A nation of soap-dodgers?

As modern life continues to speed up, the traditional bar of soap is taking a hammering from the rapid proliferation of ‘convenience’ toiletry products

Demand for “quick-fix” consumer goods is on the increase in a society characterised by long working hours and hectic lifestyles. For many consumers, convenience is a prime factor in purchases such as food – with nearly one in three food products chosen because they are perceived as either convenient or quick to cook. This trend is now starting to include cosmetics and toiletries products as well, according to a new Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) survey.

In the year to March, &£4.5bn was spent on toiletries and &£766m on cosmetics in the UK. The toiletries market is buoyant, having grown by seven per cent over the past two years.

Consumers aged 11 to 34 are the main users of toiletries and cosmetics, accounting for 42 per cent of all toiletry and cosmetic use in an average week. Younger consumers with higher disposable incomes are also more likely to try new products which are designed for use outside the home.

A strong trend in the toiletries market over recent years has been the decline in the use of bar soap in favour of shower gel. Shower gel is a more versatile product than soap and can be used in a greater number of ways, which is of particular benefit when used out of the home at locations such as gyms or swimming pools, or while on holiday. As a nation, we are now taking 30 million more showers a week than we were five years ago.

While women have historically been the primary users of toiletries and beauty products, men are now using more personal care products and a growing number of men-only ranges is being launched. During 2002, men accounted for almost 40 per cent of all toiletries and beauty products used.

Although men’s use of toiletries and cosmetics is catching up with women’s, the genders show different consumption patterns. For instance, men are more likely to use products which minimise time and effort, such as two-in-one shampoos and shower gels. As a result, manufacturers have launched ranges of sports-branded products, targeting male gym and sports club members. By contrast, women are more likely to use “travel-sized” versions of the toiletries they use in the home – such as facial wipes or travel-size hairspray – which take up less room in their handbags.

Two-in-one products form an important sector of the convenience toiletries market and appeal to both men and women. Combined shampoos and conditioners were one of the first two-in-one products to be launched and they remain popular today, with sales of &£54m in the year to March. More recently, combined hair and body shampoos have been launched, which have been performing particularly well among men aged 11 to 24.

Facial cleansing wipes, designed for use outside the home, have proved popular among women. Despite being launched just three years ago, more than 2 million women now use wipes in an average week, with &£69m spent on wipes in the past year.

Easy to use and to carry, cleansing wipes have a variety of uses: they can serve as facial cleansers, make-up removers and fresheners. Deodorant wipes have followed on the coat-tails of cleansing wipes and are now used more than 1 million times in an average week. Deodorant wipes are particularly popular among women aged 11 to 24 and are used to provide top-up applications, especially while out of the home.

Other two-in-one products, such as combined cleansers and toners, or toothpaste and mouthwash, have also proved popular. The two are used on average 6 million times and 10 million times a week, respectively.

It is clear that convenience products are increasingly central to modern consumer habits, and the number of product ranges which provide practical and convenient solutions is likely to grow.

What remains to be seen is whether convenience toiletries and cosmetics products will come to replace more traditional formats, such as soap and bubble bath, or more time-intensive pampering products such as hot-oil hair conditioners and face masks.

Positioning convenience toiletries as providing a top-up application during the day and marketing more time-intensive beauty products as the way to relax and unwind at the end of a working day or at weekends is likely, however, to enable retailers to maximise sales within both product areas.

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