of a Shanghai team for the brand, will help the company find a strong footing in the Chinese market in the light of the latest animal testing relaxation. The brand is expected to enter the market over the next 12 to 18 months, with prospects of opening a physical store.

In a similar move, Brazilian beauty conglomerate, Natura & Co., mentioned during its 2020 fiscal year results that it is looking to expand into China with its brands, Aesop and The Body Shop. The two brands were expected to complete their registration in China by first half of 2021, with Aesop expected to open its first store in Shanghai by the end of 2021, while The Body Shop is scheduled to open its first store in 2022 (however, there is no information regarding the completion of the registration process yet). While these brands have been available in China through cross-border e-commerce, they expect that physical retail presence will help establish a strong foothold in this growing market.

Nerissa Low, founder of Singapore-based organic and cruelty-free cosmetic company, Liht Organics, has also welcomed the decision and expressed interest in entering the offline Chinese market. Liht Organics, which entered China in 2020 through cross-border e-commerce, gained significant traction in the Chinese market. However, the brand refused to enter the offline market when approached by several Chinese distributors, as the company did not want to compromise on its cruelty-free ethos. Given the change in regulations, the founder has expressed interest in expanding beyond cross-border e-commerce considering the potential in the offline market and is looking for the right partner and opportunity.

Moreover, popular international brands such as Drunk Elephant, Fenty Beauty, and The Ordinary, which are currently limited to be selling through Alibaba Tmall, are expected to enter the Chinese market and establish a physical presence there. While a lot of these brands might wait to establish physical stores and may penetrate the market through mainland e-commerce websites such as Tmall (instead of Tmall Global) to reach a larger audience, presence in multi-brand retail stores or opening pop-up stores will be the natural next step.

Despite new regulations, challenges remain

However, entering the Chinese market (despite the abolishment of the animal testing rules) will be no easy feat. Owing to the recent changes in regulations, the companies need to keep up higher standards in terms of product quality, marketing, and operations. Moreover, some of these regulations have made it harder for foreign players to comply as they require a complete overhaul of their local marketing strategies and operational functions.

Firstly, as per the new regulations, the NMPA of China has made it mandatory for international companies to have a domestic agent who must be based in China. This agent will be responsible for the registration process, which includes massive paperwork and approval procedures. Moreover, these agents will be held completely accountable for the company’s products and operations in China and will be answerable and responsible for any safety concerns arising in the product. In addition, they will be responsible for ensuring that the product, its ingredients, and its marketing are compliant with the Chinese regulations. Thus it will be a challenge for foreign players to find a Chinese agent to fill this capacity as in reality, such a person/company may have no impact on how the ingredients or final product are made. This is also definitely expected to increase costs for the company.

The government has also imposed harsher penalties for non-compliance and various violations such as misleading advertising, non-compliance of new cosmetic naming guidelines, non-submission of approved hygiene license and certificates, etc. This makes it critical for companies that the Chinese agent is well aware of all regulations and is thorough with all registration requirements as violations can also result in cancellation of license.

Secondly, while the removal of animal testing for imported cosmetics is a welcome news for a great number of global cosmetic brands, the policies put in place of this pose to be equally challenging and complex to steer through. Under the new regulations, cosmetics falling under the general category require a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificate to avoid animal testing. These GMP certificates need to be issued from the brand’s local government regulatory department. Considering that different countries will have different authorities and templates for issuing these certificates, there is a lot of ambiguity regarding what is acceptable and what is not.

Moreover, cosmetic companies need to provide a manufacturing quality management system (QMS) for each individual ingredient used in the cosmetic formulations. This requires companies to collect information on each and every ingredient manufacturer and supplier, including their quality specification documents and certificates. This is a tedious process since a company may use ingredients from several manufacturers for a single product. In addition, in case a company plans to change a supplier, it will have to undergo this process and update the information with the Chinese authorities for the new supplier, which is both money and time consuming.

On the one hand, it is true that the exemption from animal testing has given an opportunity of many cruelty-free brands to enter the Chinese market. However, on the other hand, the lengthy procedure and strict scrutiny over the process is undermining the overall market entry process for mid to small size companies. Non-compliance with these certifications will reverse the relaxation on animal testing for the companies that don’t meet the new procedural requirements and then their products will need to undergo animal testing for selling in China.

Furthermore, despite getting the green light to enter the Chinese market, the cruelty-free cosmetic companies would still need to deal with another challenge arising from the consumer side. While the clean beauty segment is definitely growing, it is currently not a major factor in purchasing decisions by consumers, unlike in the USA. Chinese consumers seek products that are functional and have healthier, milder, and more reliable formulas. Hence, to ensure a right placement of their cruelty-free products, companies would need to undergo distinctive marketing strategies to grab a good consumer base. Education and awareness regarding cruelty-free products and creating a substantial market for such products may require significant marketing funds.

In addition to the changes in regulations with regards to animal testing, the Chinese government added new regulations regarding product labelling. As per the new regulations, the labels must have corresponding Chinese explanation to everything mentioned and they must a have larger font size than the explanation in foreign language. Also, the label should contain the Chinese name and special cosmetics registration certificate numbers, product implementation number, name and address of the person responsible in China and of the manufacturer along with the production license number.

Adding to these is a ban on use of any kind of medical term, names/pictures/endorsement of celebrities in the medical field, and implication of medical effects to avoid any misleading of information. Although all these changes are implemented in order to curb the market of counterfeit products, they are expected to make the product approval process lengthier, as now companies would be required to undergo a comprehensive regulatory review of the guidelines to ensure hassle-free entry into the Chinese market.

