Just as health officials predicted, fall has seen a second wave of COVID-19 infections around the globe, and nowhere has the effect been as devastating as in the U.S. Currently 15 million people have been infected with the virus, with more than a quarter of a million deaths recorded to date; in mid-November the U.S. added one million new infections in just a week alone, according to The New York Times. And this is just the human cost. Statista estimates that the total U.S. GDP will decrease by 2.4% as a direct result of the pandemic, while physical retail has experienced a whopping 34.5% decline in foot traffic year-over-year as consumer buying behavior has shifted over to e-commerce.

As we inch our way through the busiest commercial season of the year—with new infection tallies shattering records every day—states are starting to reissue lockdowns and restrictions to help stave off the growing effects of the virus. California and Ohio are now under new stay-at-home orders and curfews, while nine states including Washington, New Mexico and Michigan have again closed most non-essential businesses. New York is likely not far behind, either. So what does this all mean for beauty retailers, and for those businesses and brands directly affected by rapidly shifting state and federal guidelines? Beauty News spoke with brick-and-mortar retailers, a high-touch nail salon business, and a rapidly growing DTC hand sanitizer brand to understand how this deadly second wave is affecting their operations and business strategies.

Ulta Beauty, President Dave Kimbell

“We continue to navigate COVID-19 with our associates and guests at the heart of every decision. Our Shop Safe Standards are in place across shopping options to meet guests where they are most comfortable and confident – whether in our stores, at Ulta.com, via our app or Curbside Pickup, we are safely prepared for beauty enthusiasts to enjoy their favorites. As part of our commitment to always do what’s right for the safety of all, we are actively tracking official guidance and local COVID-19 prevalence to remain agile and act accordingly.”

Bluemercury, Co-Founder & CEO, Marla Beck

“The health and safety of our clients and associates at Bluemercury is always our top priority. When our local communities eased their guidelines over the summer months, we expanded our cleaning protocols for high-contact areas throughout the store to ensure a safe shopping environment. As we follow guidelines set forth by local governments and health experts, our team continues to do an outstanding job offering contactless services to ensure we support our clients in having a safe holiday shopping season. With new lockdown restrictions and the desire to stay close to home, we have seen a new level of customer connections and intimacy. The demand for the virtual beauty expert consultations we introduced in the spring are at an all-time high, as the need for beauty advice and holiday gifting guidance has not gone away. In addition to the contactless and virtual services, we have also expanded our ship-to-home capabilities, allowing clients the opportunity to shop with their neighborhood beauty experts and have their purchases shipped to their homes, free of charge. During this time of uncertainly, the trust we have built with our clients remains resilient, and we are continuing to find new ways to meet their needs.”

Credo Beauty, CEO Dawn Dobras

“As a company, Credo will continue to focus on what is best for our customer and will meet her where she feels most comfortable–which in some markets might be online. While we are open in all 10 markets, we will of course, follow local guidelines to keep everyone safe. During this time, all of our store teams of clean beauty experts can be found with our online chat, Credo Live, which has been a great way for our store customers to connect with a real person–and great for our store teams to stay connected to their customers. Every day I remain so impressed with our store teams, who come in ready to greet our clients–masked up & following strict sanitization procedures–and really everyone working in retail right now are my super heroes! Where ever you shop–please thank them.”

Paintbox, CEO Jane Hong

“As a small business leader of a company that has a lot of high-touch points, a rise in cases certainly makes us weary. That being said, our product has scaled considerably over this time, and for that, we are extremely grateful. In fact, we’ve used this time to continue to innovate in the product space and have some incredible product launches over the next 6-8 weeks that will really set the bar in the nail category. Of course, we want our brick-and-mortar studios to survive (Soho and UES locations) and thrive, so we’re doing what we can for the time being. We haven’t changed any of our policies (spacing seating, limiting capacity, disinfecting services, restricting beverage service, plexi-glass barriers, mandatory masks and hand sanitization, etc.), and we are staying strict to them. If there ever were a time to slack on rigidity of protocol, this is certainly not the time! I’m so proud of how serious our staff is with regard to the virus, then and now. We have intense contact tracing protocol and really encourage anyone, internally or externally, to cancel at the slightest feeling of sickness. Better safe than sorry! Looking forward, as the rise of cases continues, I know it will be another setback for our businesses as well as others. But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that the team is so devoted to what we do, and our clientele are unmatched in the hospitality industry. Where there’s a will there’s a way. I know I’m full of hackneyed phrases, but I genuinely know that (mostly) women want and truly need our services. We’ve been able to refocus our energy on our product line and other ways that feel relevant to this environment, and it’s going to look different when we all come back in ways that remain to be seen. Despite the differences though, we’ll still offer a next level experience and color theory guidance that’s unrivaled in our category.  Expertise and care go a long way these days, whether it’s digitally through our tutorials and content or virtual parties for the at-home manicure, or in the studio with all precautions in place.”

