Retail Recon: Shampoo & Conditioner
For the 2nd installment of Retail Recon, we’ve taken a plunge into a category with a rich history and plenty of sophisticated competition: Hair Care. Let’s take a look at who’s winning, how they're winning, and what we can learn about eCommerce from their examples.
Shampoo and Conditioner at a Glance
According to research firm Technavio, the global market for hair-care products is projected to grow by nearly $15 billion between now and the year 2023 and online sales are receiving much of the credit. Amazon's Shampoo and Conditioner categories are estimated at $15 million and $12 million per month respectively while sets generate an estimated $11 million per month. While shampoo and conditioning products are everyday goods used by consumers around the world, Amazon has become a shopping destination for consumers seeking niche products from boutique and emerging brands not found on shelves at local retailers.
While household brands like Pantene, Suave, and Head & Shoulders continue to dominate brick-and-mortar retail, Amazon has allowed lesser-known brands to take share online. These brands owe their success to "on trend" product concepts and formulations, masterful SEO, great merchandising, and customer service.
The WOW Brand
You might not find this brand on your local department store’s shelves but WOW is one of the first results that appears when you search Amazon for the coveted keyword “shampoo” and Amazon's best seller as of this writing. The brand, which has only been online since November 2018, has been successful in large part due to their ingredient strategy. Apple Cider Vinegar, the signature ingredient in their top item, gets an estimated 53,000 Amazon searches per month! As a comparison, the word "ketchup" gets less than 12,000.
Here’s a look at some of the other factors behind WOW’s fast sales growth...
- WOW has chosen to sell on Amazon as a 3rd party / marketplace seller - because of this, they have more control over distribution, pricing, and content than brands who are in traditional wholesale-retail relationships. More brands are moving to this model which now represents >60% of Amazon's sales.
- WOW’s titles are loaded with strong SEO terms but are also "human readable." The company currently uses more than 15 long- and short-tail keywords in its titles, but it has maintained readability and flow by using dashes, commas, and ampersands.
- Product descriptions are also keyword-rich and benefit-driven. Bullet points and caps help to highlight key points. Listings are thorough alternating between product benefits (“repair damaged hair”; “strong, healthy hair”; and “maximize hair strength”) and brand differentiators (“all natural ingredients” and “100% money back guarantee”).
- WOW takes full advantage of the below-the-fold Enhanced Brand Content (EBC) on its product listing pages. Although this content is text-heavy, the page layout (which uses subheaders, spaces, images, and comparison charts) makes it easy to navigate through the features and applications of the product.
- WOW generally makes good uses of images and video. Its main product image (MPI) features easy-to-read packaging, and the company uses video to showcase compelling shopper testimonials.
- Although WOW is on the right track with images, there are some substantial misses. The brand shows multiple label shots that are unreadable and irrelevant. The brand could also do more to make the ingredient story, so important to this item's success, come to life more in visuals.
People like to say "there's riches in niches" and Purple Shampoo proves the point. This subcategory is especially made for those with blonde and silver hair. While it can be harder to find at shelf, it's easy to find online with a quick search and many shoppers will go there to find it first. Like many other specialty items, this makes it perfectly suited for the eCommerce endless shelf.
The high number of reviews present for top brands shows just how popular Purple Shampoo is becoming. Products featured on page-1 for the "purple shampoo" search term on Amazon have earned 564 reviews on average with a respectable 4.1 average stars. As of this writing, top seller GBG has over 1,300 reviews for one item alone! Several of the other top items in this segment are selling well into 7-figures per year and many of them have been online for less than a year!
As a beauty brand under the banner of L’Oréal Group, Biolage has a much more established audience, and deeper pockets for funding its digital marketing strategy. Unlike WOW, Biolage is found on many department store shelves across the USA and across the world. As a brand that emphasizes its use of real ingredients and natural hair treatments, Biolage is at the center of recent consumer trends toward products that feature healthier ingredients.
- Biolage’s top-selling items have only one seller, which is rare for such a big brand. By eliminating the presence of most resellers, Biolage has saved itself from competing against its own products. This allows the company to have more control over brand presentation and customer experience.
- The brand has beautiful Enhanced Brand Content. This explains its product portfolio in a simple, scannable, and visually appealing way. Biolage's enhanced content is also highly interactive. Shoppers can use it to learn more about the company, as well as the integrity of its ingredients.
- The brand's Amazon store is dynamic, and serves as an alternative website for the company. The layout is easy to navigate, and different fonts, sizes, and images are used to break up content and grab shoppers’ attention. Subcategory products also have subpages in the brand store.
- Product listing titles are short and easy to read, but still include key differentiators and keywords such as “color-treated hair.” Product descriptions use good SEO technique and are benefit-driven.
- While the brand has overdelivered enhanced content, listing images are very generic. They feature packaging photos and a nondescript shot of a shampoo smudge.
- Biolage’s average customer rating is a bit low at 4.1. A few negative reviews have been addressed, but the company could take a more active role in responding to reviews and customer questions. Brands seeking to improve their averages have several "white hat" review tactics available to them.
- Product descriptions, while full of information, could be broken down into bullet points to improve scannability.
The Wow and Purple Shampoo examples show that understanding trends and preferences can make all the difference in your eCommerce success or failure. Are you set up to identify the next major ingredient trend? If not, what could you be doing differently?
As with any category, all of these examples illustrate the importance of good content and SEO execution. For the most part, they've used images well to reinforce benefits and to highlight ingredients. They've included important keywords while also delivering strong "human readable" copy.
While the brand is doing many things right, the shortcomings of big brand Biolage’s eCommerce presence including lackluster product images illustrate the opportunity for smaller brands to gain an edge over more mature brands that sometimes miss important details due to the breadth and complexity of their portfolios. With their more limited portfolios, they can win by getting the details right.
For the next Retail Recon, we’ll delve into another large and highly competitive personal care category: Shaving. We'll see what big brands, smaller brands, and private label are doing to stay sharp.
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about best practices on Amazon, you’ll likely enjoy our latest e-book: The Marketer’s Guide to Winning on Amazon.