By  on November 30, 2012

Mass Market Retailers Report on Holiday Sales

It is hard to get a crystal-clear view of how the opening days of the holiday shopping season fared at mass-market doors. Some headlines screamed it broke records while others proclaimed it weaker than expected.

Interviews with several executives from the leading drugstores and discount stores reveal it was both. Early efforts to get customers in the doors worked, but sapped traditional Friday sales. All agrees there will be a new complexion of holiday sales in 2013.

“We now have to really figure out what shoppers want,” said Mark Griffin, president and chief executive officer of Lewis Drugs in Sioux Falls, S.D. “They appear to want to shop on Thursday, but we have to review the situation and how to handle this whole new phenomenon for next year. It is like a sporting event.” Lewis added that although there was activity, warmer than usual temperatures in his market didn’t put shoppers into full holiday mode.

Joe Magnacca, president of daily living products and solutions for Walgreens, said the early results were promising, but that as usual, drugstore efforts kick in a little later than discount and department stores. He did single out health and beauty aids as one of the best areas during the opening days of the holiday season. Walgreens waits until December to reposition its holiday fragrance and beauty gift sets on end caps at the front of the beauty department. This year it has a new promotion called the 12 Days of Christmas focused on the final push. Each day there will be a special beauty offer. Walgreens also has its Saturday promotions in beauty called SaturDate, which, Magnacca feels, will have a big impact on beauty volume. He also said the dynamics of Black Friday changed this year and will rewrite holiday shopping rules for the future.

Gift sets — fragrance, cosmetics and even toiletries, are getting early approval from shoppers. Many appear to be out of items that had been used up over the last two years and were ready to be replenished. The NPD Group chronicled this trend in prestige and retailers confirm it is occurring in mass, too. “Gift sets have often provided a somewhat stress-free purchase for the shopper to get in and out of the madness that surrounds shopping during the holiday season,” said Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst, NPD. “And it’s not just fragrance anymore, sets are now among the hottest areas in makeup and skin care, too,” added Grant.

On the East Coast, strong Black Friday sales didn’t offset the bite Hurricane Sandy took out of volume in the beginning of the month. MasterCard Advisors’ Spending Pulse estimates Sandy reduced retail sales in the first week of November for the hard-hit mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, to the tune of $4 billion. Still, a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over the four-day weekend that kicked off on Thanksgiving, up 9.2 percent over last year, according to a survey conducted by BIGinsight for The National Retail Federation Group.  The number who shopped on Thanksgiving rose 23.1 percent, while tallies on Black Friday increased 3.1 percent.

Mass merchants will be the first to say sales come last-minute to their channel. But in the meantime, they are hauling out all the lures they can from gift sets to buy-one, get-one-free sales. 

People, Places and Things

A few words with Joe Magnacca, Walgreens president of daily living products and solutions as he prepares for a celebrity-filled party attended by the likes of Fergie and Mark Wahlberg to celebrate Walgreens 8,000 store.  Located in the former famous Schwab’s Pharmacy, the store is the first Walgreens to stock Boots No7.

WWDBeautyNews: How many Look Boutiques are open now?
Joe Magnacca:
We are at just about 40 with two more to open this year. This store is special because it is the first with Boots No7 and we thought it was a good location to show the new fixturing and totally new packaging that has been developed. We will be working in other Boots products next year [the availability follows the strategic partnership between Walgreens and Alliance Boots inked last June].

WWDBeauty News: What’s special about the fixturing and display?
We have put No7 at our welcome desk, right when you walk into the store. This is the checkout and we’ve trained Beauty Advisors to educate consumers about the brand as they check out. From this, we’ll pause and measure the success and decide where and how we will roll out No7.

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