Knockout Beauty, Founder Cayli Cavaco Reck

“All Knockout Beauty locations have esthetic practices within them which means even during non-COVID times we exercise the highest standards of sanitation and sterilization. Health and wellness are our top priorities. Constant hand-washing and sanitizing is a continual process that has been a tenet of our business from its inception. We no longer have testers and have activated a strong sample program. Our virtual consultancy, which has been in operation since 2017, has been instrumental in developing our vernacular as it relates to product performance, penetration, and feel. Consequently we don’t miss our testers. The only area where this is a challenge is color cosmetics and we are actively developing a solution. Necessity clearly seems to be the mother of invention.”

Touchland, Founder & CEO Andrea Lisbona

This month it’ll be three years since we launched. Prior to COVID, we launched the brand in dotcom and saw a massive growth in terms of community and press. We haven’t really changed our strategies recently. We have a DTC strategy, and most of the retailers that we work with have an online presence. What we’re dedicating our full attention to right now is our supply chain strategy. When the pandemic started we sold out around March 1st. Since we had built trust and love in the brand during the first year of launch, we started a pre-order campaign; that was something you could only do if you have an online presence. It’s very hard for retailers to pre-order, and the majority of hand sanitizer brands are not DTC brands. So we started our pre-order campaign with full transparency on the delivery date; we told our customers that delivery was going to take 6 to 8 weeks. Even with those challenges, we grew our e-commerce by 1,200%, and had a 34,000-person waitlist. As a start-up, the pre-order helped us to measure how much to push down the pedal on the supply chain.

We’re at a 50-50 breakdown now between our B2B and B2C businesses. We started our B2B business last year, and it took off extremely fast. Prior to COVID hand sanitizers were mainly for healthcare facilities. Our goal for many years was to educate businesses by saying, look human interaction is not happening just in gyms and restaurants; infectious diseases are spreading through hands everywhere. What we’ve seen since COVID is that many businesses that never had to think about hand sanitizers are now making the decision to get dispensers. Plus, they have to be on-brand for them. When they look at the market they say, I am a luxury store, or I am premium gym chain, I cannot order a terrible dispenser that you’d find in a hospital with low-design. The brands we’ve been able to get include The Standard Hotel, Four Seasons, Sweet Green, and Louis Vuitton, who are proud to display our Touchland Smart dispensers. It’s been a very fast-growth sector of the business.

We have not leveraged the pandemic in any of our marketing campaigns. Unfortunately we’ve seen so many opportunistic hand sanitizer brands appearing with non-compliant products; we’ve seen over 100 brands alone that have been recalled from retail because they contain methanol. We’re focused on long-term sustainable growth. We truly believe that, in the long-run, using a hand sanitizer is going to be like brushing your teeth; a daily habit that we want to turn into a ritual for our customer. That’s why we want to make sure we provide the best service, and we are there for the customers that trusted us prior to COVID. We will have new products launching in the market in the next 6 months, so our goal is to continue to be that brand that people trust when it comes to hand sanitizer.

Many people say it’s a great sign to sell out, but in our case it’s not because now is when people need us the most. The brand is experiencing such a high momentum that we always behind demand. That’s why in my case I’m dedicating 90% of my time to supply chain. We could have grown 3,000% this year but again, we’re still a company that launched in 2018. We want to continue growing at a healthy, successful rate for years to come, even without COVID. You have your Airpods, your keys, and then you have your Touchland in your bag; that’s what we want in the future.