The online space is fast changing how a beauty product achieves cult status. Here’s how to shop for beauty now, and spot a future classic while you’re at it…

Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

How do you decide which beauty products to buy? Perhaps you consult our beauty reviews hub , watch a vlog  or Whatsapp a friend, but chances are you don’t depend on in-store counters quite as much as was the case in the past, and it’s fairly easy to tune out of traditional billboard style advertising too now that we have our eyes fixed firmly on our phones on the daily commute. The way we buy beauty has undergone a metamorphosis since our grandma’s day, with digital conversation encouraging us to mix and match more brands, both emerging and established, seek unbiased reviews on the hop and even allocate our beauty budget in a different way. Just how did such seismic changes in our shopping habits come about?

From counter to cyberspace

According to the Cosmetic & Perfumery Retailers Association (COPRA) online beauty sales surged by 38 per cent last year, while Mintel reported that online makeup sales in particular are going through the roof- prestige makeup sales increased by 45 per cent to total £25 million. Skincare wasn’t far behind- online sales were up 25 per cent to £98 million, while in-store sales stayed constant. The 24/7 shopping experience that e-commerce sites afford is clearly a big pull to putting your faith in cyberspace, but it’s not just convenience that’s drawing us to digital department stores.

Shopping for beauty online is a much more independent, freeing enterprise than staying within the confines of a physical beauty hall, and given that we’re increasingly swotting up on products online before we make a purchase anyway (more on that later), with 46% of us scouring the net for intel before we buy a health or beauty product according to 2017 retail report by pwc, it makes sense that said search converts to an online transaction. With product details and ingredients clearly laid out, often accompanied by seductive discounts and devoid of any looming sales associates pressuring you to buy, it’s understandable why whizzing a beauty product through an online basket is becoming the preferred shopping method. It’s not just our habits that are changing either; as most of us are aware our choices are being shaped by fresh faces, voices and agencies in beautyland, and less and less of them are the Hollywood starlet poster girls of old...

New beauty icons

The stratospheric rise of the  beauty blogger  and vlogger has played a vital role in curating the products we do (and don’t) buy. Like big sisters, best friends and discerning peers, billions of us consult a blog or vlog before making a purchase, perhaps asking burning questions in the comments section and engaging in discussion with fellow users before splashing the cash. Accessing the authentic view of a trusted reviewer at the touch of a button can make or break a buying decision, and seeing a product in action via Youtube or swatches helps to fill the gap for dabbling and daubing at the beauty counter. Plus, if there’s a product from a small or niche brand that’s a game changer, you can be sure that it’ll make its way onto your radar online, either by way of a hashtag, Youtube subscription or blog alert.

The expertise of in-store brand ambassadors isn’t lost either, except that online you have the likes of Pixiwoo  and  Lisa Eldridge  to confer with, and even if they do have big name beauty contracts to uphold, you’ll still be partial to those hidden beauty gems and tip-offs that are hard to come by IRL. As well as makeup artists, hair stylists and skincare authorities sharing their wisdom and opinion on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, beauty buyers are also imparting their know-how, trends forecasts and favourites, creating multi-brand edits that distinguish the very best in beauty. Feelunique’s new Unique Boutique , a premium section of the Feelunique website, is a case in point, with industry experts predicting what’s soon to be cult, presenting what’s stood up to scrutiny and providing its audience with valuable exclusives and luxury finds. What’s more, it’s working, as Feelunique experts underline:

“There was a lot of buzz around the  Urban Decay Naked Heat palette  onsite pre-launch. Over 2000 customers registered their interest before it was even available, and the palette sold out in under a week once it has launched.”

Obviously the ‘sell-out’ effect is a cumulative process of forum and social media discussion, influencer recommendations and, to a degree, brand marketing, but separating the wheat from the chaff in the beauty world is also down to growing savviness amongst retailers. We no longer want to buy everything from the same brand, in the same colour or according to our age bracket or gender. That’s where choosy beauty comes in...

Beauty à la carte

As consumers and customers, we’re more demanding than ever. We’re pushing brands to make colour ranges more diverse, ingredients and sourcing more transparent and to deliver products that live up to their hype. As a result, Feelunique’s beauty experts are actively seeking out innovations and products that perform on a multitude of levels. Feelunique’s Unique Boutique was created to give an online platform to the products that experts have been most impressed by, whether the brand is relatively unknown, a beauty giant or an already renowned hit that’s stood the test of time.

Buyers know that we want to blend our brands, keep prices low but also that we’re prepared to pay for the really good stuff, plus we want products that are as customisable and personal to us as possible. Enter the likes of Tan Luxe Illuminating Self Tan Drops , £35, that combine skincare technology with a buildable, tailored tan, marked as a ‘Next Big Thing in Beauty’  in the Unique Boutique.

Such pioneering launches sit alongside affordable anti-pollution skincare such as Vichy Slow Âge fluid , £30, ‘Beauty Heroes’  like the much lauded Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation , £40 (yet to be bettered) and expert-selected natural and organic beauty  that’s as good, if not better, than the synthetic stuff. We want to be able to build our own palette if we so please, invest in a comforting fragrance that our mother wore and get a five-free non toxic nail polish, all under the same online roof.

At your service

Despite the obvious logistical advantages of shopping for beauty online, you might assume that interacting with a screen to discover what suits you and what’s new in beauty would be a bit clinical, robotic and generic. Online retailers are, however, becoming more agile by the minute, finessing the shopping experience so that you can chat live to an advisor round the clock (Feelunique invites you to ask questions as soon as you land onsite, but not in a pushy way), not to mention the fact that sites not only deliver on detail, but also strike up a conversational, relatable tone, with expert guidance on such sticky subjects as buying fragrance and foundation online.

Slick videos show you how a product plays out in real life, prominently displayed peer reviews allow you to weigh up your purchase against real-life experience and lightining speed delivery times, often accompanied by a clutch of free samples, all enhance the process. Given that it’s estimated that the average UK woman will spend over £70,000 on beauty over her lifetime according to research conducted by Groupon, beauty retailers are wise to provide women not only with the means to get hold of the products they want almost instantly, but also as much impartial advice, expert insight and one-to-one support as possible. The cult products of the future will be quickly edited and determined by the online community, with women themselves as part of the judging panel. Brand, buyers and bloggers all play a vital part in the making of a seminal beauty product, and glossy magazines still exert a lot of influence (mainly because I’m a sucker and still buy them ALL and there must be others like me) but word of mouth amongst women and men at “ground level” is the best indicator that a certain something is headed for glory. Just like in our gran’s era, but with more emojis…

This feature was written in partnership with  Feelunique

Visit the new  Unique Boutique  portal

Follow Feelunique on Instagram  @Feelunique  and Twitter  @Feelunique