Cos Bar is part of The Shops at Target.

The last thing Target wants to be seen as is another big box, and it’s using beauty to telegraph that message loud and clear.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Target’s efforts to transform its approach to beauty got under way in earnest in 1999, when the retailer linked arms with makeup artist Sonia Kashuk to create an exclusive, premium cosmetics range for its stores. The collection has since grown into a full-scale beauty brand — complete with makeup brushes and cosmetics bags — that occupies a prominent position in the beauty department. It also signaled Target’s commitment to doing things a little bit differently than its mass-market competitors.

RELATED STORY: Target Advertising: Expecting the Unexpected >>


“Target and Sonia shared a visionary idea to continuously deliver the most innovative, affordable beauty products to a wider audience without compromising professional quality,” said José Barra, senior vice president of health care and beauty at Target. “Sonia’s brand remains a cornerstone of our beauty strategy.”

He noted that Target’s partnerships have since expanded to include its exclusive Umberto Beverly Hills hair care collection and three prestige makeup collections, namely JK Jemma Kidd, NP Set and Pixi. And Target continues to build on its partnership with British retailer Boots, which has an assortment of products in all Target doors. In select units, Boots displays are manned by beauty advisers.

Beauty also plays a role in the retailer’s latest partnership initiative, Shops at Target. The first phase, which launched May 6, included a bath and body collection created with Aspen, Colo.-based beauty boutique Cos Bar.

Target also occupies the value space with its private label brand, Up & up, which spans roughly 800 products in 40 categories, including beauty and personal care.

“This brand offers guests access to quality, well-designed products at a low price as an equal alternative to the national brand,” said Barra. “On the other hand, prestige quality exclusives like Sonia Kashuk Beauty, Boots and Umberto Beverly Hills help differentiate Target’s assortment from competitors. Guests have told us they want the brands and products that are most relevant to them, which includes a combination of prestige and national brands.”

Barra said Target eschews a “one size fits all” approach, and looks for ways to customize the assortment. “We also take our segmentation efforts a step beyond common attributes to layer in ‘attitudinal’ segmentation that captures guests’ mind-sets.” For instance, Target found that its “style savvy guests” are willing to trade up and splurge on certain beauty items, he said.

Over the years, Target has shown an appetite and a nimbleness for experimentation. Despite its size, Target is constantly tinkering with the beauty assortment, clearing room for a big idea, expanding it if it works, and quickly moving on if it doesn’t. For example, several years ago Target created a set of prestige skin care brands, some with price points well over $100. The test was shelved shortly after its launch.

“Our merchant teams fine-tune our assortment to provide a wide range of product that is unique to Target. We continually focus on understanding our guests’ preferences to strike the right balance between established and emerging brands,” said Barra. “It is a very fluid and dynamic process.”

Target’s efforts to elevate the mass market beauty shopping experience have paid off. In its 2011 annual report, the company said beauty has become “one of the top growing categories.” The report stated that Household Essentials, which includes beauty, personal care, baby care, pharmacy and cleaning and paper products, accounted for 25 percent of sales in 2011.

At the WWD Beauty CEO Summit in May, Barra noted, “We just train ourselves and our teams to recognize possibilities and turn them into opportunities. We must be comfortable with a permanent state of ambiguity.”

In 2010, the retailer began rolling out a newly designed, more upscale shopping environment called Destination Beauty, complete with custom-designed fixtures, shelf lighting, splashy graphics and interactive screens. By year’s end, Target will have outfitted approximately 1,200 doors with the Destination Beauty concept — which is designed to court the cross-channel shopper.

Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail, said, “Target has felt very strongly that it needed a different kind of proposition than its traditional competition.” She credited Target for curating its offering of mass market beauty brands with more-prestige-positioned lines, such as Sonia Kashuk. “It’s the right proposition for the right audience.”