In the early 2000s, economists coined the term “lipstick index” to describe the phenomenon of increased sales of beauty products during economic downturns. In 2008, with the global financial crisis in full swing, sales of high-end lipsticks surged while sales of designer handbags and clothes fell sharply. In 2009, beauty giant L’Oreal reported that its sales had grown by 5% while those of other luxury brands were declining.
Put simply, when people are feeling down about the state of the economy, they’re more likely to splurge on small luxuries like lipstick as a pick-me-up. The lipstick index has been used to predict everything from stock market trends to presidential election results.
It makes perfect sense. After all, any woman with an ounce of honesty will tell you that a bright, bold lip color can easily change her confidence level every time she looks in the mirror. I have often heard women say, during the tiny pep talks we give each other in the powder room, “Put on a little lipstick; it will make you feel better.”
There is also a strong correlation between lipstick sales and the spirit of social change. For instance, following the 2016 presidential election, there was a sharp increase in sales of “protest” lipsticks with bold, rebellious shades like crimson and deep purple. Even the suffragettes who fought for a woman’s right to vote in the 1800s were recognizable by their white dresses and bright red lipstick.
Of course, Coco Chanel said it best: “If you are sad, add more lipstick and attack!”
This year, according to NPD, lip makeup is now the fastest-growing area in the beauty category, with sales revenue up 48% in the first quarter of 2022, versus last year. I think we can take this upsurge in the lipstick index as a sign that women are feeling some kind of way — not surprising considering recent attacks on women’s right to proper health care and body autonomy.
I would argue that adult products do even more to cheer people up than other small indulgences. After all, we provide the luxury of pleasure. As adult retailers, therefore, we can show support by offering items that help women feel strong, sexy and confident.
Oral pleasure-simulating toys have become a powerful symbol of sexual empowerment for women, as evidenced by the viral attention that the “Rose” toy received on social media. It’s become a trend to invest in one’s pleasure and enjoy oral stimulation without the need of a partner. Based on my own numbers over the last 12 months, the upswing in popularity of these products is evident, so I encourage retailers to stock up on those products, and keep your eyes open for the innovation in this category, because it’s still innovating.
People are also looking for affordable luxury during these tight times, so remember to keep inexpensive enticements within easy reach around the cash wrap area for quick add-ons. and make sure your displays are inviting and clean.
Since my store is in the deep South, and we are very affected by a lack of health care alternatives, I also see people looking for alternative ways to share intimacy and induce pleasure without risking pregnancy. So, I am remerchandising the store to make sure these products are front and center.
Times are difficult for a lot of people right now, but the good news is our products never go out of style. We are in the business of fun, good times, and a natural, healthy lifestyle. We need to focus on that aspect as we position our stores and products in the marketplace. That way, when things pick up, we’ll be ready to meet the challenge with plenty of enticing inventory and a well-trained staff.
In the meantime, put on some lipstick and attack!
The Lipstick Index: What Does It Mean for Adult Retailers? By Tami Rose originally appeared in XBIZ