How to Sell Makeup Online

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It’s easier than ever to sell makeup from home

The American beauty and cosmetics market is not going anywhere. It was worth $60 billion in 2016, and that figure is set to reach $90 billion by this year. That’s plenty of profit to go around, so why not get in on it? 

We’ve compiled this guide to make it as easy as possible to sell makeup from home. So, without further ado, check out our step-by-step breakdown: 

Selling Makeup Online

  1. Know your customers
  2. Find your niche
  3. Source a manufacturer 
  4. Brand and package your makeup
  5. Choose a platform
  6. Ship your makeup
  7. Market and promote your makeup

What this article will do

This article will show you how to find your unique place in the makeup market, get set up with either a website builder or an online marketplace depending on your goals, and promote your makeup to grow your customers.

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

1

Know Your Customers

Before you can start selling makeup online, it’s important to know who you’re selling to, so that you can personalize the experience for your buyers. Here are a few points to consider:

  • More and more people are shopping online due to COVID-19, many of whom may have preferred shopping for makeup in person before the pandemic. Include lots of detailed descriptions and hi-res product photos to provide as much information about each product as possible, so people don’t feel like they’re missing out on testing things in-person before purchasing.
  • Include photos of your makeup on multiple models so that people can see what different shades might look like on them.
  • Include customer reviews to make your makeup brand more trustworthy – 95% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase! If you’re using a website builder, you can collect reviews via comments sections or forums on your page. Don’t be afraid to use incentives, like raffle prizes or free samples, to encourage customers to take the time to leave a review.

Top Tip: Don’t forget about customer service

When it comes to selling makeup online, a little bit of communication goes a long way! Make sure to keep your customers updated on the shipping status of their orders, be available over email to answer any questions they may have, and send a follow-up “thank you” email after each purchase. 30% of consumers say not being able to reach a real human is the most frustrating part of a bad customer service experience, and small businesses can easily avoid this with good communication.

2

Find Your Niche

The beauty industry is already massive, and the US market is expected to keep growing by 3.5% annually. While that means you’ve got a huge potential audience, it also means you’ll have to find a way to stand out from the crowds of other people who sell beauty products online. 

To set yourself apart, don’t try to appeal to every consumer – if you cast too wide a net, then your products won’t strike a personal chord with anyone. Instead, ask yourself two questions to narrow down your target audience:

  1. What makes your product unique?
  2. Who will that unique selling point (USP) attract?

Your USP could be as simple as low prices or unconventional colors, or as complex as sunburn-reversing moisturizer (and if you manage to come up with that one, let us know). Anything that clearly and boldly sets your product apart from the competition is what you should be aiming for.

by sarah skincare company
Beauty brand By Sarah has made a name for itself by focusing solely on organic, chemical-free skincare. By honing your brand’s defining characteristics (in this case, all-natural ingredients), you’ll be able to create a distinct identity.

Here are a few more helpful questions to ask yourself for inspiration:

  • Is there a product I wish I had in my own beauty routine? Mentally go through your own skincare/hair/makeup routine, and see if you can think of any dream product that would make your life easier.
  • Is there a particular beauty problem that I can solve? Chances are, there’s a gap in the market for products that are more sustainable, more natural, or better suited to certain skin tones, eye colors, or hair styles. Can you think of a way to fill one of these gaps?
  • What group am I trying to appeal to? It’s impossible to find a product that appeals to every demographic – so if you’re stuck for product inspiration, start by thinking about what the particular age group/occupation/etc. that you’re targeting might be looking for (or not looking for). If you’re shipping locally in the Pacific Northwest, for example, you wouldn’t exactly count on sunscreen to be a bestseller.

If answering these questions seems challenging, don’t worry! There are some free tools you can use online to figure out what kinds of products are popular right now.

Forums

First, you can join one of the many beauty-related forums across the internet to ask questions and hear from a community of people interested in buying and/or selling makeup online. Sites like MakeupAlley and even Reddit’s makeup subsection are treasure troves of real conversations about what’s happening in beauty right now.

Keyword research

If you want a more concrete solution, then keyword research is your best bet. Keyword research means identifying popular search terms that people type into Google, and it’s a great way of figuring out what products and topics are hot right now.

