This weekend, I found myself in bed on a Sunday afternoon, streaming Mariah Carey’s greatest hits from the early ‘90s. (It was cold AF, and I’m having post-holiday blues. Can you blame me?) Besides, I’m not even a Mariah groupie, but anyone can appreciate Mimi around Christmas time—NYE blunder or otherwise. So can a lot of people, apparently, including M.A.C., who recently launched a glitter- and butterfly-embossed, Mariah-helmed, limited-edition collection to a ton of fanfare. Seriously: The online release sold out within 24 hours, and we just found all five lipsticks on eBay for almost $200. But if you missed that boat, NBD. M.A.C. just announced a major collaboration with big-time beauty bloggers and recently released a 15-piece collection with Caitlyn Jenner.
M.A.C., of course, is known for their capsule collections and celebrity collabs, which are usually only released for weeks at a time. (Mariah Carey’s collection, for instance, is available for about six weeks total, meaning you have until January 26 to scoop up whatever’s still in stock.) And, for the first time ever, the brand brought back an entire collection last month due to popular demand. The M.A.C. Selena collection, honoring Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla, drew such a passionate and voracious crowd of beauty shoppers last fall, that the brand re-released it in its entirety—a rarity, at best, in the limited-edition world. (And good news if you’re a Selena fan: Most of the products from the collaboration are still available on M.A.C.’s site.)
And although M.A.C. is the OG when it comes to blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em capsule collections—think Star Trek, designer Chris Chang, and Good Luck Trolls in 2016 alone—tons of other beauty brands have recently gotten in on the collaboration game. We’d argue it’s getting difficult to find a prominent line or company that hasn’t yet partnered with an artist, celebrity, or designer on a range of limited-edition beauty products yet.
Wu also teamed up with skin-care line Caudalie to create a limited-edition iteration of—you guessed it—cult-favorite. The lace-swathed bottle of face mist has earned a spot on probably half of our own beauty editors’ desks, to be honest.
But think about it: As soon as your upgrade finally kicks in and you can get your hands on the latest iPhone (not to mention get a new cute AF case), the fruit’s announcing another, updated version. The same often goes for beauty products—the constant novelty, that creation of near-instantaneous FOMO works. “Customers like the ‘trend’ aspect,” a spokesperson for Lancôme tells Allure. “It reflects how the consumer is more in tune with social media makeup trends.” Trends come and go—which is the entire concept of limited-edition anything. “Limited-edition collections cultivate a sense of excitement and urgency that consumers really aren’t able to get elsewhere,” explains Megan Collins, a social media consultant at brand strategy and marketing firm Trendera. “Today’s consumers know they can pretty much get whatever they want, whenever they want.” Companies have created an on-demand market, with services like Netflix, Uber, and Seamless. Limited-edition releases are the opposite—and that is what makes them extra appealing. “For a consumer who otherwise doesn’t feel the need to buy anything until the exact moment when they need it, these collections feel exciting and fresh,” says Collins.
And it benefits the brands to release these limited-edition beauty products, too—sort of, at least. It’s essentially marketing versus finance, since limited-edition items aren’t serious moneymakers for companies. Producing items is expensive, especially if they’re only going to be available for purchase for a month or two—since they won’t be on counters long enough to pull in a big profit. So financially, making limited-edition products is, as Young says, “horrendously expensive.” In order to drop surprise releases, these companies usually build that extra expense into their budgets and just eat the cost of production, because there’s a big payoff on the marketing side: new customers. Plus, media outlets usually cover these types of socially-media driven launches, like literally every iteration of Kylie Jenner’s Lip Kits. (Openly and admittedly guilty as charged. You guys love ’em.) This drums up interest in the brand—and, incidentally, makes it feel current and relevant. If you’re a Selena superfan, odds are that you’ll be on the checkout page seconds after the collection launches—whether or not you’ve ever used M.A.C. products. (If you haven’t, at the very, very least, please try a swipe of
.) And that’s exactly what brands are hoping.
Besides, a new, hard-to-get product (if not entire collection, like Nars’s upcoming Charlotte Gainsbourg collection)—especially one that’s really only around for a hot minute—can boost a brand’s desirability factor. “Marketers frequently use scarcity as a promotional strategy,” says consumer psychologist Vanessa Patrick-Ralhan. Not only does this strategy trigger “desirability”, she says, but that exclusive, limited-edition status also gives consumers a reason to buy. It’s a recipe for FOMO. Take a look in your makeup bag: You probably have most of the basics you use daily, like foundation, that concealer you swear by (
, anyone?), and mascara. Other products are less essential. Unless you’re wearing a smoky eye every day of the week, you don’t technically need a third eye-shadow palette. (And if you are, we stand corrected.) So, to appeal to people who don’t really need anything, a limited-edition item creates a “want” instead.
