In 2019, the quaint concept of a door-to-door salesperson might seem to have little in common with beauty’s most coveted consumer: the hyper-connected, social-media savvy millennial who devours trends before there’s time to declare them the fad of the moment. But in our current climate of influence and influencers, Avon’s Canadian arm is hoping to use the brand’s history as one of the original social networks for women to make a comeback – this time online.
“When we talk about the social influencers and word of mouth, Avon was the start of that. You weren’t able to get the products unless you knew someone who was selling them, says Amy Chung, a Toronto-based beauty industry analyst at market research firm NPD. Now, thanks to social media platforms such as Instagram, where a full 81 per cent of Canadian female make-up shoppers from the age of 18 to 34 go for beauty content, that trusted network has expanded far beyond a brochure-wielding woman from your neighbourhood to include everyone from a beauty vlogger in Dubai to a reality television star in Los Angeles.
Goran Petrovic, president of Avon Canada, admits that the brand hasn’t always done the greatest job of staying up-to-date with technology. “We missed out on a big thing that happened in front of our eyes and that is the whole movement from the kitchen to the café to social media,” he says over the phone from Avon Canada’s office in Montreal. Those missteps contributed to reports of slumping sales, lagging earnings estimates and declining stock value into last year. “We remained out of social media for too long. What was once our strength, that face to face and that original social network of micro and nano influencers – Avon ladies – we were missing out totally in this new set up.”
To catch up, Avon is tapping into its existing network of representatives and giving them the tools to build their social followings. When Jessica Yik became an Avon representative 12 years ago, she built her customer base by hauling heavy bags brimming with catalogues to shopping malls to hand out to strangers. Over the following years, she’s shifted her marketing online, where she shares Avon’s latest launches with her followers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram who know her as the Dancing Avon Lady (she's also a dance instructor). “I try my best to have my personality shine in my videos so my customers still know who I am,” she says. “I talk a lot about my life, about my daughter, things that are going on. That way they still feel like they have that human-to-human connection even if they don’t have time to see me.”
In Canada, the brand uses an online sales model that puts the representative at the centre of any transaction. Last fall, Avon Canada launched its new eStore, which gives each representative their own homepage. “If you go too much online, what happens to all our representatives? That’s what’s unique about the eStore – we’re not cutting out reps at all,” says the brand’s head of marketing, Roberta Lacey, explaining that every purchase made online is allocated to an active Avon representative, whether or not they’re completed through a rep’s eStore. “This way, we can go broader and bring people in who want to shop differently and a representative will always benefit from every single sale.” The initial response to the launch has been positive, with customers who shop through the online store showing a 15-per-cent increase in their average spending.
Product wise, Avon has also long been a pioneer in millennial-focused offerings, which today include a new wellness-focused line called Espira. It was back in 2003 that Avon introduced Mark, a collection for women born between 1979 and 1987 who today would be considered old millennials. It’s a strategy that was subsequently adopted by other well-known heritage brands including Estée Lauder, Shiseido and Clarins. “We’ve seen that in the marketplace a lot of these more established brands have ventured off to capture that millennial consumer,” NPD’s Chung says, pointing out that Avon was one of the first to do so with Mark. “Whether or not it’s continued to resonate is a little bit of a different story but, once again, they had that idea 20 years ago when no one else was talking about it.”
While Avon may not have the cool factor of digitally native cosmetics brands such as Glossier, Ouai or Milk Makeup, it nevertheless maintains a loyal following and was recently endorsed by InStyle magazine as making the best lash serum of 2018. One person the brand has continued to resonate with is Alexandria Fox, a resident of Toronto who has been an Avon customer since 2003. Fox was introduced to the line by a co-worker while she was still at school. “The prices were perfect for a university student and it was easy to order,” she says. Over the years, Fox has bought everything from lotions and creams (in Canada, skin care is Avon’s top selling category online) to make-up, clothing, accessories and even knick-knacks because, she says, “the variety is always great and changes with the season, the quality is there and the brand is super reliable.”
Avon calling in 2019 may have shifted from a ringing doorbell to a pinging smart-phone notification, but Petrovic is optimistic that doors will continue to open for the brand both online and IRL. “When you spend time trying to find the next best thing and the new thing and then you realize that you had it all along, it’s in your DNA,” he says, “all we have to do is unleash the power of it.”