EOS Perspective

While the new regulations provided a pathway for several foreign clean beauty players to enter the Chinese market, the process still requires a lot of navigation, especially since a lot of rulings regarding safety requirements, GMP authorities, and template remain ambiguous.

Moreover, since these certificates need to be derived from the country of origin, the country’s overall political and business equation with China might also play a subtle role in their acceptance by the Chinese authorities. For instance, China has not yet declared the jurisdictions that will be recognized for the QMS certificate. Given the current political friction with Australia and the USA, the Chinese authorities may not accept QMS certificates from these countries at the moment. Thus brands from these countries may have to look to find suppliers or shift part production to other countries to be able to enter the Chinese market.

While currently there is no clarity regarding what terms and jurisdictions will initially be accepted for the GMP and QMS certificates, it is expected that clarity on the matter will be provided by the government shortly. In the long run, these regulations are a move in the right direction. As the government has overall simplified the filing process and focused on quality and safety measures, the new regulations are a positive development for international cosmetic companies, especially clean beauty brands that have been unable to enter the second largest beauty market in the world.

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Beauty Tech Giving Beauty Industry a Facelift

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In recent years, artificial intelligence and virtual reality have been adding an additional dimension to the beauty industry, quite literally. With consumers increasingly embracing and demanding personalized offerings and precise results, leading brands, such as L’Oréal and Shiseido are investing heavily in the space. Just as in many other industries, AI is revolutionizing beauty products and how they are conceptualized, created, and sold. However, it is a long road from being perceived as gimmicky promotions to improving customer engagement to becoming commercial go-to solutions.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been greatly integrated in our lives through different sectors and now the beauty industry is no exception. The use of AI, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) as well as complex beauty devices has revolutionized the way consumers perceive, apply, and select beauty products. Moreover, in the age of online retail, it enables companies to maintain a similar personalized level of service that would otherwise require a physical interaction with a beauty consultant. Technology is creating new experiences for the consumer, both in terms of beauty products’ features as well as purchasing process.

Beauty industry is also one of the most competitive sectors, with consumers always being on the lookout for new products and having low brand loyalty. Beauty tech seems to address this issue as well, as it elevates consumer engagement through enhanced personalized offerings, which in turn is a trend that has been driving the beauty industry for several years now.

The three main aspects of beauty tech encompass personalization through AI, virtual makeup using AR and VR, and smart skincare tools/beauty gadgets.

Personalization through AI

Across the retail sector, the key to consumer’s heart and pockets for a long time has been personalization of products and sales experience. Beauty industry is no exception. Consumers have been looking for the perfect skincare product that work best for them or the lipstick shade that goes perfectly with their skin tone. Moreover, consumers want this all from the comfort of their home. This is where AI comes in.

Through retail kiosks and mobile apps, AI enables companies to offer personalized shade offerings that are especially curated for the individual user. A number of companies is investing and capitalizing on this technology to differentiate themselves in the eyes of the consumer. One of the leading market players in the beauty industry, L’Oréal, has been one of the first companies to invest in AI- and VR-based beauty tech and acquired Toronto-based, ModiFace, in 2018. There are several different ways companies, such as L’Oréal, have incorporated AI into their product offerings.

Beauty Tech Giving Beauty Industry a Facelift by EOS Intelligence

Beauty Tech Giving Beauty Industry a Facelift by EOS Intelligence

Lancôme (a subsidiary of L’Oréal) has placed an AI-powered machine, called Le Teint Particulier, at Harrods and Selfridges in the UK, which creates custom-made foundation for the customer. The machine first identifies ones facial color using a handheld scanner, post which it uses a proprietary algorithm to select a foundation shade from 20,000 combinations. Following this, the machine creates the personalized shade for the user, which can then be bottled and purchased.

In addition to physical store solutions, AI-powered apps and websites also offer consumers personalized recommendations. In 2019, L’Oréal applied ModiFace’s AI technology to introduce a new digital skin diagnostic tool, called SkinConsult, for its brand, Vichy. The AI-powered tool uses more than 6,000 clinical images in order to deliver accurate skin assessment for all skin types. It analyzes selfies uploaded by users to identify fine lines, dark spots, wrinkles, and other issues, and then provides tailored product and routine recommendations to the user to address the skin concerns.

My Beauty Matches, a UK-based company, offers AI-based personalized and impartial beauty product recommendations and price comparisons. The website asks consumers diagnostic-style questions about their skin and hair type, concerns, and preferences, and uses AI to analyze the data and recommend products from 400,000 products (from about 3,500 brands) listed on its website. Alongside, the company runs Beauty Matches Engine (BME), which is a solution for beauty retailers using consumer data and AI algorithms to identify consumer purchasing and browsing patterns as well as their preferred products by age and skin or hair concerns. This helps retailers predict and stock, which product the consumer is likely to purchase, improving sales, increasing upsells, and providing a personalized solution to customers.

On similar lines, another app, Reflexion, uses AI to measure the shininess of skin through pictures and offers personalized product recommendations. The app claims to provide much deeper analysis than regular image analysis apps and provides additional features such as testing if products such as foundation are evenly applied. The app works by measuring a face surface’s Bidirectional Scatter Distribution Function (BSDF), which is a measure of light reflected on the user’s face.