A search term can be any word or phrase entered into a search engine (usually Google) by a user looking for results on the web. In turn, keywords are the popular search terms that can then decide what your content will be about.

There are plenty of free and paid tools for conducting keyword research. Google Trends is a free tool you can use to hear directly from the source. This platform uses easy-to-follow graphs to illustrate a keyword’s search volume over time. You can filter the results by geography and time frame, and see related queries for more inspiration.

using google trends
This Google Trends search for “best face moisturizer” in the US in 2020 shows that searches steadily peaked in the winter months, when dry skin is a more common problem. The sharp decline in March 2020 was likely due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
3

Source a Manufacturer

There are two main options for sourcing a manufacturer. The first option is working with a manufacturer to produce your own unique product. This means researching cosmetics manufacturers – either locally or abroad – who will work with you to create an original line of products. This is a great option, because you still get the branding benefit of labelling your products as “original.” You may even be able to find a suitable manufacturer in your area, which would make it easy to oversee the creation process. Check this list of cosmetics manufacturers in the US to find out if there’s a good supplier that’s also local to you.

The second option is white labelling, or using a generic product that the manufacturer allows you to rebrand under your own label. As far as cosmetics go, this usually means slightly altering the color/fragrance/etc. of a beauty product, and then selling it with your own branding. White labelling is convenient because you’re getting a ready-made product at the click of a button, which you can then sell through your own brand. Of course, the drawback of white labelling is that it’s difficult to establish credibility, since you can’t claim that your products are one-of-a-kind. 

If you decide to go with this model, you’ll need to conduct thorough research into your supplier. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you consider potential white label manufacturers:

  • Are there any ingredients that you don’t want in your products? If you’re looking to sell organic or vegan makeup, for example, make sure your supplier can accommodate those requirements. Similarly, you’ll want to find out what kind of preservatives a supplier uses to keep products fresh.
  • Is the supplier approved in your country? For US-based businesses, you’ll want to ensure that your supplier is in compliance with both the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). Unlike drugs, cosmetics do not need FDA approval before they go on sale, but the FDA still conducts inspections and provides regulations to ensure that “adulterated and misbranded” products are removed from the market.
  • Are there order minimums? Make sure you don’t end up with a supplier that demands more volume than you’re ready to commit to at the start. As your business becomes more established and gains more customers, your inventory orders will grow. But when you first start selling makeup online, it’s best to save money and resources where you can – including on inventory!
  • Does the supplier provide product packaging? If your supplier doesn’t supply the physical packaging of the product, you’ll need to figure out where you’re going to get it. You can package your products at home, with the benefit of ensuring the quality yourself – but we wouldn’t recommend this unless you have design experience! Instead, you can source through a separate supplier. There are plenty of dedicated cosmetic packaging suppliers to choose from, most of which will let you customize the packaging to align with your brand.

Whether you’re selling a few items locally, or growing into a larger operation, it’s important to stay organized when it comes to inventory management. Here are a few tips:

  • When selling makeup online in particular, it’s important to keep track of expiration dates in programs like Excel so that you’ll know when it’s time to start stocking up again. When you start out, order/create smaller amounts in order to avoid waste. Once you’ve been at it a while and can start predicting your future sales, you’ll have a better idea of how much to order or make.
  • Consider using inventory management software to help you organize your stock. If you’re not storing corporate-level quantities of makeup, then free software like SalesBinder or Stockpile will do. Most ecommerce website builders offer easy integrations with inventory management software, too.
  • Pay attention to storage conditions, so that you don’t expose your products to any heat, moisture, or other elements that could damage them.

If you’re making your products at home, you won’t have to worry about sourcing a manufacturer, but you will have to follow any local and national regulations.

If you’re making your products at home, then more power to you! Just read up on your state’s ecommerce regulations to make sure you’re creating and selling by the book. The FDA has specific guidelines for manufacturing cosmetics at home that are easy to follow. Homemade products like lip balms and perfumes will be easy to create under these regulations – just be sure that the ingredients you’re listing on your labels are what’s actually in your product!

