Starting a business is never easy, much less scaling a small beauty brand online, but amazon.com
makes it that much easier with its countless seller tools and large customer pool—take it from Lynsey Lim, co-founder of the Singapore natural beauty brand, Handmade Heroes
. Here, we sat down for a chat with Lynsey on how she went from starting up her own small-scale e-commerce business to selling on Amazon to Hollywood A-listers.
Whether you have a 10-step skincare routine or are one to just slap on some sunscreen before heading out, there’s no denying the fact that the beauty industry has grown steadily on a global scale in the past decade or so, and is showing no signs of stopping. Market analysis by Grand View Research has found that the global vegan cosmetics market size was valued at USD$15.17 billion in 2021, and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6.3% from 2022 to 2030. In a separate report by independent market research consultancy Mintel, it is predicted that by 2025, natural ingredients and personalization will dominate innovation in the global beauty industry, with natural ingredients set to be the fastest growing category in the industry.
In fact, the constant evolution and innovation of skincare brands and products never fail to leave us wondering, “What’s next?”
When it seems as though there’s a new “it” skincare product popping up every few months, the fact that one lip scrub from an independent Singaporean beauty brand can retain the coveted number one lip scrub title on amazon.com for years¹ asserts that this is a brand to watch.
Best known for their Cocolicious Luscious Lip Scrub (which has been used by US celebrities
), Handmade Heroes is an all-natural, cruelty-free, vegan, and Halal-certified skincare brand from Singapore, helmed by husband and wife duo, Lynsey Lim and Adi Ong. What started as a personal quest by Lynsey to create skincare products to suit her sensitive skin back in 2005 gradually grew into a small local business through word-of-mouth in 2015, and soon, into a more established brand loved by American celebrities and regular folks alike.
So how exactly did Handmade Heroes go from selling at small-scale makers’ markets in Singapore to counting Hollywood A-listers among its fans? By scaling the business on amazon.com with a solid brand building and advertising strategy. Here, we speak with Lynsey on the ins and outs of navigating Amazon Global Selling
as a small beauty brand, and what it takes to grow and sustain a business in such a short span of time.
1. Can you tell us more about the early days of Handmade Heroes, and how and why you decided to take the next step and sell on amazon.com?
I have sensitive skin, and back in the early 2000s, it was tough to find natural skincare products that wouldn’t aggravate my skin, so I started making my own at home for family and friends. At the start, our sales were a happy by-product of sharing my creations with others, but as the positive feedback and demand for my products continued to grow, I realized that I had the potential to turn my passion into a thriving business. From there, I dedicated time and effort to refining my formulas, scaling up production, and building a brand that could reach a wider audience.
Before I became an Amazon Global Seller, I was selling purely at makers' markets and local consignment stores in Singapore. Back then, I would make each and every product from scratch in my small office from Mondays to Thursdays, and sell them at these markets from Fridays to Sundays. Sometimes, when products sell out early, I would go back immediately to make some more and come back with a fresh batch the next day. It was really tiring, but fun and satisfying in its own way.
While selling at a Christmas market, I heard about amazon.com from another vendor, and how easy it is to scale a business as an Amazon Global Seller in the US
, so I decided to take the plunge and become an Amazon Global Seller in 2015, the same year that my husband Adi and I officially launched Handmade Heroes as a brand.
In the early days of the business, Lynsey would set up a booth selling Handmade Heroes' products at weekend markets around Singapore. Image courtesy of Lynsey Lim.
2. You kick-started your journey as an Amazon Global Seller by expanding to North America on amazon.com, and have since continued to explore other Amazon stores. How has becoming an Amazon Global Seller helped Handmade Heroes?
Selling our products on amazon.com
in the US has opened up many doors and opportunities for us, the biggest of which being the access to customers who are looking for niche skincare products and who are willing to support indie brands. Granted, there is a lot of competition on amazon.com, but there are also a lot of customers, and an even greater demand for products, so it was helpful that we had already found and developed our niche as an all-natural, vegan-friendly, cruelty-free, Halal-certified skincare brand.
What I appreciate about Amazon Global Selling
is that it provides a level playing field for all brands—it’s not just the big names that get visibility and exposure. Rather, it's the best quality products with good customer reviews that tend to get more attention.
In 2016, barely a year after we became an Amazon Global Seller, our signature Cocolicious Luscious Lip Scrub became one of the top 10 lip scrubs on amazon.com, and since 2019, it’s been number one². This was by far the biggest moment in running the business for me, as it proved that all of our hard work was actually paying off. In fact, what’s even crazier is that Hollywood celebrities have actually named our lip scrub as one of their favourite skincare products!
Aside from that, we hit seven-figure sales in 2020, and in 2022, our Drop Dead Gorgeous Dry Shampoo also became one of the top three dry shampoos on amazon.com.
As of May 2023, Handmade Heroes’ Cocolicious Luscious Lip Scrub holds the number one ranking in amazon.com's best-selling lip scrubs list. Screenshot courtesy of Lynsey Lim.
Beyond Singapore, we’ve grown our brand on Amazon in the US, Canada, and Mexico, and are looking expand even more globally, to the Middle East and Europe via Amazon Global Selling. Our international sales account for about 95% of our total sales, and forms a huge part of our business today.
3. What are some of the strategies you implemented that helped push Handmade Heroes’ Cocolicious Luscious Lip Scrub to the number one spot on amazon.com?
Firstly, we paid close attention to our customers' feedback and suggestions. In the summer, our lip scrub was doing really well, and getting lots of good reviews, but as the seasons changed, so did our reviews—even though the formula of our lip scrub remained consistent, we noticed that customers were leaving comments stating how the products that they received had the consistency of butter, instead of the usual soft, sandy texture. This was when we realised that the coconut oil that we used in our original formula hardens at temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius, which means that in the US winters, our lip scrubs would not work as well.
We took these comments seriously and acted on them to enhance the quality and user experience of our lip scrub by swapping coconut oil out for jojoba oil instead, and since then, we’ve been getting more and more rave reviews. As of April 2023, we have about 19,000 reviews on our Cocolicious Luscious Lip Scrub product listing, with an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. This has also contributed to our lip scrub gaining traction and new sales, because people tend to rely a lot on customer reviews when deciding on a product.
Of course, in our early days as an Amazon Global Seller, we found Amazon Vine
very helpful as our new listings were given a boost in visibility thanks to the positive reviews we received from Vine reviewers, which in turn kick-started our sales on amazon.com.
Next, we made sure to highlight the vegan-friendly, all-natural, and cruelty-free nature of our products through brand storytelling. We are strong believers in building a brand centred around transparency and authenticity, and Amazon has enabled us to showcase this through brand storytelling tools like Enhanced Brand Content
, and also by verifying our efforts at being carbon neutral via the Climate Friendly Pledge
, which provides customers with a list of socially conscious brands that they can then choose to shop from.
We’ve noticed that consumers constantly seek out products that align with their values, and our commitment to ethical and sustainable practices has resonated with many of them and helped us build a loyal customer base. We also leveraged social media to showcase our efforts in sustainability, as well as the benefits and features of our lip scrub. This helped boost our brand awareness and attract new customers.
Handmade Heroes uses Enhanced Brand Content to highlight key products and features of their brand and what they stand for on their Amazon strorefront, so that new cusotmers can get a better understanding of the brand's ethos at a glance
4. As the brand continues to grow on amazon.com, has the Handmade Heroes team also grown as well?
Yes, of course! Way back when we first started out, it was just my husband Adi and I. He would handle the business side of things, while I would handle the formulation and packaging. Now, we have a factory in Malaysia, and staff dedicated to making our products. We also have quality control staff, research and development staff, a marketing team, and a group of part-timers and freelancers.
Expanding and opening up our factory in Malaysia was actually one of the toughest parts of running the business, because it was such a huge change from our usual two-person team. We had to plan meticulously and coordinate a lot of different moving parts that comes with scaling up a business, all while ensuring the day-to-day operations of Handmade Heroes was running smoothly. Furthermore, with this new factory, we had to make sure that we were even more stringent with our quality checks and ethical standards, because there’s a lot more room for error now.
One of the ways in which we tackled this was by using Fulfillment by Amazon
, which helped reduce our manpower hours by up to 100 hours per week. This freed up time for us to focus on perfecting our production processes, as Amazon would help us pack, ship, and deliver our products, as well as handle customer service and returns in North America.
5. Based on your research, how are customers searching for skincare products these days, and how do you incorporate trending keywords into your advertising strategy?
On a macro level, our keyword strategy has been relatively consistent in that we always try to highlight how our products are vegan and all-natural, but on a micro-level, we’ve noticed that customers are becoming a lot more specific with their searches. These days, customers are a lot more educated and know exactly what they want—for instance, instead of searching for “natural skincare products”, they’d look up things like “bakuchiol serum” or “hyaluronic acid”.
This is why for product descriptions and ad targeting, we make sure to use a range of more specific keywords that include desired results (e.g. moisturizing, volumizing), pain points (e.g. dry lips), or active ingredients (e.g. bakuchiol, hyaluronic acid).
In fact, through our research, we’ve actually seen searches for “hyaluronic acid” triple since 2020, which is why we formulated and started selling our Snow Shroom Hyaluronic Acid Serum. It also happens to be my mum’s favourite!
Seller Success tip: Include relevant search terms
1. Add words your customers might use when browsing for what they want to buy
2. Focus on key features, materials, size, customer segment, and more
3. Once you start advertising, use your Sponsored Products and/or Sponsored Brands campaigns to discover new terms via the search team report
6. How about in terms of your store promotions and advertising strategy? Can you tell us more about how your Amazon advertising budget is allocated?
