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Leveraging service to enhance shopping experience


Frustrated watching specialty stores, online merchants and department stores siphon off a market they once controlled more than 50% of, mass marketers are firing back.

(To view the full Category Review, click here.)

To regain their dominance of the $16 billion U.S. beauty market, chains such as Walgreens, Target, CVS and Walmart are burnishing their images. Among the moves they are taking are:

  • Adding service back into the equation;

  • Transforming shopping from a chore to an experience;

  • Catering to the changing demographics of American shoppers;

  • Compressing the rate at which innovation is unfurled in mass to be on par with prestige;

  • Stocking exclusive or first-to- market products; and

  • Beefing up categories, such as devices that competitors don’t always stock.

Mass is making strides

But what is important to note is that even though drug and discount store merchants said they feel the pressure, the beauty business is pulling its fair share at the front end.

For the 52-week period ended Oct. 2 and tracked by IRI in multiunit doors, five out of six of the major cosmetics categories reported exhibited sales gains. Only nail was down, and a few brands, such as Sally Hansen and Sinful, have solutions in the pipeline they hold will cure that downward trend.

A few eye-opening numbers include the 20% jump in cosmetics accessories that encompasses items like lash adhesives, lash curlers and makeup applicators; the 13% jump in eye-product volume and the 9%-plus plump in lip products.

Some of these gains could be tied to more in-store sampling, demonstrations and makeovers.

Enhancing the experience with service

The return to service is evident at almost every major mass store. “The trend is to put beauty experts back in the store,” said Joann Marks, founder and CEO of Cosmetic Promotion. She explained that service makes shopping an experience, an important distinguishing factor in a world where beauty can be acquired at the click of a mouse. “Millennials are used to having everything immediately with Amazon and other options. And prices are about the same no matter where. So you have to make the experience what brings them into the store.”

Walgreens never veered from a service model, but the chain is ramping it up further under its Beauty Differentiation effort. Plans to upgrade 1,800 stores by the end of 2016 are in place. A new role called Beauty Consultant is being implemented with high-intensity training designed to replicate a department or specialty-store experience, according to Lauren Brindley, group VP and general manager for beauty and personal care at Walgreens.

CVS also is brushing up on trained in-store experts. Taking a deep dive into the function of beauty advisers, the chain realized that time was being spent on important tasks, such as shelf housekeeping. That took away from time that could be spent with shoppers. As part of its amplified Beauty Service program that’s in action in about 900 stores, the chain revamped the role from beauty advisers to beauty consultants. They are free to spend more time with customers, sharing their passion for cosmetics, according to Alex Perez-Tenessa, CVS Health’s VP/merchandise manager for beauty and personal care. The consultants undergo extensive training.

Target also is sticking with its service approach through Beauty Concierges. Launched three years ago, the program continues to provide Target with ammunition against competitors. A recent visit to a New Jersey Target found the concierge offering just the right mixture of advice, while also leaving the shopper to self-exploration. The concierges roam the department, but stay close to No7, a line that sometimes benefits from extra consultation.

Marks of Cosmetic Promotion explained that it is worth it for retailers and suppliers to invest in offering support in stores. In-store demonstrations can make a big impact on sales since 70% of purchases are unplanned, Marks said.

Her services are especially helpful as chains add more intricate products, such as masks. “We just did training for H-E-B for a sheet mask from Korea,” Marks said. Other beauty techniques that benefit from in-store demonstrations are contouring, highlighting and strobing,” she added. “People can watch YouTube all they want, but it is still challenging and people are confused. There’s nothing like really learning.”

Next up will be a big event with a major chain to help educate consumers on the skin care benefits of derm lines Vichy and La Roche-Posay. Meanwhile, regional supermarket powerhouse Wegmans is piloting full-service beauty bars in a handful of stores. The Wegmans Beauty Bars feature full-time cosmetologists and full-time estheticians.

Another category that booms after in-store experiences is artificial nails. Marks has worked with Kiss Products’ imPRESS nails.

And all agreed that the addition of brow products and brow demonstrations helped put mass market stores on the map in the category. According to IRI, eyebrow makeup sales soared almost 35% for the 52-week period ended Oct. 2. Before there were products for mass, brands such as Anastasia sold in premium locales, including Macy’s, and were the mainstay of the category.

Chains added that they hope to tap more in-store technology in the future to assist beauty experts, such as augmented reality, iPads, in-store video tutorials and even virtual reality assistants.

Marketing to what today’s consumer wants

Experts in stores also help chains build sales of another element they are revving up — sales to multicultural shoppers. To that end, suppliers also are doing more to make lines fit America’s new complexion. Sally Hansen’s new nail collection, called Color Therapy, for example, has shades for all skin tones, according to Jeremy Lowenstein, VP of global marketing for Sally Hansen. “We are in a multiethnic world,” said Lowenstein. To help navigate the right shade selection for skin tone, he singled out Coty’s mobile app, ManiMatch. “All Color Therapy shades will be included in the app in November,” he added, noting that will be something that will augment service in stores.

Whether it is adding lines that appeal to all women of color or revamping merchandising of hair and skin care to be more inclusive, chains are scurrying to figure out how to best serve a changing shopper base. By doing so, they feel they can get a leg up on specialty store competitors.

For many merchants, the tastes of America change so quickly that they rely on outside experts. “The most important element to compete with such specialty stores is to stay on top of the beauty trend items, and develop a new logistic system with a vendor that has this information,” suggested Eddie Jhin, president of Jinny Beauty Supply. He also advised shipping using a direct-to-store concept on these trendy beauty items from time to time duringthe year.” Whether it is trends among multicultural consumers or the g

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