NEW YORK -- While mass market retailers and manufacturers are staffing drugstores with cosmeticians to build an aura of service, many in the prestige arena are taking the opposite approach.
For a few years, companies such as Estee Lauder, Prescriptives, Christian Dior and Elizabeth Arden have been adding self-service displays to their department store counters.
Meanwhile, retailers such as Federated, R.H. Macy & Co. and Parisian are increasing open-sell options by building self-service bath and body boutiques or freestanding cosmetics displays.
"Open sell is something that is still pretty new to us," said Rita Burke, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager of Macy's East. "Arden Spa was the first time we went into open sell, and we have been perfecting it ever since."
"Bath and body products really lend themselves to open sell," said Michelle Williams, merchandise manager of fragrance and cosmetics for Federated Merchandising. "We're finding that both the products and the self-service environment they are merchandised in seem to attract a younger consumer."
In the spring of 1992, Arden launched its Arden Spa line and became one of the first prestige manufacturers to integrate self-service with traditional department store techniques. The Spa collection is available both at the counter and in freestanding fixtures.
"We felt that the nature of the products made the Spa line conducive to self-service," said John Turcotte, vice president and general manager of the Arden Spa and Sunflowers brands. "These products don't require the same type of explanation and instruction that treatment or color do, and because of the bath specialty stores, people are used to being able to smell and touch the products."
Depending on the store, the stands are either positioned close to the Arden counter or near another high-traffic area in the store.
"Both positions have their benefits and their drawbacks," Turcotte said. "When it is near the counter, the cosmetician can more easily remerchandise it or assist consumers if they have questions. When it is in another area, it may not be fixed up as quickly, but it can draw another consumer who might not have been headed over to our counter."We have been tailoring the displays to more closely fit in with a particular store's visuals," Turcotte continued. "And we have found that it is more impactful to merchandise the products by color rather than by type. It helps consumers to better understand that there are several different flavors of each item and to understand the aromatherapy story."
Because self-service has been so successful for Arden, last summer the company started merchandising its Sunflowers fragrance in open-sell carts.
"Sunflowers was attracting a good percentage of younger customers for us, which is not our traditional strength," Turcotte noted. "Many women in their late teens and early 20s do not shop department stores on a regular basis, so they are used to self-service."
The Sunflowers cart merchandises the line's five items and is located either adjacent to the cosmetics floor or within the department.
"We are also experimenting with putting it in the juniors department in some stores and with staffing it with a cosmetician to facilitate the selling process during peak selling times," Turcotte said.
Christian Dior is using self-service to help expand its Svelte Cellulite Control Complex beyond its 600 BeautÄ color and treatment doors to include the company's 1,400 fragrance doors.
Svelte, a gel complex with plant extracts that is said to decrease the dimpled appearance of cellulite, was launched in Florida in January and will roll out nationally in April.
The company is spending $5 million to advertise the brand, which Dior believes to be the biggest investment in the anti-cellulite category to date.
"With the financial investment we are planning against this launch, we need to reach as many potential consumers as possible," said Robert Cankes, president of Christian Dior Perfumes U.S.A. "Our current beauty distribution, being more select, does not allow us to do this."
In Dior's fragrance doors, Svelte will be merchandised in a two-sided tabletop display unit that holds 48 items. The display will include detailed brochures about the product's use and benefits.
Lauder started experimenting with self-service over two years ago with a freestanding fixture where a counter usually would be.
The open-sell area housed sun items, selected treatment products and fragrances. Today the company maintains 10 to 15 of these installations. In Lauder's other doors, the company has placed a unit with three shelves on top of the counter."We found that we couldn't get the ideal real estate in all doors for a full self-service fixture," said Muriel Gonzalez, executive vice president of marketing at EstÄe Lauder USA. "Ideally, the best situations are in high traffic locations on an aisle with a wall. "Since we liked the self-service concept, we decided to tailor it to fit into our other doors," she added. "We had been looking at stores and listening to what happened when other products, such as men's ties, came out from under glass, and it seemed to be a successful concept."
The merchandise displayed in the top-of-counter unit changes regularly. The items may include the company's gift-with-purchase promotion, skin care items such as Fruition and Advanced Night Repair, sun products and fragrances with their ancillary products, along with a price list.
"Fragrance and sun don't need the amount of service or explanation that color or treatment does," Gonzalez said. "We firmly believe that products that need to be serviced should be. "We have found, however, that no matter how good a beauty adviser is, she can't necessarily go through all of a fragrance's bath items with a customer," she continued. "Customers seem to like seeing the full scope of a line themselves. We have seen an increase in bath items since we have made them more accessible to consumers."
At Prescriptives, most of the company's product range is offered in two different ways: Through a cosmetician and through what the company calls "almost self-service."
"We decided to do this in response to the two different needs that our customers seem to have," said James Bunn, vice president and general manager of Prescriptives.
A new Prescriptives counter design, introduced in three doors in November of 1992, attempts to cater to both groups. The new counters seat people along two branches and use strong lighting to illuminate the expanse.
At the head of the oblong counter formation is what the company calls a concierge, who greets customers and leads them over to a beauty adviser.
But for quicker shopping, Prescriptives products are housed in self-service kiosks at either end of one of the counters.There are now about a dozen of these types of counters in use. The company plans to add a dozen more before the end of the year, Bunn said.
So far, the news on self-service is good.
"We've had doors double their business after the counter went in," Bunn said, noting that the minimum growth has been a 35 percent sales increase.
Originally, the company's full product line was made available in four open-sell kiosks. But recently, the company cut back the number of kiosks to three and has put foundation back on the counter.
"We found that people really need advice and information on the exact shade of foundation that matches their skin," Bunn said. "So we felt that we could better use the real estate for more chairs for assisted selling."
Right now, the kiosks hold fragrance, treatment products and "play centers" for the color cosmetics, where people can test the colors. The concierge will then make up the Pick 2 Eyes and Pick 2 Face compacts for them.
Further fine-tuning is on the way, Bunn promised.
"We'd like to play up the role of the concierge so people are not at all detained at counter," he said.
Bunn also noted that the number of kiosks will go back up to four by Christmas.
"We think we can use the space efficiently by merchandising new products and Christmas gifts there," he said.
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Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
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