Woolworths has begun trialling all 40 shades of Maybelline’s Fit Me foundation through online home delivery in around 500 suburbs in Melbourne and Sydney, while Coles is trialling the same product online in selected suburbs and in 10 stores around the country.
Currently, supermarkets don’t routinely stock any foundation shades darker than beige, Willink observed.
“These trials are a first for the Australian beauty industry, as no supermarket in Australian history has ever stocked a full range of shades,” Willink told Inside Retail. “Australia is also the first country globally to expand foundation shades in the grocery sector during these trials, which is very exciting to see. Hopefully our country can pave the way for other countries to do the same.”
Woolworths said it selects products to stock based on the volume of customer demand and with only limited shelf-space to accommodate each brand, those that “cater to the needs of the greatest number of customers” are prioritised.
However, the retailer acknowledged that this “traditional approach” in cosmetics has an “unintended impact on the diversity of skin tones” to which it caters.
“We are aware this trial is an imperfect solution to some of the issues you’ve discussed, but hope to learn from it and use this time to identify further ways we can offer a broader range of shades to more customers. We will consider how we may be able to effectively provide greater variety in stores as well,” Woolworths said in a letter to Willink.
Coles, in its response to Willink, stated that it was continually assessing its range of products to ensure that it is representative of a diverse customer base, but acknowledged that it “could be doing better”.
As part of its in-store trial, Coles is expecting to gain insights from shoppers that will inform its next steps.
“We have specifically chosen 10 stores that service a large number of postcodes and a diverse customer base, who can provide us with valuable feedback,” Coles’ letter to Willink read. “This includes three stores in New South Wales, four in Victoria, and one each in Queensland, South Australia, and the ACT. Subject to customer feedback, we would then look to roll this out more broadly across our stores.”
The retailer is also conducting a range review of its cosmetics category and said it is looking for opportunities to work with suppliers to offer a more diverse and inclusive range of products in-store and online.
“The process will be ongoing for several months, and we look forward to launching a refreshed product offering in early 2022,” Coles told Willink.
In 20 years, ‘not much has changed’
As a woman of South-Asian background, Willink said she has always struggled to find complexion-based products in retail stores.
“I remember going shopping for cosmetics with my predominantly white friends in my teenage years and noticing the disparity between our experiences,” she recalled. “Whilst they could buy affordable foundations from all brands in every store, I was unable to find a single shade that even came remotely close to my skin colour.”
Back then, most affordable brands did not have the vast shade ranges available today so even finding her shade in a drugstore was a challenge. And sadly, she said, not much has changed 20 years later.
She began her petition in response to an advertising campaign for then newly launched makeup brand MCoBeauty, which is exclusively stocked by Woolworths and Big W.
“I attempted to buy their products during a half-price sale at Woolworths but was unable to find any complexion-based products for my skin colour in multiple stores, consequently learning from the manager that the darkest shade in any store in the country was ‘medium beige’,” Willink said.
“When I raised my concerns to both the brand and Woolworths, the responses I received were disappointing; both using the excuse of limited shelf space and lack of ‘customer demand’, suggesting I buy online instead (at full price, plus shipping costs – a total of $25 more for my shade than the light ones on sale in store).”
A long way to go
Whilst there have been some inroads, with more foundations available at drugstores, Willink said it can still be difficult to access some shades, particularly for other complexion-based products, such as bronzers, concealers, colour correctors, blushes etc.
“Pharmacies have come a long way in this regard, with Priceline and Chemist Warehouse recently starting to stock broader shade ranges of affordable brands in their stores. However, even in these drugstores, not all locations stock the full shade range of makeup brands, with some shades on the dark end of the spectrum usually excluded,” she explained.
“For example, Maybelline’s foundations are stocked in full in only three stores in the whole of Victoria.”
Willink called out department stores such as Myer, David Jones, Big W, Target and Kmart as lacking in shade diversity and said the problem can also be traced back to cosmetics brands’ feeble efforts at diversity.
“Even in 2021, many brands still have shade ranges that are unsuitable for the full spectrum of Australian skin tones, with some including a token few ‘dark’ shades that are completely insufficient for people of colour.”
Time for change
While these trials may seem like a small step, Willink is confident the impact will be significant for individuals whom she says have been “ostracised for decades”.
“In these trials, for the first time in Australia, a person with brown or black skin will be able to purchase makeup for their skin tone in a supermarket.”
Willink said all consumers, regardless of skin colour or wealth, deserve access to the same products, to feel included and to be treated fairly.
“Introducing inclusive ranges of affordable cosmetics in supermarkets will provide access to groups who have long been disadvantaged, including Black, Indigenous and people of colour, people with disabilities who have limited access to shops, low-income earners and those living in regional areas with limited access to makeup stores and pharmacies.
“The demographics in Australia are constantly evolving and companies should be addressing the best ways to adapt as necessary. What seemed to work 10 or 20 years ago, should not be deemed as acceptable anymore. There needs to be a constant evaluation of how Australia has and will continue to change.”
Willink believes a lack of diversity on leadership boards may be limiting the perspectives, experiences and ideas that could be brought to the table. She said better representation is needed to serve all customers.
“The beauty media industry in Australia has a moral responsibility to acknowledge that the current situation is inequitable and in dire need of change,” Willink said. “Australia is home to people of all backgrounds, who should be visibly represented in society and treated with respect and fairness by organisations.”