Remember, you can always start in your kitchen and then scale up to a bigger workspace when demand grows – that’s what Joanna Gatto and Matt Baggiani did when their cruelty-free and vegan makeup brand, Johnny Concert, started growing in popularity:

johnny concert founders“We started out in our kitchen, and this year we just launched in the largest clean beauty retailer, Credo. Johnny Concert started out as a side hustle/passion project but is now our main source of income. We started making our own products in-house, formulating in our kitchen, and once we found the right lab that could meet our standards and needs, we switched our production over to them.”

Whether you decide to make your own cosmetics, work with a manufacturer, or white label products, it will help to take a look at the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines for cosmetics. These are just guidelines (as opposed to hard-and-fast regulations), and they’re a great point of reference to help ensure that your manufacturing process is setting you up for success.

4

Brand and Package Your Makeup

“Branding” encompasses all of the seemingly small elements that add up to the way people perceive your product. This includes your images, tone of voice, and logos. It might seem overwhelming to work with so many moving parts, but the trick is to choose one element, customize it really well, and then simply match up the other elements to that same tone. This saves you time, and ensures that your branding will be cohesive. And cohesion is important: 70% of participants in one survey reported that consistent branding is crucial when communicating with customers.

Imagery

We recommend starting with your brand’s imagery – specifically, your brand’s colors! This will inform the decisions about logos, packaging, and tone that will come later. Color schemes don’t happen randomly – in fact, pretty much every brand logo you pass on the street has had hours of thought put in behind it.   

This is where knowing your niche will come in handy. You can use color psychology to align your brand colors with the interests of people in your niche. For example, purple calls to mind motifs like wealth and luxury for most people. So if you’re marketing a sophisticated, upscale product, then this is an ideal color to use. Meanwhile, blue evokes a sense of trust and security, which is why you’ll see a lot of banks using it for their branding (think Chase and American Express). Joanna and Matt paid close attention to detail when choosing their company’s color scheme:

Traditionally, for a company, identity design sets the tone of the brand and is used to evoke specific feelings in your audience. When we think of Johnny Concert we think of something timeless (black), sophisticated & efficient (white), vibrant & unapologetic (pink).

If you’re looking for more color-specific tips, we’ve written this breakdown of how to choose a color scheme for a website, and the same principles apply to choosing a color scheme for a brand.

Logos

Once you’ve finalized your color choice, you can use it to inform everything else. Obviously, if you pick a blue color scheme, you’ll want to reflect that in your logo and product images. But you can also use it to figure out your brand’s tone of voice – a “blue” brand should use messaging that’s trustworthy and calming, for example.

Packaging

Once you know what your brand is going to look like, you can start to think about packaging. It’s true that packaging was created to keep products safe during transport, but you’ll limit your business if that’s all you use it for! 

Branded packaging creates a fuller experience for the customer, and it’s especially important for an online business. With no brick and mortar store to create an experience for shoppers, you have to rely on your “unboxing experience” to pick up some of the slack. Stylish, fun, and experiential packaging is also an effortless marketing tactic in the age of Instagram and YouTube.

youtube marketing example

While some companies pay social media influencers to push products online, many people still create organic videos and posts that can also gain a lot of traction. Even without the factor of online engagement, great packaging still goes a long way: online businesses that pay particular attention to their packaging report, on average, a 30% increase in consumer interest. That’s a great way to retain loyal customers! 

Labeling your makeup

When you’re selling makeup online, you’ll need to pay attention to your country, state, and region-specific requirements for labeling beauty product packaging. These requirements concern elements like ingredient lists, safety and allergy warnings, and any messaging/claims made on the packaging. The FDA’s Cosmetics Labeling Guide is a resource you can use to ensure that your makeup is correctly labeled before you send it off.

Want more in-depth tips on branding? Our How to Build a Brand guide will tell you everything you need to know
5

Choose a Platform

Now that you’ve created a product people are excited about, the next question is: where to sell beauty products online? The three most effective platforms are ecommerce website builders, online marketplaces, and dropshipping. The best way to sell makeup online ultimately comes down to what works best for you, but we’ll explain the particulars of these top three methods so that you can make an informed decision. 

