Written by Jim Babb


In this series from Part + Sum, we — and a team of eagle-eyed volunteer mystery shoppers — set out to discover how today’s smartest brands deliver their message, from social media to targeted ads to a package on the doorstep.

The Subject: Glossier

Former Vogue assistant Emily Weiss launched Glossier with just four products in 2014. Today, the beloved-by-millennials beauty company has raised $86 million in funding, sells dozens of products and boasts over 1 million Instagram followers. Content marketing is part of its DNA: Weiss developed Glossier after building a platform with her blog Into the Gloss, which racked up millions of pageviews each month. Into The Gloss remains a destination for beauty addicts, even those who don’t shop Glossier — it features interviews, tips and how-to’s that often make no mention of Glossier at all.

The vast majority of Glossier’s skincare, makeup and fragrance products are sold directly to consumers through its website. The brand’s sole permanent brick-and-mortar showroom is located in Manhattan, but a recent pop-up shop in San Francisco suggests more IRL sales are on the way.

The Background

Beauty and skincare is an intensely personal retail segment. This is stuff you put on your face, by yourself, in the privacy of your own bathroom. The shift from traditional marketing to modern marketing systems has created a unique set of challenges and opportunities for beauty companies.


Once upon a time, shoppers in search of the right product relied on one-on-one conversations with brand reps at cosmetic counters. That’s not the case any more. As Deborah Yeh, SVP of marketing at Sephora, explained in a 2017 interview: “The lady at the counter has been replaced by hundreds of people on YouTube. There are more voices. And we are trying to cut through the confusion.” In other words, there are more ways than ever to influence customers, which means it’s critical to be clear, creative and ready to adapt as new trends emerge.

Luckily, the visual appeal of beauty products dovetails with the image-centric nature of social media. In addition to YouTube tutorials and blog posts, shoppers can check Instagram to see swatches, packaging reveals and quick demos as soon as new products are released. For beauty brands, looking good has never been more important.

The Methodology

For this experiment, we divided our six mystery shoppers into three customer personas:

Each persona was assigned a series of actions to be performed on the Glossier website, its social accounts and search engines. Then, with ad blockers disabled, shoppers documented all Glossier content they saw for the next two weeks: emails, ads, suggested posts and so on. See our complete methodology here.

Our shoppers identify as female, range in age from 24 to 37 and live in the United States. They report spending 6–7 hours per day online, with about 2–3 hours of time spent on social media. We paid each shopper a small honorarium for their efforts.

The Results

Of our six shoppers, two saw no Glossier targeted ads or social posts at all. Of the remaining four, only one saw any display ads. These four saw several sponsored posts on Instagram and Facebook.