When entrepreneur Kate Morris founded adorebeauty.com.au at the age of 21, she had to convince the entire beauty industry that selling online was not “a stupid idea”.

“There were a lot of nos … it was very tough,” she says.
It’s now 15 years since the first Australian beauty e-tailer went live from a garage in Melbourne with just two little-known cosmetic companies onboard.
Today it stocks 130 brands and 8000 products, from department store classics like Clarins, SK-II, and Lancôme, to niche finds including French pharmacy brand Embryolisse, Sodashi and Kester Black, and receives more than two million visitors a year.
An ibisworld market report released in March 2015 found that the Online Perfume and Cosmetic Sales industry has shown robust growth over the past five years.
Consumers are becoming more adept at and comfortable with online shopping, particularly with online shopping platforms becoming safer and more user-friendly, it said.
“Perfume and cosmetics are well suited to online shopping as they are pre-packaged goods that consumers generally know and trust.”
Ibisworld forecasted industry revenue to reach $259 million by 2015.
If you still think face cream or foundation is not of interest to power players, consider that brand mammoth Woolworths recently bought a 25 per cent share in adorebeauty.com.au
The e-trickle then boom experienced by Morris has been echoed by Brad Carr and James Patten, directors of RY.com.au, a site that now caters to more than 250,000 beauty enthusiasts.
Say Carr, who had an IT background, and Patten, a Gold Coast hairdresser: “Big brands are like ships; they turn slowly. When we started, in 2005, most told us we were crazy – but we could see where the market was going.”
Now a prestige brand, like Estee Lauder, confirms its online site is its fastest growing channel, experiencing a 20% growth in sales year on year.
While some critics of online beauty sites caution against out-of-date or fake products, the truth is more consumers are recognising that buying from a reputable e-tailer offers extra benefits to stepping in store, especially as staff cuts reflect on service.
Sure, you can’t try the makeup or skincare on – or can you? adorebeauty.com.au’s foundation tool helps you match a base online, an online world first while, at instyle.com/makeover you can load your photo and give yourself a Hollywood makeover – cheesey but fun.
Free samples and experts tips sweeten the deal while “you can also shop whenever you like and then have it delivered directly to your door”, say Jason Duke and Justin Sutcliffe, directors of saison.com.au, where nearly 20 per cent of customers now are male.
Discreet purchasing is obviously another online advantage.
“There’s also something quite special and exciting about opening a beautiful package that smells amazing a few days after order,” says Duke and Sutcliffe. “It prolongs the shopping experience in the best kind of way.”
To stay competitive, some level of exclusivity is important, as is competitive pricing, they say.
“Saison has grown significantly since 2010 and key to this success has been the strategic positioning of the website to offer international brands that are high quality and beautifully packaged yet at an attainable price.”
Morris, who once worked behind a cosmetics counter, says the appearance of a beauty site is crucial – obvious but not always implemented. “It should be just as glamorous as a purchase should make you feel.”
How successful a beauty site is, or isn’t, is also about real passion for the product from the e-retailer’s point of view, not just widgets, she says, although ease of navigation is vital to a successful experience.


The original beauty e-tailer and still a major, glossy, innovative contender, this site is the official stockist of brands such as Clarins, Philosophy, Laura Mercier, Acqua di Parma, Clarisonic, Prada and US cult label Ole Henrikson skin care. Adore Beauty Live lets you view what other Australians are buying; a live chat function delivers expert advice from beauty therapists and make-up artists and a beauty IQ blog features videos, live tutorials and how-tos.
More like a magazine where you can also run up your credit card, this British site works with makeup artists, hair stylists, nutritionists, personal trainers, trichologists and wellness practitioners to cover beauty and health trends and handpick beauty finds. There’s even horoscopes alongside anti-ageing advice. Getthegloss delivers to more than 60 countries.
Fragrances by Fragonard, brushes by Acca Pacca, skin care by Voluspa and home fragrance by Cote Bastide, are just some of the indulgent offerings.  The men’s market is a growing category for saison.com.au with established brands such as Acca Kappa, Prospector Co and Alvarez Gomez well received by male customers.
Beauty, makeup, fragrance, skincare and even lifestyle articles from one of the world’s favourite brands. Major visual appeal and ease of navigation make it just like your favourite in-store experience, or maybe even better. Exclusive online products such as the lipstick shade that Kendall Jenner produced with Estee Lauder, pre-launch products, live chats with make-ups artists and skincare experts,  and gifts with purchase seal the deal.
Started in October 1999, this is the place to locate every hard-to-find brand. With 12,000 products in its range, sephora.com includes not only beauty finds but information, reviews and videos from experts and clients and tips and trend overviews.  You can also access Beauty Talk for real-time, open dialogue about what’s new in the world of beauty and gain personalized beauty advice from Sephora’s PRO team.
Gifts with purchase, free samples, skin tips from a dermatologist, brands like Jane Iredale, Malin & Goetz, Kevyn Aucoin, BECCA, and Terry, and global shipping make it appealing to use this straightforward site that stocks everything from makeup to fragrance to men’s products to natural lines from about 150 brands.
We love that Mecca offers hip, new and limited brands like Nars, Perricone MD, Stila, and bumble and bumble all in the same easy spot. Three free samples with every order, free express shipping, a personalised wish list and rewards including sample boxes, exclusive in-store events and complementary makeup applications add to the appeal.
Not quite a beauty site, more of a free samples site. Named one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Big Data by Fast Company, poshly.com was founded by Doreen Bloch and a team of collaborators and launched in 2012. It uses responses to send out complimentary products from brands such as L’Oreal and Unilever to 300,000 consumers globally based on each person’s needs and preferences.
This story originally appeared in Life & Leisure in The Australian Financial Review.

Helen Hawkes

Helen Hawkes is a journalist who writes compelling print and digital content across business and finance, health and lifestyle, real estate and interiors. Her content clients have ranged from American Express and the University of NSW to Maserati and 9Honey. She is fluent in cross-platform storytelling, brand tone of voice, content strategy and stakeholder management.