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Avon goes Prime time - but is this a match made in (makeup) heaven?


Ben Richards, CXO at VMLY&R, explores how Avon's personal and caring customer experience contrasts with Amazon's transactional approach, discussing the challenges and opportunities of their new partnership. 

9th Jun 2023

Avon’s direct-selling sales model has served it well for almost 140 years. Sending personable sales representatives door-to-door has been the foundation for developing the cosmetics brand’s warm, community-oriented reputation. 

But whilst this worked well in the 70s, 80s and 90s, the rise of the internet has allowed ecommerce and social commerce to thrive - and caused physical shopping to struggle. Avon’s total global revenue was $2.7bn in 2022, down from $8.8bn in 2012. Meanwhile, ecommerce will account for a quarter of all global beauty retail sales by the end of 2023, compared to just 11% in 2019. 

Avon needed a new strategy to remain relevant in a connected retail landscape - and has turned to Amazon for salvation. It has launched a 300-strong product line to strengthen its omnichannel approach. 

But these new partners offer a polar opposite customer experience, which makes this an intriguing and contrasting alliance. Emphasis on the caring relationship between customer and seller has been Avon’s key ingredient to longevity, whilst Amazon’s relentless pursuit of efficiency and convenience generates little in the way of ‘brand warmth’ - we all value Amazon but it’s a transactional affair.

Emphasis on the caring relationship between customer and seller has been Avon’s key ingredient to longevity.

Accessibility and visibility are key traits to success in today’s market. Avon’s new relationship with Amazon is an acknowledgement that its existing strategy isn’t tailored to deliver on this. So, can the cosmetics brand continue to “believe in the beauty of doing good” by removing the middle(wo)man that seemed so intrinsic to its brand values?

The times they are a-changin’

Embracing ecommerce is Avon’s best bet at cracking a new generation of consumers with a new set of expectations and behaviours - Gen Z. 

The brand has a historic connection to empowering women in business. But whilst the traditional face to face sales rep model resonated well with the stay-at-home mums that were happy to chat by the door, its effectiveness, in a hyper connected post-covid world is limited, especially amongst younger audiences.

Gen Z are born digital; this generation prefers online booking forms to phone calls when scheduling their GP appointments. Almost one-third of 18-24 year olds opt for drive-thru ordering to avoid dealing with staff. But this innate aversion to human interactions is also the reason that they flock to Amazon in their droves. 

Amazon’s delivery system - built around a transactional, robotic exchange - can be Avon’s key to unlocking Gen Z. But if it wants to differentiate in a highly competitive digital marketplace, it can’t lose sight of its existing formula for success: personal and caring CX. 

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Avon isn’t walking an untrodden path. The Body Shop is another high-profile cosmetics brand that has leveraged Amazon to expand its reach. The difference is that Avon doesn’t have the luxury of global brick-and-mortar outlets to keep its personal touch alive. 

Supporting consumers is one of Avon’s original intellectual properties (IPs) and core values. The Avon Foundation was launched in 1955 to improve the lives of women across the globe - and it has invested over $1bn towards this goal. And the foundation’s benefits extend beyond its sales reps. Avon’s global scholarship programme provides over 400 scholarships for the children and grandchildren of its network. 

Avon doesn’t have the luxury of global brick-and-mortar outlets to keep its personal touch alive.

Staying true to this ethos is paramount - but partnering with Amazon makes this a tricky ask. The ecommerce platform isn’t free from controversy, with accusations of gender inequality and workplace harassment in 2021 and an AI-recruitment tool biassed against women being just two examples. 

Amazon can be a stepping stone to improving sales. However, Avon can’t forget its roots. Profits shouldn’t be used to drive confidence in stakeholders and shareholders but instead ploughed back into The Avon Foundation and funnelled back into its core purpose of empowering women. 

For example, additional revenue could help expand its scholarship programme and invest in further training. It can, and should, be used as a force for good. This would also clearly demonstrate Avon’s ability to evolve its mission by keeping up to speed with the latest ecommerce trends in order to connect with a new, much-needed customer base. 

Staying easy on the eye

Choosing to sell on Amazon speaks to the need for Avon, and brands in general, to adapt with the times. The internet’s sustained popularity and growth of social commerce is causing the physical sales rep model to become even more outdated. And whilst Gen Z may appear a tough nut to crack, understanding their preference for seamless, convenient shopping experiences will quickly endear your brand to younger consumers. 

The irony/paradox is that Gen Zs don't “not” want to connect and care; they just connect and care in different ways. This generation is one that has spent their teen years in Discord lobbies with real-time chats, often moderating and connecting their own communities in their spare time. At the same time In the US, Gen Z’s interest in celebrity news and influencers dropped by 26% and 15% respectively since Q2 2020. 

Partnering with the ecommerce titan can be the catalyst for driving more sales - but it is also a one-way ticket to losing your brand’s soul.

In many ways, Avon is the anti-Amazon. Partnering with the ecommerce titan can be the catalyst for driving more sales - but it is also a one-way ticket to losing your brand’s soul. Compensating for this should be Avon’s first priority. And this starts by using the Amazon-based earnings to put CX at the heart of its operations and remain staunch champions of women in the workplace.

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Aki Kalliatakis Photo
By aki.kalliatakis1
12th Jun 2023 11:23

Fascinating case study Ben. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. To tell you the truth, I don't know how I'd predict the success or otherwise. My heart tells me they are headed for a disaster, but who knows in this crazy digital world. I think what will play a role, however, is whether the potential customers see this as a "cool" product/brand... or something that my grandma used to buy.

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