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Swatch no more? Pandemic may spell end of in-store cosmetic samples

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, November 27, 2020  /  02:30 pm
Swatch no more? Pandemic may spell end of in-store cosmetic samples

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the beauty industry to rethink its operations, including the future of in-store product sampling. (

In-store cosmetic samples have long been a divisive issue as they have been found to be susceptible to contamination, but many consider them helpful for finding the right beauty products.

For Jakarta-based professional Fitriyani Purwaningtyas, makeup samples are important because products come in a variety colors that blend differently depending on one’s skin tone. 

“For skincare, samples are not that important because the results aren’t immediately visible,” Fitriyani told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

More stringent health standards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have added another challenge for the industry, which is considering making in-store cosmetic samples a thing of the past.

Fitriyani said in-store samples were not worth it during the outbreak. “They could increase the spread of the virus,” she said, adding that even if the store provided safe and clean applicators, she would choose not to use them.

Unlike Fitriyani, Bekasi-based professional Fifi Kartika used disposable foundation testers when she visited personal care and beauty retailer Sephora in the Plaza Senayan shopping center in South Jakarta in October. She recalled that she had to sit on a chair and wait for the outlet’s attendants to assist her. “They asked about the products I needed and gave them to me, so I didn’t wander around the store,” Fifi said.

Fifi said she still considered cosmetic samples worthwhile, as long as they were sanitized. “Perhaps preventive measures would help. For instance, lipstick testers shouldn’t be put on display. Instead, beauty assistants could give them to you and you would only be allowed to apply them on your hand,” she said.

Sephora and other beauty stores have put health and safety measures in place for their customers and staff, including requiring them to wear masks, apply hand sanitizer and have their body temperatures checked prior to entering the store. 

“Product testers remain available in all branches, but in this new normal period we’re providing disposable cotton buds, sponges and spoolie [brushes] that can be used to try the products by applying them on the customers’ hands. They can only be used once,” wrote Irawati, senior vice president of marketing at PT Mitra Adiperkasa, which holds the Indonesian license for the Sephora brand.

Irawati added that all product samples, including fragrances, must be administered and supervised by Sephora’s assistants. The company’s free makeup facilities are unavailable until further notice.

Other beauty brands have also employed single-use applicators in their offline outlets under the supervision of their staff. Indonesian makeup brand Rollover Reaction, for instance, has provided disposable wands for their lip products at their outlet in the Plaza Indonesia shopping center in Central Jakarta.

Another brand taking such measures is BLP Beauty, which has a total of six outlets in the country. It provides disposable cotton buds and an acrylic board for customers who want to sample makeup products.

However, single-use product samples may raise environmental concerns. Jakarta-based graduate student Nuri Moeladi said that disposable product testers should be improved. “I’m trying to reduce cosmetic waste, such as cotton and plastic,” Nuri said.

Sociolla's in-person store in AEON Sentul in Bogor, West Java.Sociolla's in-person store in AEON Sentul in Bogor, West Java. (Sociolla/File)

E-commerce platform Sociolla, a branch of beauty-technology company Social Bella, opened its first offline store in West Jakarta last year. During the pandemic, it has stopped providing in-store product testers. Customers are also prohibited from touching products and shop assistants.

“We understand that our customers may want to touch and try products they desire, but their safety is our priority. They can read reviews on our SOCO app and ask for recommendations from beauty advisors in our offline store so that they get an idea about the products,” Bella Chrisanti Indiana, cofounder and CMO of Social Bella, told the Post by email.

Chrisanti mentioned that skincare, body-care and hair-care products were currently the most popular items in the company’s offline store.

Sociolla has created a dual online-offline shopping experience. Customers who visit the offline store can download and install the SOCO app to scan each product’s barcode and read the reviews on the app. They can also choose products on the website and pay at the in-person store.

“For now, it can be said that our customers are still adapting to the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in their areas, and it has affected shopping activities in our offline stores, which aren’t as optimal as before. But we have ensured that our customers remain comfortable and safe while shopping,” Chrisanti said.

She noted a rise in online shopping for beauty and personal care products during the pandemic, as shown by a twofold increase in the website’s average daily visitors. Sociolla also recorded an increase in its customers’ average basket size of almost 30 percent in the first and second quarters of 2020. (wng)

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