Nudemeter is another such product, which uses AI to personalize makeup choices and foundation shades for a full spectrum of skin tones, including darker skins. The app uses color analysis and digital image processing along with its AI algorithms that ensure accurate color measurement irrespective of background lighting, pixels, etc. The app is currently being used by Spktrm Beauty, a US-based niche beauty company targeting shoppers with dark skin.

Virtual makeup through AR and VR

In today’s world where consumers prefer to shop from the comfort of their homes, AR and VR are enabling beauty companies to provide experience similar to that of physical retail to their consumers. AR and VR technologies-based apps let users experiment virtually with a range of cosmetics by allowing them to try several different shades, all within minutes and through their smartphone. This elevates the users shopping experience and improves sales conversion.

Sephora’s Virtual Makeup Artist enables customers to try on thousands of shades of lipsticks and eyeshadows through their smartphones or at kiosks at Sephora stores. While many such apps and filters have been in use for some time now, they are increasingly becoming more sophisticated, providing accurate color match to the skin and ensuring the virtual makeup does not move when the user shakes their face, changes to a side angle, etc. In addition, such apps also provide digital makeup tutorials to engage customers.

On similar lines, L’Oréal uses ModiFace’s AR and AI technology to provide virtual makeup try-on on Amazon and Facebook. The technology enables customers using these two platforms to try on different shades of lipsticks and other make-up products through a live video or a selfie from an array of L’Oréal brands such as Maybelline, L’Oréal Paris, NYX Professional Makeup, Lancôme, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Urban Decay, and Shu Uemura.

Moreover, AR-based try-on apps helped brands connect with their customers during the previous year when most customers were stuck home and could not physically try on make-up. LVMH-owned Benefit Cosmetics has been investing in AR tech, and launched Benefit’s Brow Try-On Experience program (along with Taiwanese beauty-tech company, Perfect Corporation), which helps online shoppers identify the right eyebrow shape and style for them and then choose products accordingly. The company uses facial point detector technology for the program. The app witnessed a 43% surge in its daily users during April and May of 2020 (as compared with January and March 2020), when people were confined to their homes owing to the COVID outbreak. This helped connect with consumers in a fresh manner and increased brand loyalty. Moreover, Benefit claims that brows products have been their strongest category post-COVID outbreak.

One of China’s leading e-commerce players, Alibaba, also partnered with Perfect Corporation to integrate the latter’s ‘YouCam Makeup’ (an AR-based virtual makeup try-on technology) into Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall online shopping experience.

Smart devices

In addition to AI and AR based apps and solutions, smart devices is another category in the beauty tech space that is gaining momentum. A certain section of premium consumers are increasingly open to invest heavily into smart beauty gadgets that not only improve skin and hair quality but also help them quantitatively measure the results from using a certain product. While these products are currently expensive and for a niche audience, they have been gaining popularity, especially across the USA and China.

One such smart skincare device is L’Oréal’s Perso, which is based on ModiFace’s AI-powered skin diagnostics and analysis technology. Perso uses AI, location data, and consumer preferences to formulate personalized moisturizer for the consumer. The product is further expected to extend into foundations and lip shades. Perso is expected to be launched in 2021.

On similar lines, in July 2019, Japan-based Shiseido, launched its smart skincare device called Optune, which measures a user’s location-based weather and air pollution data, sleep data, stress levels, and menstrual cycles to create a custom moisturizer. Optune is available on a subscription basis and costs about US$92 per month.

In 2020, P&G also launched a premium skincare system, called Opte Precision. The skincare device uses blue LED light to scan one’s skin and applies a patented precision algorithm to detect problem areas and analyze complexion. Post this, the device releases an optimizing serum that is applied to spots to instantly cover age spots, pigmentation, etc., and to fade their appearance over time. The device has 120 nozzles and works on a technology similar to that of a thermal inkjet printer. The device targets a premium niche audience and costs US$599 with refill cartridge costing US$100.

In 2018, Johnson & Johnson’s drugstore skincare brand, Neutrogena, also launched a smart skincare device – a skin scanner, called Skin360 and SkinScanner, which uses technology from FitSkin (a US-based technology company). The scanner comes in the form of a magnifying camera that gets attached to a smartphone. The camera, which has a 30-time magnifying power helps scan the size and appearance of one’s pores, size and depth of fine lines and wrinkles, the skin’s moisture level, and also provides a score to the skin’s hydration level. The data is processed in a mobile app, which in turn provides a complete skin analysis and offers expert advice and product recommendations. While most smart skin devices are relatively expensive, this one retails at around US$50.

EOS Perspective

While AI and AR have been embraced by a lot of industries in the past, beauty tech is still in its infancy. That being said, there is a lot of potential in the space, especially with the consumer becoming increasingly comfortable with technology. While till recently, most technology-based products in the beauty sector were gimmicky and more for fun and consumer engagement, brands have started taking this space seriously, and started launching products that offer real sales growth opportunity.

Moreover, while AI and AR-based technologies have been accepted fairly easily by the consumers and industry players alike, smart devices is still a very niche category, with most products focused on a niche affluent clientele, who are willing to spend more than US$100 on products that may help improve their skin. There is a lot of potential for this segment to innovate, collaborate, and launch products at a more affordable price point in order to reach the masses.

Over the next couple of years, we can expect new niche players, exploring the benefits of beauty tech to enter the market in addition to greater number of partnerships between traditional beauty giants and technology companies. As personalization continues to be the mantra for consumers, beauty companies cannot look to ignore the space in the coming future.

