Beauty buyer's club

by Michelle Chou

Originally from the suburbs of Los Angeles, Michelle went to Northwestern for undergrad and is now finishing her MBA at Columbia University in New York. In the past, she's worked in E-commerce and the beauty industry with Walgreens Boots Alliance,, and Amazon. In her spare time, Michelle's scrolls through her Instagram feed, which has equal parts cat videos, origami, and recipes for mac and cheese. 

Michelle at Columbia University

Michelle at Columbia University

Have you ever wandered through the towering aisles of skincare products in a retail store and wondered how they got there? Here's a mini insider's peek at how it all works. There are usually 3 main parties involved in the process: a retailer, a vendor, and a manufacturer. 

If we were to use a restaurant as a loose example, the retailer is like the physical restaurant that presents you with the choice of ordering from a menu of carefully curated goods. The vendor is the chef behind the scenes who assembles the dishes and contributes his or her unique brand and perspective. And the manufacturers are like the farmers that take time and process to actually grow all the food and components that ultimately become your final product, or in this example, your dish.

A large mass retailer like Whole Foods or Walmart can carry upwards of 85,000 to 140,000 unique products (which translates to tens of thousands of unique brands), in just one single physical store! As a previous Assistant Buyer for beauty and personal care products for 4 years, my job was to help choose, curate, and present these thousands of brands for a major international retailer. 

Behind the scenes, a lot of work goes into bringing a skincare product from manufacturer production to retail shelf. From managing national marketing plans, to analyzing customer sales trends, to looking at forecasting seasonality in units sold, it's the buyer's job to pick the right brands for the customer. 

As you might imagine, there are an endless number of possible brands out there. All of them sound great when the vendor presents them to us in pitch meetings... Exotic ingredients! Anti aging properties! Youth in a bottle! But ultimately, all the retailer cares about is whether the brand is right for our customer. We want something that not only works, but respects the emotional and personal relationship that men and women have with their skin. 

As Buyers, we understand that most everyone has had a moment of insecurity with their skin at some point in their lives. Maybe it was a breakout of pimples before prom pictures, a bad sunburn, or noticing your first wrinkle as a twenty-something. It's important to find brands that stand for something authentic.

Skin is dynamic and organic. It moves and changes and responds to where we go, what we eat, and how we live. As a result, those who have worked years in the skincare and beauty industry understand this-- and it's our ultimate goal to find authentic, genuine brands that cater to each of our customers' unique needs. Buying for a retailer, then, is not simply understanding what our customer has needed, but what they will need and continue to need in the future.