Ecommerce website builders

Ecommerce website builders are designed to make creating your own website as easy and stress-free as possible. The setup process usually involves choosing a template, then using a guided drag-and-drop editor to customize your site’s layout. After that, you can easily add ecommerce functionalities through apps and widgets that often even come pre-installed.

Ecommerce website builders at a glance

Cost $20-30/month, plus transaction fees
Pros Built-in customer support services, easy to use but still extremely customizable
Cons Have to promote and drive traffic to the site yourself
Best for Those who want to create a personalized shopping experience
Best providers Shopify, BigCommerce

Shopify and BigCommerce are two of the best ecommerce website builders on the market, and we’re going to use Shopify as our case study because it’s the top-performing builder in our in-house research.

Ecommerce website builders like Shopify are great for customizing your website, and subsequently your customers’ shopping experience. If you’re serious about creating a strong brand for your products, then ecommerce builders are the way to go. Take a look at the Shopify editor below – it really is as simple as clicking “add product” or “customize theme” to get your site up and running!

shopify editor screen

Because you’ll be creating your very own site, and not selling products as part of a larger marketplace, the downside is that you won’t have a built-in audience to work with. Instead, you can use tactics like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to raise your site’s rankings on the results pages of search engines like Google. Don’t let the acronym scare you off – SEO can actually be really simple, and we’ve written a comprehensive Shopify SEO Review that will really set you on your way.

Pricing Summary 

Shopify’s cheapest fully-fledged ecommerce plan is the Basic plan, which costs $29/month. This price covers a range of ecommerce apps and features, and includes everything except the 2.9% transaction fee, which becomes 0% if you decide to use Shopify Payments. You can try Shopify out risk-free through its 14-day free trial.

Not thrilled with Shopify?

Read our ranking of the 7 Best Ecommerce Platforms to discover more options

Online marketplaces

You can think of online marketplaces as “communal” online spaces, where many different vendors are selling products on the same website. The most obvious example of an online marketplace is Amazon. Customers use online marketplaces for the variety that they’re able to provide.

Online marketplaces at a glance

Cost 20¢ listing fee, plus 3.5% of your sale price
Pros Built-in audience, quick setup process
Cons Competition for buyers’ attention, not as customizable as website builders
Best for Those looking to sell fast
Best providers Etsy, Glambot.com

Etsy and Glambot.com are two great online marketplaces for selling makeup. Glambot is specially focused on beauty products, but we’re going to focus on Etsy, because it attracts a massive audience – and that’s the main appeal of an online marketplace.

etsy makeup results page

As of 2018, over 39 million users bought on Etsy. That means that if you sell beauty products online via Etsy, more than 39 million searchers will have access to your products – so, unlike with an ecommerce website builder, you won’t have to worry very much about driving traffic to your listing. That being said, you will have to compete for attention with the millions of other active sellers on Etsy, which can be a hassle.

The other major difference between online marketplaces and ecommerce website builders is that you can get started faster with online marketplaces. For example, since the Etsy platform itself is already set up, all you have to do is add your product listings to the existing site – whereas on Shopify, you would first need to take the time to create the website. However, the tradeoff is that online marketplaces can’t offer a personalized, distinct shopping experience the way that ecommerce website builders can.

Pricing Summary 

Etsy charges a 20¢ listing fee, plus 3.5% of your sales. What you’re really paying for here is Etsy’s pre-existing audience, and the ease of setup that this platform provides.

Dropshipping

Dropshipping is a surprisingly simple model in which you, the retailer, don’t actually have to handle any products or ship any stock. Instead, customers order products through your online store, and you alert your supplier. Then, your supplier ships the product to the customer. One major appeal of dropshipping is that it’s easy to budget for – since you don’t actually stock supplies yourself, you don’t have to worry about not breaking even!

Dropshipping at a glance

Cost Cost of an ecommerce builder or online marketplace, plus about $30.00/month for a dropshipping supplier/app
Pros Makes budgeting easy, no worries about restocking products
Cons Impersonal experience for both the buyer and the seller, more expensive because of third-party selling
Best for The armchair entrepreneur
Best providers Oberlo app (via Shopify)

You can use either an ecommerce website builder or an online marketplace to start dropshipping. The above sections will give you enough information to weigh the pros and cons and make your own decision, but if you ask us, ecommerce website builders are the better tool for selling makeup online. They offer more personalization without sacrificing ease of use, and Shopify even offers a dropshipping app called Oberlo.

oberlo app

Oberlo is designed to integrate with Shopify stores, and allows you to quickly import products and automate tasks. Of course, Oberlo is just one of many useful apps for dropshipping, but it’s rare to find an ecommerce builder and dropshipping app combo that fits together as seamlessly as Shopify and Oberlo.

Pricing Summary 

Dropshipping will include the cost of the ecommerce website builder or online marketplace that you choose, plus the cost of a dropshipping app/supplier, which is about $30.00/month.

Intrigued? Read our full guide to Starting a Dropshipping Business for more information
6

Ship Your Makeup

Once you’re all set up with your inventory and your website, it’s time to figure out how to actually send your makeup to customers. Shipping can be surprisingly easy when you break it down into steps:

  1. Set your origin address: The address that you ship products from is important because it determines how taxes are calculated. In most cases, the origin address will be your home address or that of the workshop/office space you’re operating out of.
  2. Consider destinations: Shipping costs will differ depending on whether you’re shipping locally, nationally, or even internationally. To set boundaries based on geography, you can create “shipping zones” that each have different rates, based on zip code, state, or country.
  3. Make sure customers know their options: Customers should be aware of shipping costs before checkout – any last-minute surprises can be frustrating! There are three main shipping options you can offer: exact shipping (charging the exact amount it costs to ship with couriers like USPS), flat rate shipping (a simpler, fixed price that you would apply to all orders within the US), and free shipping (you can apply this to all items, or offer it as a perk for orders over a certain amount).
  4. Choose a courier: Your customers will recognize the most popular couriers as reliable and professional, such as USPS, FedEx, UPS, Canada Post, and UK Royal Mail. Some ecommerce website builders even offer integrations to make things simple – for example, BigCommerce provides real-time shipping quotes for all of the couriers listed here.

Top Tip: Watch out for default text

Sometimes, a website’s theme will include optional instructions or guidelines to simplify the customer experience. This can be helpful in some ways, but when it comes to shipping, you’ll want to customize your instructions and make them as specific as possible.

For example, Shopify’s Minimalist theme comes with the default message “Shipping will be calculated at checkout” whenever customers add an item to their bags. But if you offer a flat rate or free shipping, then you’ll want to edit that message to provide more specific information.

For more information on shipping, check out our nine-step guide to shipping products.
7

Market and Promote Your Makeup

Using social media

So, you have an online presence. Now it’s time to spread the word! The easiest way to promote your products is by using – you guessed it – social media.

It’s no secret that social media is the easiest way to boost your reputation by word-of-mouth, and most brands are actively taking advantage of that: as it stands, at least 96% of beauty brands have a social media account. The main purpose of a social media presence is the opportunity it provides to engage with your audience. 

You can get started by following popular people and pages within your chosen niche, and interacting with them to gain a following. You can also tweet, pin, post, and share relevant original content to get people talking about your brand. Social proof from real people is the best kind of advertising that you can do, since 92% of consumers believe suggestions from people they know over the suggestions of impersonal advertising. Think about it: you’d probably trust a restaurant recommendation from a friend or coworker over a shameless promotion on a billboard. When someone’s Facebook friend shares your company’s post, it means a lot more than if you had promoted it yourself.

Using Influencer Marketing

These days, selling makeup online is often done with the help of social media influencers. In fact, 49% of consumers rely on influencer recommendations, which they seek out almost as much as recommendations from friends.

Influencer marketing is a huge opportunity for a digital brand, because consumers will be introduced to your products by someone they already trust. And it’s safe to say that a little social proof goes a long way – 63% of consumers trust influencer messages more than brand messages.

The first step to getting started with influencer marketing is choosing the platform(s) that you want to market on. There are a lot of choices, from TikTok to Twitter, but given that 83% of beauty brands are working with Instagram influencers in particular, we recommend the photo-sharing app as the best place to start.