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Beyond the Low-cost Price Tags – the Real Price of Fast Fashion

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Gone are the days when consumer bought a pair of jeans and wore it for years. Fast fashion culture has conditioned consumers to expect a constant stream of new clothing that feeds their desire to buy more in order to keep up with the changing trends. Owing to fast fashion, affordable clothes are being manufactured at a warp speed, worn, and quickly discarded, making clothes disposable commodities rather than keepsakes. About 100 billion clothing items are manufactured globally each year and consumption has increased by 400% in the last two decades. Fast fashion has undeniably democratized high fashion by providing affordable apparel for everyday shoppers but it comes at an enormous cost, not reflected in its bargain-basement price tags.

Fast fashion is the fashion now

Selling large quantities of inexpensive clothing has made fast fashion a dominant business model in the garment industry. Another reason for its popularity is the taste of luxury clothing that it offers to shoppers without paying the full price. Fast fashion brands, such as Zara and H&M, are able to produce low-cost mimics of high-end fashion brands. The moment a model walks down the ramp wearing clothes of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, fast fashion brands mass produce replicas of a similar design and sell them at astonishingly low prices.

While established luxury clothing brands take months to design and distribute a clothing item, Zara is able to design, produce, market, and distribute a new piece of clothing to its stores located across 93 countries in mere two weeks. This enormous efficiency in producing mass clothing at an economical format provides an edge to fast fashion companies that traditional clothing brands will always struggle to replicate.

Fast fashion has transformed dynamics of the whole fashion industry, changing the traditional four-season fashion calendar to 52 micro-seasons. Fast fashion companies such as Missguided launch about 1,000 new products monthly, while Fashion Nova rolls out 600 to 900 new styles every week.

The blindingly fast pace at which clothes are being manufactured and discarded has its consequences. The manufacturing process is environmentally damaging and speedy supply chains depend on underpaid and overworked factory workers.

Environmental cost of fast fashion

The environmental menace linked to manufacturing and consuming fast fashion is hidden across the lifecycle of each piece of clothing. The production process is tremendously polluting to begin with, as factories indiscriminately dump toxic chemical-laden wastewater into rivers and tonnes of greenhouse gases are emitted while manufacturing – about 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted annually by the global textile industry, which is more than aviation and shipping industries combined.

Even the choice of fabric for manufacturing fast fashion garments is posing environmental risks. Proportion of synthetic materials, such as polyester in our clothing has increased two-fold since 2000, rising to 60% in 2019. These fibers are oil-based and a single polyester shirt has 5.5 kg of carbon footprint, as compared to 2.1 kg from a cotton shirt. Moreover, polyester generates vast amounts of greenhouse gases, sheds microfibers that cause plastic pollution in oceans, and when disposed, it does not naturally decompose, compounding the waste problem.

A major ramification of fast fashion is that clothes move from consumer’s wardrobes to garbage as fast as they are manufactured. It is likely that within 7-8 uses, a jeans or shirt would be discarded for clothing that is newer and trending. The shorter lifespan of garments is not only generating enormous amount of waste but is also putting strain on production resources such as water that is extensively used in the manufacturing process.

Globally, about US$ 400 billion worth clothing is discarded prematurely and 21 billion tons of textile is sent to landfills annually. The ecological cost associated with these garments is tremendous – 3,000 liters of water is required to manufacture one cotton shirt and a pair of jeans needs about 8,000 liters of water, almost the amount of water an average person drinks over two years is utilized in production of garments that will be quickly discarded.

Social cost of fast fashion

With rise of globalization, supply chains have become international, which has led to increased outsourcing of textile production to countries that offer low-cost labor. Fast fashion’s low price tags largely depend on even lower production costs. Hence, countries such as USA produce only 3% of its garments, while the rest is outsourced to developing countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, etc.

Low-cost production means factory owners need to cut down costs, which is usually done at the expense of safety and results in providing appalling working conditions for factory workers. Fast fashion production uses 8,000 synthetic chemicals, several of those chemicals are carcinogenic affecting health of factory workers. Moreover, workers are constantly exposed to fumes of toxic chemicals, which pose serious threat to their lives.

Fast fashion frenzy has led retailers to indulge in unfair labor practices in an attempt to keep production costs low and simultaneously increase production. About 85% of textile factory workers are women, who work overtime and are highly underpaid. Lack of regulation has given way to exploitation of labor in countries such as Bangladesh, where retailers pay as little as US$ 2-3 per day to garment workers, a larger portion of them are engaged by fast fashion brands. Even in developed economies such as the USA, companies such as Fashion Nova have been found to pay employees far below the minimum wage – the brand was reported to pay US$ 2.77 an hour to its workers in Los Angeles.

Additionally, cases of child labor have been registered in countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam.

A move towards sustainable production

In the past decade, changing consumer attitudes associated with sustainability and corporate transparency have propelled fast fashion retailers to rethink impact of their production processes.

Notable steps have been taken by some of the largest fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M. Zara aims to use 100% organic, sustainable or recycled material in its clothing line by 2025. Also, it has plans for its facilities not to produce any landfill waste by 2025. Currently, Zara has a sustainable clothing collection, Join Life, which uses sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, tencel (cellulose fiber), or recycled polyester.

H&M also has a similar vision of using 100% sustainably sourced or recycled materials in its garments. It also aims to reduce water consumption and CO2 emissions in production processes. The company already has a clothing line, Conscious, which uses sustainable materials for manufacturing garments.

Both companies also claim to be striving to provide better working conditions for workers and pay fair wages.

