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Billionaire Kylie Jenner Is the Future of Shopping

BC-Billionaire-Kylie-Jenner-Is-the-Future-of-Shopping , Andrea Felsted

(Bloomberg Opinion) — Kylie Jenners debut on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at the ripe old age of 21 should strike fear into the hearts of mainstream consumer companies everywhere.

The young member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan (a brood made famous by reality TV) has joined the tycoon club after signing an exclusive partnership for her cosmetics company with Ulta Beauty Inc., a chain of U.S. beauty stores. The deal embodies the trends ultra-celebrity branding, Instagram and smartphone shopping  that are reshaping the retail landscape in everything from liquid foundation to food.

The giant corporates that still dominate the consumer industry have little choice but to try to keep up, not just with the Kardashians but the millions of Konsumers they have spawned.

Women have always looked to well-known personalities for inspiration. But Jenner takes the cult of celebrity endorsement to a new level. Not content to merely stick her name on something from LVMH SE or Kering SA and take a percentage, she kept more of the branding value for herself by setting up her own company. And why not? Jenner belongs to arguably the best-known family in the world (after the Windsors). The Kardashians are an industry in their own right, a powerful machine that pumps out influence over much of what we buy, whether thats leggings or lipstick.

Like her half-sister, Kim Kardashian West, Jenner is a hugely powerful presence on social media. But by founding Kylie Cosmetics back in 2015, she has managed to take that in an even more lucrative direction. With 128 million Instagram followers, she can communicate directly with her fans, who then become customers.

The assumptions used to calculate Jenners wealth are still open to interpretation, as Kylie Cosmetics outsources its manufacturing, packaging and sales to other companies according to Bloomberg News. The terms on those deals arent public. But she has shown that with the right name and face you can cut out the LOreals and Procter & Gambles and just sell straight to the market.

While Ultas bricks-and-mortar stores open up a new channel, before now she has sold to her millions of followers over the internet, most likely via their phones. Forbes magazine, which first reported Jenners billionaire status, said Kylie Cosmetics had sales of $360 million last year.

So how can mainstream brand-owners make sure they dont lose market share to future super-influencers. First off, they can try the traditional route of just signing them up to front their brands. But even this can be fraught with peril. LOreal, a competent operator on social media, parted company with transgender model Munroe Bergdorf in 2017 after claims she posted racist comments online. Bergdorf has 119,000 Instagram followers, so that was a lot of potentially upset customers once the relationship didnt work out.

Other consumer groups have gone further. LVMH has teamed up with pop star Rihanna (68.4 million Instagram followers) to create Fenty Beauty, another makeup line. Fenty generated 500 million euros ($561 million) of sales in 2018, according to the French luxury giant. Rihannas cut of the profit is undisclosed, but this looks like a smart way for the industry to keep pace with the social media revolution in shopping.

Still, not all tie-ups are successful. Estee Lauder ended its collaboration with Kendall Jenner (Kylies sister, 105 million Instagram followers) after just 18 months because the Estee Edit, as it was known, fell short of expectations. Executives described it as not authentic. But perhaps the mistake was not plastering Kendalls name all over the range, as Kylie has with her products.

Another option is buying celebrity brands outright. At some point celebpreneurs like Jenner will want to cash in via an exit. The purchasing company can then combine the draw of a famous name with its powerful distribution network, thereby turbo-charging sales. Its an expensive choice, though. Diageo Plc paid as much as $1 billion in 2017 for George Clooneys tequila brand.

Any buyer of a celebrity-backed company is also betting on their popularity lasting. In a world where fortunes can turn on a tweet, thats a big risk.

Theres always the safer option of buying non-celebrity brands that serve similar consumer categories. For example, LOreal, Estee Lauder and Unilever Plc have been snapping up niche cosmetics, skincare and fragrance businesses for the past few years. Companies could also do better at product innovation, though thats never easy when theyre as big as they are.

The publics fickleness means Jenners star will fade eventually, but the social media phenomenon that she represents is surely here to stay  especially given that the big consumer brands are deeply unimpressed with the returns they get from advertising through Google and Facebook. What can compete with a superstar sharing their intimate thoughts about products with millions of shoppers?

To contact the author of this story: Andrea Felsted at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

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