The Interview: SKIN founders Flinty Bane and Ben Barter
Founded by long-term friends Flinty Bane and Ben Barter earlier this year and launching officially today (29 September) SKIN is the new price-comparison app seeking to change the way in which beauty consumers discover, shop and share products.
With online beauty sales continuing to soar and social media playing an increasingly important role in the buying journey, the app was built to "fill a gap" in the market for a platform where skincare users could get price alerts on their favourite products, share reviews and and make new skincare discoveries.
Born during lockdown 2020, Bane, a self confessed "long time skincare enthusiast" and Barter, who used to wash his hair with shower gel, pooled their complementary skills to develop SKIN from concept to working app in just nine months.
Available to download on AppStore and GooglePlay, the app now boasts an inventory of over 2,400 brands including names such as Medik8, Skinceuticals, Olaplex, Charlotte Tilbury and many more, while retailer partners include Boots, Look Fantastic, FeelUnique and ASOS – with Cult Beauty and Space NK set to join in the coming weeks.
App users are sent notifications when products on their virtual ‘shelf’ are discounted – allowing them to find their favourite products at the "best price on the internet" - from trusted sources.
Users can also share and recommend products – much like a social platform - creating a real community element.
Bane and Barter talk to Gaelle Walker, Contributing Editor of TheIndustry.fashion, about the app's development, how consumers are responding and their ultimate goal to "revolutionise" the way consumers shop for beauty.
Lovely to meet you both! Before we get into the finer details of SKIN's development, can you please take me through your career backgrounds?
FB: I read English Literature at Durham - it was wonderful, but left me unsure of what to do next. I tried my hand at lots of different things; investment banking, art sales, events. All of my experience led me to the same answer - that I hoped to have something of my own. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a skincare fanatic. I needed a way to apply it!
BB: After studying Economics at Oxford Brookes I started working for OpenRoom Events, an International B2B events company that works in a variety of sectors including retail and hospitality. I spent the best part of five years there, starting as a sales executive and working my way up to commercial director. Whilst that was a great experience, my long-term goal has always been to start a business.
How did the two of you meet?
FB: We met and worked at the same company for two years and have been great friends ever since. After a year of working on the same events, travelling to the same places, attending trade shows and pitching together, we started talking seriously about setting up our own business.
Where did the concept for SKIN come from?
BB: We spotted a gap in the market - a tool for people who are just getting started with their skincare journey, for the skincare veterans and everyone in between. A platform that is simple and helpful. Something that helps you decide what to buy, from sources you trust, free from endorsements, filters and hidden advertising. A platform where you can engage with your friends and people you admire. Whether we realise it or not, we are spending on skincare - might as well save where we can!
What role did lockdown, social distancing and in-store store restrictions play in SKIN's development?
FB: Lockdown gave us the chance to work on building the business. Without furlough we wouldn’t have had the time, space or funds to do it. Last year was tough for everyone, but for that reason it felt bittersweet - we were grateful for the opportunity it provided. Very quickly the retail landscape changed; samples disappeared, shops closed and people’s priorities changed too.
The customer journey was suddenly different - no in-store assistance or hand-holding or trying things out. The value of a good recommendation, from someone you trust, becomes more important when you don’t have anything else to go by. Some people had more money and some really struggled financially. The same goes for time. Those things really shaped our offering; how can we help people with differing circumstances and priorities? How can we help them make an informed decision? How can we save them money and time?
What challenges did you encounter along the way?
BB: Development. It’s one thing to have an idea, but putting that idea into action is really difficult. Neither of us write code and we didn’t have any sense of how long these things take. That was as frustrating for our developers, as it was for us. No matter how talented you are, building, testing and fixing takes time. And you have to be able to let things go; ideas you had that you thought were brilliant; user journeys that make sense to you but not the user. You can’t afford to be sentimental, you have to be ruthless.
How has skincare buying behaviour shifted in the past year?
