Offering bulk in-store beauty refills has been a longtime practice of niche zero-waste refill stores. Now, the practice is catching on among major international brands.

On April 7, The Body Shop marked Earth Month by announcing the expansion of its bulk refill program to approximately 900 stores worldwide by the end of 2022. Other major brands, including L’Occitane and Diptyque, have also experimented with bulk refills in-store. Major brands are following in the footsteps of small, independent refill boutiques that have sprung up across the U.S. in recent years. 

“We feel positive about what we’re seeing with [in-store refill] adoption rates overall. We’re continuing to look at refill penetration as a percentage of overall sales compared to the standard [packaging], and we hope we’ll continue to see penetration develop as the understanding of the program and its availability grows,” said Hilary Lloyd, vp of marketing and corporate responsibility for North America at The Body Shop. 

Refill boutiques such as Refillery, Common Good, Sustain LA and The Well Refill have been the earliest adopters of the in-store refill model, offering bulk containers of everything from soap to shampoo to skin-care products that customers can fill with the respective company’s jars. Indie brands such as Bathing Culture, Dr. Bronner’s and Meow Meow Tweet have been among those making products available in bulk to refill shops. 

Major international brands have also begun testing out the practice within the past four years. The Body Shop began testing its first refill station in its Bond Street store in London in September 2019, inspired by a refill model set up by its founder in the ’70s in its early stores. 

Lloyd said the brand has seen “overwhelmingly positive” results since introducing refills to stores. “In some store locations, 50% of our customers are choosing refill over the standard pack,” she said.

Diptyque began testing a refill station for its fragrances in its Prince Street boutique in New York City last year, while L’Occitane began experimenting with refill stations for its shower gels in 2019 in Provence, Germany and Spain.

For brands, the biggest logistical challenges to the expansion of refilling are space restrictions and regulatory requirements. At its smaller stores, the Body Shop created a wheeled cart for its refills and is working with each country’s regulations to roll it out globally. 

“We are hoping to continue overcoming some of these challenges as we progress with our ambitious refill rollout over the next five years,” said Lloyd. Currently, the brand has refill stations in 499 stores across 51 countries, with plans to implement refill stations in another 400 stores by the end of 2022.

Diptyque will be rolling out refills to more locations in the second half of the year. L’Occitane, meanwhile, expanded refill bars to select locations across the U.S., Canada and Asia in 2021.

According to Lloyd, convenience is the biggest barrier to widespread consumer adoption, but younger shoppers have been boosting adoption rates. The refill model is especially popular among environmentally-conscious Gen-Z and young millennial consumers. The Body Shop found that the system was most widely used by the 20-29 age demographic. 

The brand is also “currently exploring introducing refillable options on our website,” with a “hope to launch in 2023,” said Lloyd. The closed-loop online refill model has been a digital alternative to in-store thanks to conglomerate-sponsored initiatives like Loop as well as indie startups like Uni. Through these sites, users send back metal bottles to the brand for refills rather than throwing away single-use plastic.

“With climate change being the greatest risk facing the future of our planet, we envision customers continuing to shift their purchasing power in support of businesses like [ours]. The Body Shop embraces a circular model and regenerative energy practices and ensures zero waste in packaging to accelerate action toward a net-zero, nature-positive world,” said Lloyd.

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