Beyond the Low-cost Price Tags – the Real Price of Fast Fashion by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

Thanks to fast fashion, for many consumers, what used to be a thoughtful and occasional purchase, has turned into a series of impulse buys at shorter intervals. The rate at which garments are being produced is not environmentally sustainable and putting profits ahead of workers’ welfare has led to abuse and exploitation of laborers globally.

Fortunately, the number of eco-conscious consumers is on the rise, a fact that has pushed fast fashion retailers to reevaluate strategies and focus on sustainable production. However, a question still remains how much of those sustainability pledges and greener production goals actually hold true.

Can fast fashion really be sustainable?

The fundamental problem lies in the business model of fast fashion that is based on selling more products. The industry’s profitability hinges on luring consumers to fresh stream of new clothes and designs that are launched almost weekly. A business model that is based on over-production is far from being sustainable.

Fast fashion companies are often criticized for greenwashing and distracting consumers from their harmful practices. For instance, H&M’s recycle program encourages shoppers to donate their old clothes, which H&M claims to recycle to create new textile. However, only 0.1% of all collected clothing is believed to be actually recycled, while the rest is most likely dumped in landfills. H&M’s clever marketing tactics make shoppers believe that it is a green company, but in reality, H&M offers discount vouchers to shoppers in exchange of their donated clothes, which pushes consumers to buy even more clothes.

Claims made by fast fashion companies on using 100% sustainable fabric have been questioned by various experts and critics, as all fabrics utilize enormous amount of natural resources and energy in the production process. Fast fashion companies might be shifting to fabrics with lower environmental profile but it cannot be completely sustainable, as claimed.

Moreover, H&M and Zara’s sustainable clothing lines, Conscious and Join Life, have been called out for misleading consumers with vague sustainability claims. It is unclear to consumers why these companies are labelling their clothing lines as sustainable. The companies have never defined terms such as ‘sustainably sourced’ or ‘sustainable materials’, used to describe their clothing lines. Hence, it is ambiguous how they source the materials, what is meant by sustainable materials, and what portion of garments they actually constitute.

While making an effort to use environmentally-friendly materials is definitely a step towards better production practices, it is not enough to compensate for the overall damage that fast fashion companies impose on the environment, hence, consumers also need to do their part.

Time to slow the fast fashion

Fast fashion thrives because companies create demand for clothing. To curb this demand, consumers need to make changes in shopping behavior to reduce their own environmental footprint.

A conscious choice needs to be made to purchase less clothes and to use the existing ones for longer time period. Solely wearing a garment for nine months longer can reduce carbon footprint of that garment by 30%.

Buying used clothes is another way to reduce environmental impact. Wearing used garments is a sustainable way to recycle clothes which would otherwise be discarded in landfills. If every shopper purchased one used item in a year, it could save CO2 emission equivalent to pulling out half a million cars from roads for a year.

Nonetheless, if consumers make mindful choices and fast fashion brands commit to doing business differently, we would be able to produce and consume less.

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Blockchain: a Frontline Warrior in Battling COVID-19 Pandemic

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SARS-COV-2 has brought the world to a standstill. Technology and its creative uses have been playing a pivotal role in sustaining lives during the pandemic as well as combating the crisis. One such technology that has been at the forefront of the pandemic is blockchain. From mitigating supply chain issues with medicines and protection gear to facilitating transparency in donations to effectively tracking the spread of the virus and protecting patient privacy, blockchain technology is being applied across the spectrum to contain and manage the outbreak.

The current pandemic has brought to light many inefficiencies and limitations of the existing global healthcare systems, wherein governments across the globe are grappling to control the outbreak, challenged by the lack of a unified, interconnected, and trusted network to share data and track cases. Blockchain has several inherent properties, such as decentralized ledger, transparency, and immutability, that make it suitable for handling and managing various aspects of containing the pandemic.

Outbreak tracking

Global health authorities and governments across the globe are having a hard time gathering authentic data regarding tests and patient numbers, hospital beds, recoveries, etc. Currently, most of the data circulating is disparate and comes from multiple sources, such as hospitals, labs, the public, and media, instead of one authorized source. This is extremely damaging since it results in the creation of a great amount of inaccurate and duplicate data, which, if trusted, makes the process of tracking and containment both time-consuming and ineffective. This is counter-productive to the management of a disease that is as fast-spreading as COVID-19.

Blockchain technology can come into play in effectively tackling this issue. Owing to its distributed and immutable nature, blockchain can provide a feasible solution for tracking the outbreak. Blockchain-based apps facilitate organizations across the globe to form a single connected network where data can be shared in real time and securely. Moreover, since data stored in the blockchain is immutable, it is protected against unauthorized changes, and its distributed nature ensures protection against fraudulent data (since each entry requires consensus algorithms and smart contracts). Lastly, blockchain efficiently manages high volumes of data (as in the cases of the COVID-19 pandemic) on a real-time basis, which cannot be managed using human resources.

However, in addition to these factors, the aspect that stands out the most and makes the blockchain technology ideal for monitoring and managing outbreak-related information is the level of privacy it offers. People do not wish for their information to be shared publicly or be used for other purposes. Thus, it is a challenge to get patients to collaborate with governments and healthcare institutions to share information regarding their condition and wellness. For instance, the Israeli government recently permitted healthcare institutions to track citizens’ mobile phones to control the spread of coronavirus. This has raised concerns from human rights organizations as citizens are not comfortable with sharing their personal information.