To figure out which Instagram influencers you want to work with, browse around the hashtags related to your products, and see who people are talking about. Keep in mind that the budget you’ll need to set aside for influencer marketing will depend on whether you work with microinfluencers (~2,000 followers or less), higher level influencers (5-10,000 followers), or even large-scale celebrity accounts. To give you some idea of what to expect, the average price per post for Instagram influencers was $271 in 2017.

Using SEO

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of making your web content stand out to search engines like Google so that your pages climb the ranks in the search engine results pages.

Ecommerce website builders all supply SEO guides and tools to help you do this, while online marketplaces are less flexible with their SEO support.

Either way, there are some simple SEO techniques that you can start using yourself. The first is writing engaging meta titles and descriptions for your product pages. These are the titles and descriptions that appear as a preview of your page in search results, like below:

google search results for makeup

If you don’t manually write these descriptions yourself, Google will pull some text from the page – which is often not as engaging for readers choosing which search result they most want to click to!

The second simple SEO trick you can use is compressing images to reduce their file sizes, which reduces page load times to lead to a better user experience – and these are the kinds of pages that Google wants to recommend to its searchers!

Compressing images is a matter of balancing the lowest file size with the highest image quality – but it’s not as hard as it sounds. There are tons of free tools that you can use to compress images in the click of a button before uploading them to your site (we use ImageResizer ourselves!).

You can also add alt text to your images, to describe what each image shows so that search engines can tell which search terms it’s relevant for. Most website builders offer you the option to add alt tags when you upload images, such as Wix’s straightforward editor:

editing seo with wix

Alt text is another simple way to make your site attractive to the likes of Google, so that you can see it rise in the search results and ultimately get more clicks.

Want more in-depth tips on promotion? Our How to Market a Product guide will tell you everything you need to know

How to Sell Makeup Online: Recap

At this point, you know all of the basics necessary to successfully sell makeup from home. It all starts with getting the proper legal footing, and from there you can get into the fun stuff, like customizing your product and promoting it online. 

To recap, here are all seven steps:

Top tips for selling makeup online

  1. Know your customers
  2. Find your niche
  3. Source a manufacturer
  4. Brand and package your makeup
  5. Choose a platform
  6. Ship your makeup
  7. Market and promote your makeup

When it comes to choosing a platform, it’s pretty much a decision between ecommerce website builders and online marketplaces. Depending on which method you choose, we recommend Shopify and Etsy, respectively. And you can’t go wrong with Shopify’s Oberlo app if you decide to go for dropshipping. 

Regardless of the platform you choose, it’s a great experience to sell something you’re passionate about – and the beauty market couldn’t be a better place to start. Good luck, and keep us posted in the comments!

How to Sell Makeup Online: FAQs

This option will be worth the hassle if you’re passionate about the creation stage of cosmetics. The bulk of the work will involve experimenting with formulas and testing them until you find the right one. If you can do that, then this model is great for branding and for your own peace of mind – you’ll know exactly what’s in every product!

The FDA describes a cosmetic as a product intended for uses such as “cleansing the human body, making a person more attractive, or changing a person’s appearance,” while a drug is classified as a product “intended to affect the way a person’s body works, or to treat or prevent disease.” Cosmetics and drugs are regulated differently, but if you’re selling the likes of lipsticks and moisturizers, then you’re safely in the “cosmetics” realm!

When you’re just starting out, costs will be low. You’ll have to pay for ingredients (if you’re making your own products), plus the fee of whichever website builder or online marketplace you choose. Costs will increase if demand increases and you need to start outsourcing your manufacturing.

If you just want to get rid of a few unused products, then online marketplaces are the way to go. But if you want to continue selling makeup online and maybe even make a business out of it, then you’ll want a website builder.

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About Maura Monaghan

Maura Monaghan

I grew up scribbling in notebooks, and until recently the thought of relocating my writing to the digital world seemed like an impossible goal. But when I finally took the plunge and created an online portfolio, I immediately saw the benefits of having my work out on the web. Since then I’ve learned everything I can about creating different websites, so that I can help those in a similar situation get online without a similar headache.

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