In the U.S., beauty is a billion dollar industry, making $445 billion in sales each year. With cosmetic companies seeking to reach potential customers across a variety of platforms, CivicScience asked 1,121 U.S. women about their cosmetic purchasing habits.

When asked where they have shopped for most of their cosmetics and makeup in the past six months, 21% of U.S. women indicated shopping at a big box store, such as Target or Walmart. 17% shopped in a beauty specific store that carries the brand they prefer, while 15% visited a drugstore. All three of these locations offer consumers some degree of convenience–providing selection and the ability to compare products with other brands.  

The less common responses, such as purchasing at a singular beauty brand’s website, may take a few more steps than U.S. women are interested in pursuing, to find their preferred cosmetics and makeup.

If convenience is key, and makeup-buying women tend to purchase their cosmetics at the same time as other products, then it may come as no surprise that the majority of women in the U.S. say that they mix and match brands in their makeup routine.

That said, women who prioritize quality may be willing to go the extra mile for their makeup purchase. According to the data, 64% of U.S. women who shop at a beauty brand’s website also believe quality is the most important factor. 63% choose a beauty-specific store for the same reason. Those who care about price are more likely to shop at a box store.

It is also worth noting that those seeking a brand name product lean towards beauty-specific stores, while those seeking a variety of shades opt for the more traditional department store. While it is unclear how each location has gained its specific reputation for quality, price, etc., what is clear is that consumers do behave differently, depending on their priorities.  

Cosmetic Purchases at Every Stage of Life

Life stage may also play a role in makeup purchasing behaviors. While younger Millennials–those 18-24 years old–flock to beauty-specific stores (like Sephora or Ulta) to make their cosmetics purchases, Baby Boomers 65 years and older are still frequenting the department store makeup counter. Gen X-ers and older Millennials are the most likely groups to shop on a beauty specific website.

It is important to remember that at each location, the type of cosmetics available for purchase may be different. Women in different life stages, it seems, may not just have different preferences in makeup, but in shopping environment as well. A beauty specific store, for example, is a far more do-it-yourself experience, than a makeup counter. And a website removes the element of interaction, altogether. While there are a variety of factors that may lead women in different life stages to opt for one shopping experience over another, the data suggests that this discrepancy is very real.

The data indicate that life stage could also impact brand loyalty, going so far as to influence whether a woman chooses to wear makeup at all. The youngest responders, those in the 18-24 set are the least brand loyal and the most likely to not wear makeup at all. 

This suggests that makeup may serve an important purpose for women getting their stride in their careers, developing a deeper sense of identity as a full-fledged adult and setting up their families. But, at a certain point in life, appearance takes a backseat.

Brand loyalty also fluctuates with life stage, rising in importance for 25-29-year-olds and then again for those 65 and up. While younger women in this category may be seeking consistency in an otherwise transitional time of life, older women may have experimented enough in their lifetimes to finally feel they have a brand they can trust.

Makeup, On a Budget

Of course, makeup is an extra expense, so income is likely to play a role.  Big box stores and drug stores largely attract the low-income earners, with drug stores appealing to a large swath of middle-income earners as well.

That said, middle-income earners are the most likely to shop on a brand’s specific website, perhaps having the luxury of slightly more time to seek out an individual product.  As for high-income earners, they can most often be found at the department store counter and beauty-specific stores.

Although some consider makeup a beauty necessity, for others, a detailed makeup routine could still be something of a luxury. The above statistics already show that low-income earners prioritize purchasing makeup from locations that may feel more accessible from perhaps a time and money standpoint. However, the below statistics reveal that 37% of low-income earners aren’t purchasing makeup at all.

If the cosmetic industry wants to remain relevant to a wide range of consumers, it seems clear that accessibility–offering products that are convenient and affordable–will be paramount.

Beauty Culture in the City, Suburbs and Beyond  

Another aspect of accessibility is location. The data reveals that where a woman lives can and does directly impact her choices when purchasing cosmetics. City dwellers shop at a beauty-specific store or drugstores most often, while big box stores are wildly popular in the suburbs and rural areas.

Location, it seems, may not just speak to where a woman buys makeup, but the beauty culture in general. Brand loyalty runs high in the suburbs, while city dwellers are more interested in mixing and matching, or, not wearing any makeup at all.

In 2018, beauty brands are poised to reach customers more conveniently than ever before. However, in order to be successful, brands will need to find clarity on their specific demographic, tailoring all elements of accessibility–from price to sales locations–to meet the needs of their desired consumers.