Since blockchain uses a distributed ledger, which ensures accountability and transparency with regard to access to its stored data, the information shared through blockchain cannot be extracted or misused. Moreover, information stored in a blockchain cannot be hacked. This encourages patients to share information regarding their condition, symptoms, location, and underlying health conditions without fear of the information being misused or shared with any third party.

Furthermore, information shared by patients in a blockchain network may not only be used for tracking the outbreak but also facilitate health centers’ study of the disease characteristics and patterns to develop treatment and solutions.

For instance, WHO has been using a blockchain-based data streaming platform, called MiPasa, which facilitates the sharing of information amongst need-to-know organizations such as state authorities and health officials. The platform is built on top of Hyperledger Fabric and partners with IBM for blockchain and cloud platforms. The application cross-references siloed location data with health information to track and prevent the spread of the outbreak, all while protecting patient privacy.

In another example, an Atlanta-based developer of blockchain-enabled healthcare applications, Acoer, developed an application called HashLog, which allows real-time logging and data visualization of the spread of the infection. HashLog provides real-time updates on the spread of the disease by tracking the movement of infected people to identify potential outbreaks and prevent further spread. The application uses the Hedera Hashgraph distributed ledger technology, and each entry is recorded through a verified hash reference on the ledger, ensuring that the data is correct.

Donations

In addition to tracking and preventing outbreaks, blockchain also plays an important role in securing donations. From hospitals and state authorities with insufficient funds for medical supplies to economically weaker sections of the population losing sources of income due to lockdown, the current pandemic has displaced a huge number of people across the globe. Thus, in such times, donations play a critical role in sustaining livelihoods and providing healthcare supplies to the affected people. However, given the fraud associated with donations in recent times, lack of trust is a common factor affecting the success of donations. Several individuals want to help and donate, however, are discouraged due to fear of their money being misused.

For instance in India, the government and police warned citizens against several fake relief schemes that have been floating in the name of COVID-19 relief, some even mirroring the Prime Ministers Relief Fund. These kinds of activities deter willing people from donating.

Blockchain technology can be used to effectively combat this issue. Since all transactions in the blockchain are secure, transparent, and traceable, donors can track their funds and see where they are utilized. This gives confidence to donors that their funds are being used for the exact purpose that they intended.

One such example is Hangzhou-based blockchain startup Hyperchain, which built a blockchain-based donation tracking platform for supporting government and hospitals (such as Tangshan People’s Hospital, Jiayu People’s Hospital, and Xiantao No. 1 People’s Hospital) in the donation process. The platform has attracted more than US$2 million in donations.

 

Blockchain a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic by EOS Intelligence

Supply chain tracking

Blockchain technology has been deemed extremely useful in managing and tracing the supply chain in several sectors as retail (for more insights on this, read our article Blockchain Paving Its Way into Retail Industry). However, given the current pandemic, the technology can also utilize similar functionalities and play a significant role in tracking of medical supplies.

Given the pace of the spread of COVID-19, authorities and healthcare organizations across the globe have faced a shortage of medical supplies, such as masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, ventilators, testing equipment, as well as some medicines. This drastic increase in demand has resulted in the distribution of a large number of counterfeit and faulty products. Blockchain technology can play a significant role to combat this. Given the data provenance in blockchain and its immutable nature, it is possible to identify and trace back every touchpoint of the medical supplies to ensure its authenticity.

In addition to filtering counterfeit products, blockchain also helps streamline the supply chain process to ensure hospitals and doctors secure timely supplies to treat patients. Blockchain can provide real-time updates regarding demand so that medical manufacturers can adjust production levels accordingly. In addition, it can help fast-track supply chain contracts through the use of smart contracts and facilitate faster payments, thereby improving overall efficiency.

In February 2020, China-based AliPay, along with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, launched a blockchain-based platform to facilitate the tracking of medical supplies required for fighting SARS-COV-2. The platform has improved trust within the medical supply chain since it records and tracks the entire provenance of preventive supplies, including masks, gloves, and PPE kits.

Apart from the medical supply chain, blockchain can also help limit supply chain disruptions faced by several other industries due to lockdowns in several parts of the world. However, companies that are using blockchain for managing their supply chain have an advantage as they have better visibility into their complete supply chain and thereby can identify points of disruption in a timely manner.

Avoiding future pandemics

Blockchain is on the front line for fighting the current pandemic, but it also has the potential to prevent future disease outbreaks. Most of the current healthcare surveillance systems across the globe are outdated and lack the required timeliness and efficiency in sharing information with local as well as international health enforcement organizations. Moreover, sometimes there is a question of deliberate delay in the sharing of critical information.

To this effect, blockchain-based health surveillance systems can help mitigate future outbreaks. Since they operate on a decentralized ledger, the surveillance data is transparently available to health organizations across the globe in a real-time manner, without the fear of any political disruptions. Timely knowledge of a potential outbreak is the first and most critical step in preventing a similar situation in the future.

In addition to the above-mentioned applications, blockchain companies, along with institutions, are developing creative solutions that help reduce challenges faced by people due to COVID-19 in their day-to-day lives. For instance, Toronto-based blockchain company Emerge launched a public safety app called Civitas, which assists citizens and local authorities across Latin America. This app matches one’s official ID to confidential medical records stored in the blockchain to identify whether the person is allowed to leave the house or not. Thus, the app allows police to verify if the person has travel permission just on the basis of their government ID and without gaining access to the person’s medical records. The app also determines the safest time and day for going out for essentials for people who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.