FB: Online shopping has skyrocketed over the past 12 months. It did seem that people were starting to buy more online before the pandemic, but of course Covid-19 restrictions have accelerated this change hugely. Even now that restrictions have been lifted, in-store shopping is different, particularly for beauty products. Lots of shops are no longer offering samples or consultations so there’s less to be gained from shopping in-store. Consumers have found out how convenient it is to shop for products online - there’s so much information available now to inform your purchase and the deals tend to be better online as you have so many places you can buy from.
Tell us about the role that social media is playing in skincare discovery these days?
BB: There’s been a huge increase in the importance of social media when shopping online. 42% of all internet users in the UK and US are now using social media as part of their brand discovery process when purchasing products online. This is a staggering statistic when you consider that 51% are using search engines for the same purposes.
That’s why we’re seeing lots of the major social media platforms starting to include shopping features in their apps: Facebook shopping, Instagram has recently started advertising before playing reels etc.
Social e-commerce is a powerful combination and is something that we really believe in. For us, social media has got the potential to revolutionise the way people shop online in the future.
Community is also at the heart of the beauty industry, it’s so important. You can see that across all social media - from Mumsnet to WhatsApp and Facebook. We have an extraordinary variety of choice, but it also makes it more challenging for consumers to find the products that are right for them. Having access to a community, where you can seek advice and share your successes and failures is invaluable. SKIN is as much about being a marketplace as it is about community.
What does SKIN offer today’s beauty shoppers?
FB: The price comparison tool is the obvious answer as everyone loves a bargain. But the immediate satisfaction you can get through the app after you’ve bought something - adding it to your shelf, sharing it with your friends, getting their thoughts on it. Then when it arrives you can seek advice from people who have used the product before, show how it looks in real life, review it, recommend it if it’s good. That’s a pretty cool experience if you care about the products that you’re using and want to talk about them.
What are its key USPs?
BB: SKIN is built to give knowledge and power to its users - to help them make an informed buying decision. It is built on community and trust. Users can find reviews, engage with social activity, see which products their friends use and find answers from the SKIN community. Most importantly, they can save money. On average our users have saved 26% by purchasing products using SKIN.
How many brands are currently listed on the app?
FB: SKIN is home to 2,400 brands and over 140,000 products. We are always on the lookout for independent brands and retailers - those who might not be otherwise visible, as well as the major players. The more choice we can offer, the better. SKIN doesn’t process payments - all transactions go through the retailer. Users can expect the same payment experience as they would shopping online and benefit from their own points/membership system per retailer.
The app launched in trial mode in March 2021, how has it been received by shoppers so far?
BB: Overwhelming! We’ve been working with 800 beta testers since March, to get it ready for launch. This period has been about feedback, but it’s wonderful to see people engaging organically and saving money on their products. We are constantly improving and fixing - we can’t wait to release the next version.
What does online shopping deliver that traditional bricks and mortar methods can't?
FB: There is nothing like an in-store experience, the ability to touch and smell products and to engage with other people in real life. We are not presuming to override that, or suggest that it won't be important to people any more. It’s what we have all been craving and need.
It may be true that in a post-Covid-19 world, fewer people will shop in-store. That might be a good thing. The benefit of online shopping is the competitive pricing. Our price comparison tool has shown that the pricing fluctuates all the time. There isn’t one retailer that always comes out on top. There is always a bargain, it's just about finding it!
Do you plan to roll the app out anywhere else?
BB: SKIN is currently only available in the UK but one day it will be available to everyone, everywhere.
What’s on the agenda for the rest of 2021?
Our launch campaign will spread the word about SKIN. We are so excited to see it come off! An ongoing aim is to continually add more brands and retailers - there are a couple of retailers on our radar who we hope will come on board soon.
Our features wishlist is endless, and so are the possibilities. Ultimately, we want to understand more about our users, so listening to them will be key. We are determined to deliver them the best possible experience. By the end of the year we will be looking at expanding into other regions. That means a growing team too. Onwards!