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Beauty Report: E-tailers Offer Ray of Hope

Credit-crunch-induced guilt has curbed beauty shoppers' visits to stores this holiday, but the glow of their computers might prove too enticing to ignore.

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Credit-crunch-induced guilt has curbed beauty shoppers’ visits to stores this holiday, but the glow of their computers and TV screens might prove too enticing to ignore.

This story first appeared in the December 5, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Online beauty retailers and TV shopping networks are courting shoppers with a steady spate of promotions where they are spending a lot more time these days: their homes. So far this season, the effort seems to have succeeded. Digital tracking firm comScore reported that shoppers spent $846 million online on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, up 15 percent from $733 million the prior-year period. The rate of growth, however, marked a slowdown from 2007’s increase of 21 percent.

More than simply repeat last year’s promotions, many electronic retailers, from Beauty.com to HSN, are upping the promotional ante with a host of new tactics.

For instance, the online arm of Bluemercury saw sales surge 80 percent on Cyber Monday. An e-mail to shoppers listing the top 40 gifts under $40 — a new strategy for the beauty apothecary — powered the sales gain, said Bluemercury founder Marla Malcolm Beck. She added that whimsical color cosmetics, including Bobbi Brown’s shimmer lip glosses and Laura Mercier Lip Velvet, are proving to be brisk sellers.

“Brands that innovated are up 20 percent; brands that didn’t are down 20 percent from cannibalization,” said Beck.

On its site, the Estée Lauder brand offered a $25 online reward on orders of more than $100 placed between Nov. 26 and Tuesday. To encourage sales now and post-holiday, the $25 reward is to be used in the month of January.

For its part, online retailer Beauty.com partnered with beauty brands to offer more compelling gift sets, and is tossing in added incentives such as gift-with-purchase and free shipping, said Kathleen McNeil, vice president of beauty for Drugstore.com/Beauty.com.

Referring to Beauty.com’s brand partnerships for value-laden gift sets, McNeil said: “We’ve been more aggressive this year.” Beauty.com’s exclusive gift sets include the five-piece Lorac Cocktail Affair Collection for $48.50, billed at a $120 value, complete with a mini makeup bag, and the $85 Kooba Beauty Bag (a $200 value). The lilac-colored Kooba wristlet is stocked with full-size products from Stila, Cargo, Boscia, Butter London and Sue Devitt, and samples from Blinc, Lorac, Tarte and Oscar Blandi.

To remove the most common barrier to online shopping, Beauty.com and its partner site, Drugstore.com, are offering free standard shipping with any purchase. Purchases of $100 or more come with a free beauty-product-filled gift box from designer Rachel Roy, while supplies last. In general, “gift-with-purchase is stronger than it has ever been,” said McNeil.

For the official holiday shopping kickoff, sephora.com offered free shipping on all orders of $25 or more from last Sunday to Thursday. This weekend, it plans to offer free shipping on all orders from today to Monday, and throughout the holiday, the e-tailer is including three free samples with every order. Its Holiday Promotions tab organizes deals by Limited Edition, Everyday Freebies and Special Value Sets. Visitors to sephora.com who send a holiday e-greeting, featuring their mug, receive free fake lashes or a mini lipstick.

Amazon.com — which offers more than 1,100 prestige brands and merchandise from a bevy of retailers including Bluemercury, Beauty.com, Sephora and Macy’s — greeted visitors to its beauty page with “It’s bonus time, save up to 30 percent” during the Thanksgiving weekend. To entice shoppers to stock up online, Amazon’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday beauty deals included 20 to 40 percent off selected Philosophy holiday products and free shipping on all orders, and up to 30 percent off L’Occitane holiday gifts.

Its beauty page’s bestsellers list was split between gift ideas and holiday makeup suggestions, such as smoky eye shadow kits and sparkling lip glosses, said an Amazon spokeswoman. Top-selling brands included Philosophy and Bare Escentuals.

Ample beauty promotions are streaming into homes over TV airwaves, too. HSN is wooing new customers by giving them a 15 percent discount off their first single-item purchase on its online site, hsn.com. As for its TV programming, Michael Henry, HSN’s senior vice president of merchandising for beauty, said: “Makeup and color [cosmetics] continues to be the strongest segment, led by holiday gift collections and innovative product introductions. For example, just [Wednesday] we sold out of 5,000 of the new Givenchy mascara in under 20 minutes. Our customer is still looking for what’s hot and what’s new. Along those lines in the fragrance arena, we had great success with the uniqueness of the Harajuku Lovers, which sold out in one day.”

This holiday, it seems browsing has been replaced by laser-focused shopping. At QVC, Allen Burke, director of beauty and cosmetics, said, “We’re seeing a shopper today who is a lot more thoughtful about the purchases she’s making.…She was in the driver’s seat before, and she’s even more in the driver’s seat now.”

Burke acknowledged that the customer is bombarded with a barrage of competitive messages, but said rather than steep discounts, QVC is relying on innovative beauty items. “Ultimately, it comes down to great product,” he said.

He reported that QVC is having success with beauty devices from Clarisonic facial cleanser and T3 heat styling tools — a new business for the TV retailer. “Even though they sell at a much higher price point, [customers] are willing to pay for them. They will spend money on something great.”

Asked if QVC is focusing on a specific price point this holiday, Burke said: “We’re just not believers that customers buy beauty from us at a specific price point. We’re working the prestige end of the business.”