Moreover, as discussed in our previous article (Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector), blockchain is also extremely useful in the virtual education scenario, which is now the new way of schooling for a large part of students across the globe.

EOS Perspective

Blockchain technology has several inherent properties that make it ideal for helping to manage and combat the current pandemic. Its decentralized, traceable, and immutable properties make it especially desirable for managing contact tracing and outbreak tracking, which are critical in handling a pandemic efficiently. Moreover, the benefits of blockchain are further amplified when used alongside other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data.

However, despite its several uses, the issue of scalability plagues blockchain adaption at a larger scale. Blockchain is still a nascent technology and lacks high-level scalability. With COVID-19 affecting most of the world, the current blockchain companies do not have the level of scalability to provide all-encompassing global-level solutions.

Furthermore, blockchain technology does not operate alone, and it needs to be configured with the operating legacy system of companies and other stakeholders. However, most legacy systems are relatively old and, therefore, do not support blockchain technology. Updating or reconfiguring a legacy system is a tedious process (both in terms of time and money), and companies may not want to tie up resources for that at the current time.

Given these drawbacks, blockchain may not be deployed at a global-scale level during this pandemic, however, its inherent benefits have made companies, authorities, and global health organizations ponder, explore, and evaluate its potential in managing such situations in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world largely unprepared, organizations and companies across the globe are gearing up to ensure this history is not repeated, and blockchain technology has emerged as a critical part of the solution.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Influencer Marketing Redefining the Fashion and Beauty Industry

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Social media users are increasingly reliant on and influenced by what they see online, particularly, when it comes to marketing done by fashion and beauty brands. Social media provides immense marketing opportunities to the fashion and beauty industry by allowing them to closely interact with customers and influence their buying decisions like never before. To tap such opportunities, about 78% of global fashion brands incorporated social influencers in their marketing strategy in 2017, according to a survey conducted by Launchmetrics. Influencers are slowly becoming an integral part of marketing campaigns for fashion and beauty brands – for high-end brands such as Becca Cosmetics and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as affordable brands such as Maybelline, for whom influencers have been pivotal in driving sales.

Why beauty and fashion brands are adopting influencer marketing?

In the past, to launch new collections or promote products, fashion/beauty brands invested heavily in celebrities and television models gracing magazine covers, billboard and television advertisements, among others. These efforts were effective but as technology progresses, fresh marketing tactics are born. While most of the traditional forms of advertising are still being used, brands have started to realize how laborious it is to employ traditional methods in promoting products, hence, majority of brands are going digital and starting to work with influencers.

How influential is influencer marketing?

Undoubtedly, influencer marketing is one of the fastest growing digital marketing tools, providing unparalleled access to real-time word-of-mouth targeting. For marketers, today’s social media influencers are yesterday’s celebrities and socialites, only with a more persuasive voice and greater power to reach audiences.

Beauty and fashion industry has understood the power of influencer marketing quite well. Cosmetics brands such as Smashbox have completely abandoned the use of traditional print media for advertising while luxury cosmetics companies such as Estee Lauder have significantly reduced spending on traditional media to focus on digital.

Fashion and cosmetics brands are using various types of influencer campaigns to promote products, foster brand awareness, and boost sales. For example, Maybelline (an American cosmetics company) in China used the influence of beauty bloggers and 50 celebrity influencers to do a 20-minute livestream video for a newly launched lipstick in 2016, which led to sales of 10,000 lipsticks in two hours.

On the other hand, Olay (an American skincare company) introduced a skincare campaign, Olay 28-day Challenge, which urged influencers to document their four-week experience of using company’s products while updating their followers simultaneously across various social media platforms. Influencers also gave away free samples and offered discounts to followers to encourage them to buy the products to join the skincare challenge. In 2018, the campaign was able to increase engagement rate by 20% and there was a significant increase in Google searches for the brand name.

There is no end to innovative social media campaigns that brands are launching. For example, in 2018, H&M (A Swedish clothing retail company) engaged in conversation with consumers on Instagram to come up with new designs for its brand Nyden, which is targeted at millennials. H&M worked with nine influencers, who used Instagram stories’ polling feature to understand followers’ preferences for certain designs, such as using zippers versus buttons, among others. Over a period of two weeks, the polls attracted more than 425,000 viewers and generated 35,000 votes.

For brands such as Fashion Nova (an American fast fashion retail company), with 14 million Instagram followers and ranked as the most Googled fashion brand of 2018, marketing through Instagram has been pivotal in its rapid ascent in the fashion industry. Fashion Nova is known for betting big on Instagram and use of celebrity influencers – as of December 2018, the company had worked with 3,000 influencers on Instagram. Using celebrity influencers, it claims to have generated sales up to US$ 50,000 per post and selling out a whole collection of clothing line within 82 minutes. With about 20 to 30 posts per day on Instagram, Fashion Nova knows how to keep its audience engaged and generate brand awareness.

What challenges are obstructing growth?

Influencer fatigue

Influencer marketing is not as impeccable as it sounds to be. With more and more businesses adopting influencer marketing, threat of influencer fatigue increases, which could result in disengaged audiences and reduced impact. According to a study conducted by Bazaarvoice in 2018, about 47% respondents claimed to be fatigued with repetitive influencer posts on Instagram.