Plus, an item that’s available for a certain window of time—and only to those who manage to click fast enough—carries a certain cache. Take Pat McGrath Labs, which typically debuts a product once and is gone forever. Just 1000 units of her first product, a gold pigment aptly named Gold 001, were released. It was so good that we were holding our collective breath for her second launch, Phantom 002. Her third, a highlighter called Skin Fetish 003, was gone within an hour. And by the time Emma Stone wore McGrath’s Lust 004 lip kit appeared on Saturday Night Live, it was a goner. (Unfortunately, they’re long gone yet again.) So, once MetalMorphosis 005 rolled around, people were prepared—and so was McGrath, with more inventory than she’d allotted for with her previous four drops: A week after the initial launch, the glitter-pigment kits were back on the shelves. But the moral of the story: Buy this now or fork over $200 for a factory-sealed version on eBay.
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It’s that one-time-only deal that holds gravitas with the beauty junkies—especially when there’s gorgeous packaging, new shades, or simply beautiful product involved. Megan, a publicist from Jacksonville, FL has been collecting limited-edition items since 2014. Her all-time favorite limited-edition beauty product is the Nars True Pencil Set from the brand’s Summer 2015 collection, which featured three lip pencils—one of which was a limited-edition color—housed in an artful box. “The lip pencil is my all-time favorite cosmetic, since it comes in so many different colors and finishes,” she tells Allure. It’s a genius move on the brand’s part, since combining a bestselling product with new packaging checks off both the “need” and “want” boxes.
But in certain cases, Megan won’t even wear, let alone test, her limited-edition makeup buys. “I tend not to use products that were a one-time release or if I could only get my hands on one [of the item],” says Megan. “Or I only use them on very special occasions, like New Year’s Eve or a close friend’s wedding.” Otherwise, those products are off-limits. It’s like a prize or collectible item you can show off to your friends (or your Instagram followers, or both). And it’s contagious. “Part of the reason I got into it was from reading Lisa Eldridge’s book Face Paint,” says Megan. “She shows a lot of her vintage and limited-edition collections in the book, and it made me think more about saving pieces that were truly special.”
Not everyone feels the same way (or is as hands off) as Megan is about limited-edition products—especially from the retailer’s perspective. “At Estée Lauder, [then CEO] Leonard Lauder thought discontinuing products was insulting to the customer,” Young says. “If we did a holiday collection [at ELC] with glittery colors, I still had to put them in the regular lineup for long enough to make sure I wasn’t disappointing customers.” If it wasn’t selling by June, she could then pull it off the shelves.
After all, what worse way to build brand loyalty—and keep devoted customers coming back to the counter—than to pull your newest, most buzz-worthy products off the shelves? Members of Reddit’s Makeup Rehab sub-reddit zeroed in on this in a recent thread, in which fans voiced their frustrations over the constant stream (and subsequent disappearance) of limited-edition products. If you make enough of a clamor, brands have been known to add super-popular products to their permanent lines—or at least reinstate them for a certain amount of time, as M.A.C. did with the Selena collection. Lancôme, for instance, featured an eyeshadow palette in a Fall 2014 collection that was so popular that they kept it. (It’s Olive Amour, if you’re wondering, and contains the prettiest green shadow we’ve ever seen. It also happens to be sold out on Neiman Marcus at time of publish.) And Too Faced, of course, basically broke the Internet with their Sweet Peach collection. So much so the brand issued a formal email apology, which you can read here.
But that’s far from a solution. Brands may even end up worse for the wear. “Limited-edition releases inherently limit your consumer base,” says Collins. “And limited edition-only brands also don’t offer newcomers a chance to have a good interaction with them, since, more likely than not, all of the super-fans are beating them to the punch and buying up all the product.”
Limited-edition haters, like those who feel frustrated or resentful over being left out in the cold, are still in the minority, and the popularity of anything new and novel says volumes about the lack of brand loyalty these days. Today’s buyers are much more likely to hunt down a cool palette they saw on Instagram (this one from BH Cosmetics comes to mind) than stick with a single makeup company purchase after purchase. “Having social capital is knowing and owning what’s hot before everyone else, so people are constantly looking to ensure they have the latest and greatest to cement their status to their followers,” explains Collins. “We see this at every level, from high school students to beauty bloggers.” Brands consistently selling hot-ticket products, like Pat McGrath Labs and Kylie’s Lip Kits, are few and far between, hence the extinction of brand loyalty among shoppers. But you can’t blame them—or the brands. The world is moving faster than ever—and limited-edition collections are just the latest way to keep up.
Learn some makeup tricks with one of Pat McGrath’s limited-edition glitter lip kit: