NEW YORK -- Alpha-hydroxy acid-based skin care is no fad, according to department store retailers here.The merchants noted that last year's bevy of AHA launches continues to post strong sales, while customers are showing no signs of losing interest in the technology. In a sign that the acid-based products are proving to be actually efficacious, customers are coming back to counters for return sales.Because of the unabating interest in the category, the treatment business has been showing growth in the high-single to low double-digit percentage range, the retailers said."Alpha-hydroxy acids are still driving the business," said Jane Scott, vice president of cosmetics and fragrance at Bloomingdale's. "Some items are doing double-digit percentages of a brand's total sales."There's a great acceptance level with consumers," she continued. "They're responding very well to the claims made by companies, and they're returning for more purchases."Scott said skin care had shown "high-single-digit gains" at Bloomingdale's through last year."This January was tough, with all the bad weather," she said. "But sales are starting to climb back up.""The whole group of alpha-hydroxy products continues to drive customers to the counter," said Rita Burke, senior vice president for cosmetics and fragrance at Macy's East.She noted that the treatment business was ahead in the "teens.""From what we can see and from my own use -- I'm a firm believer -- the technological advances are working, and we're seeing repeat sales," she said. "All the hype, the claims companies are making and all the press these products are getting are bringing people in. This is not a fad -- it's here to stay. Just about every alpha-hydroxy launch from last year continues to be very strong.""AHA's are still doing well," said Ed Burstell, cosmetics and fragrance buyer at Henri Bendel. "The interest is definitely still there."Burstell noted that treatment is showing "double-digit" increases, driven by recent standout introductions.He cited Shiseido's new Bio-Performance, which contains antioxidants, as a strong performer, as well as the company's Body Contouring Gel and Body Exfoliator.Among the AHA products, Burstell said Prescriptives' new All You Need dry skin formula, an acid-based moisturizer in cream form, had been selling well.He added that Trish McEvoy's Protective Shield SPF oil-free moisturizer was another fast mover."We're maintaining a two-part strategy with our skin care business," he said, noting that Chanel and Shiseido are the best-selling lines at Bendel's."First is constant education through in-store workshops and clinics. We're also always looking for natural-based alternatives. Our customers are still looking for these," Burstell said, citing the HerbÄ brand as an innovative natural line.At Macy's, Burke said the group of recent treatment introductions have been strong catalysts for the business, especially Clinique's Turnaround Cream and EstÄe Lauder's Resilience and Fruition."Consistent advertising for these products is bringing in new customers," she said. Burke listed Lancome's Renergie and Renergie Yeux, La Prairie's Age Management Series and Prescriptives' All You Need as other fast-moving items."The new kid on the block is Arden," Burke added, noting that Alpha-Ceramide had just hit the stores. "Early sales have been way beyond our expectations. As new AHA products come along, we keep being happy with the results."They have an incredible sampling campaign," she said, speaking of Arden's "sampler kit" of the first three steps of the four-item regime. The kit is being given away for free with a purchase of the fourth step for $55."That product is going to be a big winner," she noted. "Consumers are already very intrigued by it."Even the men's category is getting a boost [from AHA's]," Burke continued, noting strong sales of Lift Off by Aramis and the impending launch of Clinique's Turnaround Lotion for Men. "It will be interesting to see if there's a long-term effect on that end of the business."Burke agreed with Scott of Bloomingdale's in saying that single items were taking up an inordinate amount of many entire brands' sales."Newness always brings people in, but it's unusual what a lot of these recent launches are doing," Burke said. "Single products are accounting for up to 10 percent of sales. These products are the core of the business and they have new people coming in and then coming back for more."Scott said Bloomingdale's was taking advantage of the strong single-product business by emphasizing the best-selling items more."We pick out key items and make sure they're well identified," she said. "We place them prominently by the register and make sure consumers know they're there. It's also crucial to keep them in stock."We have to be focused on the areas that give us growth," she added. "Right now the acid category is it."Scott said Lauder, Clinique and Lancome are still the top brands at Bloomingdale's, with Lancome's Nutriforce and Lauder's Resilience standing out among recent introductions."The big three are still tops," she said. "All have been having nice increases. Clinique had the biggest last year; it led the pack."Scott said Lancome was also on a roll of strong introductions."Bienfait Total will be an exciting launch," she said. "It's an appropriate edition of an AHA product for them."Scott said that although Christian Dior does not have an alpha-hydroxy entry, the company was doing well with its new treatment products."You also have to remember Dior Svelte," she said of the anti-cellulite cream launched this year. "It's a category buster -- there's nothing like it."Lift Off is another unusual one that should be noted is doing extremely well," she added. "This product has been surprisingly strong."As for the future, Scott said there has been "some talk of antioxidants as a possible next phase. But right now, we're seeing continuing opportunities with the AHA's."To maintain the momentum of the treatment business, Burke noted, "companies can maintain consistent advertising, to keep it right in front of the consumer's eyes. Sampling where applicable is also essential. It strengthens credibility."Burke also stressed that knowledgeable beauty advisers are crucial to the increasingly high tech skin care category."They have to be comfortable in talking about ingredients, benefits and results," she said. "You can't train somebody enough. And the more informed and comfortable the customer is, the better."That's the edge that department stores have now -- service and education," Burke added. "We have to make sure we have that edge in the future."According to Scott, it is most important to have "knowledgeable beauty advisers who know the marketplace. We're dealing with educated consumers, and with them you have to sell performance. Strong training and a real grasp of product information are key."
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