Promotional content is already beginning to clutter consumer’s news feeds. With beauty and fashion influencers recommending every other product that enters the market, audiences will eventually lose trust in them, feel disengaged and overwhelmed. Consumers, after some time, are bound to get tired of having their buying behavior manipulated. Just like people started using ad-blockers when websites became loaded with advertisements, there’s a probability that they may also turn away from beauty/fashion influencers.

Absence of standard metrics/parameters to determine success of campaigns

There is uncertainty regarding what constitutes a successful influencer marketing campaign and how to calculate ROI on marketing spend. Beauty and fashion companies are unable to accurately calculate profitability of influencer campaigns. According to a study published by Celebrity Intelligence in 2018, 46% of respondents (from the beauty industry) faced challenge in evaluating ROI of an influencer collaboration.

Driving purchases is not always the key objective of influencer marketing, rather it focuses on softer goals like growing brand awareness or boosting engagement, which makes ROI far more complex to determine.

Influencer marketing does not guarantee results in terms of sales, brand reach, or number of clicks. No standard metrics have been set for the industry to measure success, instead brands end up speculating whether the campaign was successful or not. Some beauty and fashion companies monitor the comments or number of likes on the posts, while others determine views on videos or track campaign hashtags, all of which are not very effective methodologies.

Fraudulent practices

Much like other industries, beauty and fashion market has also fallen prey to influencer frauds. According a report published Points North Group in 2018, cosmetics/skincare companies suffered losses due to fraudulent engagement – 46% of Raw Sugar Living’s influencer marketing budget was squandered on fake followers, Clarins lost 45% of its budget on influencer frauds, while L’occitane blew 24% of its budget, among various others. Such deceitful practices have taken a toll on marketers, who invest in influencers to drive brand awareness and sales, but their campaigns fail to reach the actual target audience.

Another inauthentic social media activity plaguing the beauty and fashion industry is staging fake promotional posts by aspiring influencers. Companies want to see promotional abilities and references of past campaigns of influencers before hiring them to do paid sponsored posts. Hence, aspiring influencers, particularly from the beauty and fashion industry, have started to publish posts with brand hashtags and captioning it in a manner such that it seems to be a promotional or sponsored content. While this leads to free publicity for brands but most of them complain that this also results in inferior quality sponsored content posted without approval, which could harm brand’s reputation.

Influencer Marketing Redefining the Fashion and Beauty Industry by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

If there is any market that qualifies to be an early adopter of influencer marketing, it is the beauty and fashion industry. It is an extremely dynamic industry and to stand out from competitors, brands need to constantly evolve, be creative, and promote products extensively – all of which is easily achieved through influencer marketing.

Equipped with social media savviness, influencers have the power to eloquently persuade consumers to make purchases. There is no limit to the creativity that they bring to the table – fashion/beauty influencers design compelling marketing campaigns for the brands by reviewing products, conducting polls and contests, offering huge giveaways, sharing their experiences of using products through videos or photographs, attending events organized by brands and promoting such events, among various other tactics.

Is influencer marketing here to stay?

There is no doubt that influencer marketing is becoming the mainstay of beauty and fashion industry, far from a passing fad. The personal nature of influencer campaigns is one of the reasons why it is proving to be effective for the beauty and fashion industry. According to a survey conducted by Celebrity Intelligence in 2018, 98% of beauty companies believed that influencer marketing is effective for the industry while 68% thought beauty segment has a natural affinity with influencers. Even though difficult to calculate, surveys have determined that influencer campaigns could also provide high ROIs – for every US$1 spent on influencer marketing, brands received average ROI of US$10.7 in 2017. Fashion and beauty brands have gauged the power of social media and know that with the right influencer endorsing to the right community/audience, it can translate into clicks, conversions, and actual sales.


Find out more about drivers and challenges in influencer marketing adoption here


For fashion and beauty brands, influencer marketing has become a multi-million-dollar investment, with considerable portions of their budgets dedicated to influencers. For example, Estee Lauder (a US-based cosmetics company), in 2019, revealed that 75% of its marketing budget will be spent on digital marketing, particularly on influencers, while Shiseido (Japanese multinational personal care company) increased its influencer marketing budget by 50% in 2019. On the other hand, in February 2019, Benefit Cosmetics (a US-based cosmetics company) formed an in-house dedicated influencer agency in the UK to streamline influencer marketing operations and manage influencer relationships. In the future, it plans to expand the in-house influencer agency to other locations as well.

Undoubtedly, influencer marketing has dramatically changed the fashion and beauty industry, by allowing real people to narrate a brand story, demonstrate product, and provide honest and credible product reviews. In order to make it a sustainable marketing strategy, measures are being taken to overcome some of the existing challenges. In pursuit to engage with authentic influencers, beauty brands are adopting more sophisticated, data-led approach to selection process. According to Celebrity Intelligence survey, in 2018, about 67% of beauty brands identified social media analytics (including audience insights and engagement metrics) useful to choose authentic and suitable content creators.

Another ongoing challenge is to accurately determine success of campaigns, which some companies (including lifestyle and cosmetics brands such as Daniel Wellington, L’Oréal, and Olay) are tackling by providing influencers with a unique URL or a discount code, which followers can use and brands can easily track conversions. If the campaign does not entail discounts, various metrics can be used to evaluate ROI such as traffic driven, social reach, social media impressions, engagement rate, cost per impression, and cost per engagement, among others.

Nonetheless, opportunities that influencer marketing provides for the beauty and fashion industry outweigh all downsides. While brands have achieved success with sponsored posts and brand hashtags on social media, there is still a lot more for them to explore and innovate through influencer marketing.

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