Mass Retailers Planning Early Prep for Holiday

Retail strategy includes early Christmas displays, exclusive merchandise, lowered prices and a spotlight on the convenience of one-stop shopping.

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NEW YORK — Mass market retailers are ready for a battle.

This story first appeared in the October 26, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

They are determined to steal beauty sales from prestige outlets — and the Internet — during the upcoming holiday shopping season with a strategy that includes early Christmas displays, exclusive merchandise, lowered prices and a spotlight on the convenience of one-stop shopping. By creating in-store excitement and offering sharply competitive prices, retailers hope to avert the showroom trend, where consumers come to stores to see the merchandise but buy online.

Their efforts may help boost the final holiday shopping sales tally. The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday sales will gain 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year. Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and chief executive officer, said that promotional activity will kick off well before the official start of the holiday shopping season, which now includes both Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

This so-called Christmas creep — where products are presented even before Halloween — can already be seen in many chains, which are setting up trim-a-tree displays.

Joey Shamah, the founder of E.l.f. Cosmetics (Eyes. Lips. Face.), said robust Halloween sales are building momentum for holiday. “We are just going wild with our Halloween [beauty] merchandise,” he said. E.l.f. has substantially ramped up its holiday merchandise this year. Target will be the exclusive merchant for its new 144-piece eye shadow palette price at $15, as well as a 15-piece nail polish collection also priced at what some said is a magic price point of $15.

A survey of retailers across discount, specialty, drugstore and food chains indicates that beauty sales may gain 6 percent over last year. Retailers polled feel consumers are tiring of myriad gadgets that dominated the past five holiday seasons and are looking for pampering beauty items.

The bulk of the sales are expected to come from gifts and self purchases. Buyers said nail care caters to both trends and will be the go-to category for holiday.

“My friends are all posting what they do with their nails on Instagram,” said Cassidy Gray, a college student at Syracuse University, who sported four finger nails in orange and one in blue, her college’s colors.

Buyers are bullish on the high-margin gel nail kits on the market. A source at a major beauty retailer said nail gels kits are only “just catching” on, suggesting there’s huge potential. Consumers will have a variety of kits to choose from, including Red Carpet Manicure, Kiss’ Everlasting, SensatioNail and the two new options from nail-care market leader Sally Hansen.

The new at-home nail gels are jockeying for marketing angles separating them from the competition. SensatioNail just shipped a Magnetic Gel Polish, bringing the magnetic design feature to gel nails for the first time, according to SensatioNail’s parent Nailene. SensatioNail Magnetic Gel Polishes are formulated with magnetic particles that gravitate toward a magnet, that is included, when it is held above wet polish, revealing a unique pattern every time. SensatioNail Magnetic Gel Polishes will retail for $11.99 each.

Retailers also are determined to offer shoppers exclusive merchandise that can’t be found at their competitors. There’s tremendous buzz around the Neiman Marcus and Target partnership. Beauty isn’t a component of that union, but the increased customer traffic it will bring is expected to have a halo impact on the category. One former Target Corp. executive expects this to be the biggest campaign ever at Target.

Target also said it will allow in-store shoppers to get the lower prices offered by some online rivals on the same merchandise between Nov. 1 and Dec. 16 — a strategy to avert showcasing.

One category where showcasing is difficult is fragrances — always a mass market mainstay. Chains are ramping up value-priced selections from companies like InStyle Fragrances.

Coty remains the bread and butter of the fragrance department, however, and buyers are pleased with the gift sets presented this year, saying they offer great value. Among those singled out were Playboy VIP for Her, Nautica Aqua Rush, Soul2Soul Tim McGraw and Closer by Halle Berry.

The Bath and body category is a big driver of giftable items, especially those with natural positioning such as J.R. Watkins, which is expanding its lavender personal care with a Lavender Body Oil Mist and a Lavender Sugar & Shea Scrub. Bodycology will also be looking to boost sales from a category the company calls “after bath.”

Walgreens is training its 26,000 beauty advisers to sell more high-end skin care and fragrances over the holiday season, according to Joe Magnacca, president of daily living products and solutions. Walgreens also just launched its loyalty reward program called Balance Rewards.

While chains hope to reduce the number of promotional sales and discounts to make the season more profitable, they admitted they’ll have to stick with buy-one-get-one-free offers and fragrance discounts to keep shoppers coming to stores. Value will be a key driver. Shamah said, “But with the good values offered, the hope is consumers will buy more items.”

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