When we first started selling on amazon.com
, 100% of our Amazon advertising budget was channeled towards Sponsored Product ads
, because we had yet to create a brand presence on Amazon, and were not yet known by US customers.
Now that we’ve grown as a brand and are more established now, we use a mixture of 10% Sponsored Brand ads
and 90% Sponsored Product ads. The addition of Sponsored Brand ads allows more new customers to discover our brand, and for us to target competitor brands; while the Sponsored Product ads continue to drive sales conversion and create visibility for us among new customers.
Examples of Handmade Heroes’ Sponsored Product ads (L) and Sponsored Brand ads (R). Screenshots courtesy of Lynsey Lim.
We also implemented a customer-centric marketing strategy. To build brand loyalty, we enrolled our lip scrub in amazon.com's Subscribe & Save program
, which allows customers to sign up to receive regular shipments of our products without having to go through the hassle of carting out every time they run out. Additionally, to encourage more customers to sign up for this program, we offered free shipping and discounts on subsequent purchases for all of our subscribers. Since beauty products are considered consumables, subscription models like these work well to encourage repeated purchases and brand loyalty.
On top of this, we’ve also experimented with Amazon's Virtual Product Bundles
for occasions like Mother’s Day and the festive season, and we market these bundles as great, easy gifts. We group items that we feel customers would potentially purchase or use together, which makes the Handmade Heroes shopping and gifting experience even easier as customers can purchase a bundle of related items with just one click, which in turn encourages customers to purchase more products at one go.
As a rule of thumb, Amazon Global Sellers should take reference from the advertising funnel when planning a long-term strategy, and start from the bottom up.
7. Apart from that, what are some other things you’ve done to help boost your overall brand awareness and sales?
We refreshed our brand’s Amazon storefront page completely and saw a 150% increase in sales via our storefront after. Previously, our storefront consisted of a lot of static images, but now, it has GIFs that feature our products being used, our brand story, a bit about our sustainability efforts, and spotlights how we’re vegan and cruelty-free. We also incorporated images, videos, and testimonials from real customers into our storefront page, and it’s overall just a lot more vibrant and colourful now.
We’ve also done A/B testing on our product images and titles to maximise conversions, and ended up seeing a 50% increase in sales. For our product images, we tested photographs of the same product against a white background, but shot at different angles, just to see which types of images are better-received on amazon.com
Example of A/B testing conducted on product images. Screenshots courtesy of Lynsey Lim.
Example of A/B testing conducted on product titles. Screenshots courtesy of Lynsey Lim.
As for our product titles, we tested naming our products with our brand name in front (i.e. Handmade Heroes natural vegan coconut lip scrub) versus having keywords in front (i.e. natural vegan coconut lip scrub by Handmade Heroes), and found that the title with our brand name in front to be more effective because of brand recognition.
8. What are some of the goals you have for Handmade Heroes in the next few years?
All of our formulation is done in-house, so it does take some time—about one to two years—for new products to be developed, but we do have big plans to expand our range of products and create more flavour and scent variations to existing products as well. The goal, really, is to launch a full range of skincare, from head to toe. And also to get more number one bestsellers on amazon.com
Additionally, I’d also like to continue empowering women through Handmade Heroes, as the brand continues to grow. Empowering women is very important to me, and I try to do my part by giving back to the community whenever I can. One way I do this is by returning to my alma mater to speak and share my experiences with young women, to give them a glimpse of what it's like to start a business and provide guidance where I can. I’ve also been invited to speak at various events to share my story, and I always try to highlight the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
In terms of our team composition, I’m happy to share that 70% of our team is female. We believe in creating a supportive and inclusive work environment, and we provide various opportunities for our team members to develop new skills and gain qualifications. For example, we offer overseas learning opportunities and encourage our team members to take part in training and development programs. We believe that investing in our team members is key to our success as a company, and I hope to continue on this path and have even more women join our team along the way.
9. What is it that keeps you motivated in your entrepreneurship journey despite all of the challenges that you’ve faced running a global business?
One of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur is that while it still entails long working hours, I have the flexibility of switching my schedule around if the need arises. I also have the pleasure of spending lots of quality time with my daughter as she grows up, which is something that I will always be grateful for and never take for granted.
¹ Based on amazon.com's Best Sellers Ranking as of May 2023.
² Based on amazon.com's Best Sellers Ranking as of May 2023.
Note: The content in this article is provided for your information only and must not be construed as a guarantee of future results or legal, tax, or financial advice. Many factors influence the demand for your products, including price fluctuations and consumer demand shifts. Sellers remain responsible for determining the products they sell, their selling prices, and inventory levels. If you are in doubt as to the action you should take, please consult your legal, financial, tax, or other professional adviser.