Brick and Mortar Merchants Remain Top Purchasing Location for Cosmetic & Grooming Product Consumers

New York, N.Y. – December 1, 2016 – The holiday shopping season is upon us and Americans all over the country are making their lists, checking them twice, and hitting their favorite shops. A recent Harris Poll examined Americans’ shopping habits surrounding grooming and cosmetic staples and found that, while online shopping certainly has its role, many products may be better suited to brick and mortar shopping. However, it’s not always all about location. At the end of the day, price reigns supreme over purchase location as nearly 9 in 10 Americans say once they find a product they like, they’ll buy it wherever they can get the best price (87%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,223 U.S. adults surveyed online between September 19 – October 3, 2016, including 2,088 purchasers of cosmetic and grooming products.

Popular purchase channels

Since 2014, in-person merchants continue to be the most common purchase location. In total, around 9 in 10 purchasers shop in person for hair styling products (91%), shampoos and conditioners (91%), cosmetics (90%), non-sunscreen products with SPF protection (89%), and sunscreen (87%). Specifically, “big box” retailers remain the top purchase location for all of the cosmetic and beauty products surveyed. A majority of purchasers of hair styling products (59%), shampoos/conditioners (59%), non-sunscreen products with SPF protection (57%), sunscreen (56%), and hair color products (51%) turn to “big box” retailers.

Retail stores are also the top merchant for cosmetic (50%) and facial/skin care product (49%) purchasers. For nearly all products, pharmacies and grocery stores round out the top three purchase locations, including shampoos/conditioners, facial/skin care products, sunscreen, non-sunscreen SPF products, hair color, and hair styling products.

Cosmetics in particular see much greater variety in purchase locations than other products. Pharmacies (39%), department stores (23%), specialty beauty product merchants (23%), and online specialty beauty merchants (22%) round out the top five after “big box” retailers (50%) for cosmetics.

Online merchants

In total, online purchases are most popular for cosmetics (40%) and facial/skin care products (34%). Around 3 in 10 also turn online for hair styling products (29%), hair color products (28%), and non-sunscreen SPF products (28%). Online channels are less popular for sunscreen (22%) and shampoo and/or conditioner (17%) purchases.

Online mass merchandisers are the most popular online channel for the majority of products surveyed (facial/skin care products 19%, non-sunscreen products with SPF protection 15%, sunscreen 15%, hair styling products 14%, hair color products 12%, and shampoos and/or conditioners 12%), with the exception of cosmetics, where online specialty beauty products merchants land in first (22%). Sixteen percent of product purchasers say they’re buying more from online mass merchandisers than they were 2-3 years ago.

Purchase drivers

When it comes to new products, however, in-person purchasing remains popular as 66% say they’re more likely to purchase health or cosmetic products in-person when there are new products they want to try. Further, 57% agree that since computer screen colors vary, it’s important to buy products in-person when buying for the first time.

On the other hand, some products are simply more suited for purchasing in person, such as cosmetics. Three in 10 say they like to have an associate show how to use a cosmetic product properly when shopping in person (30%). Online shopping has its own perks as well, as nearly 6 in 10 say they like being able to see grooming and/or cosmetic product reviews online (57%).



This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between September 19 – October 3, 2016 among 2,223 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #66, December 1, 2016

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll