By  on October 23, 2009

NEW YORK — Wendy Nolte has always squeezed into Lilly Pulitzer children’s clothing to save a few bucks and still look fashionable.

Nolte’s trick of popping into the children’s department is now being adapted in other categories, including beauty, where consumers are trying to do more with less. Research from a Harris Poll conducted by Johnson’s, a division of consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson, reveals more and more consumers are hitting the baby aisle for their needs.

The recently released survey shows 40 percent of adults — both men and women — regularly used baby products on themselves. Also 80 percent said they would feel comfortable using baby products for purposes other than for a baby. “And more than a third of the consumers using these products don’t even have kids at home,” said Heather Cabot, consumer trends expert and founder of The Well Mom Inc. Cabot, a former newscaster, created The Well Mom as a Web site for mothers to get advice on not only raising families, but taking care of themselves.

At the heart of sneaking into the children’s aisle for multiuse items is the economy, said Cabot. “Given the economic downturn over the last two years, consumers continued to hunt for new ways to stretch their budgets and get more bang for their buck. They are looking for more creative ways to use things they already have in the house,” she said. Examples include baby shampoo for washing delicates or removing makeup with baby oil. The Harris Poll found that 37 percent of respondents use baby powder in shoes and 23 percent use baby powder instead of deodorant.

Retailers have noticed the trend. A new Duane Reade opening on Broadway today has an enlarged baby selection. “We try to merchandise the way consumers shop and not just by what has been done in the business,” said Joe Magnacca, chief merchandising officer for Duane Reade, which is recreating its beauty image. ShopRite supermarkets were recently remerchandised to merge baby within traditional beauty.The new adjacencies favor cross shopping with adult health and beauty and baby.

As the economy improves, many wonder if shoppers will return to old shopping ways. Cabot doesn’t think more money in pockets will translate into greater spending on some beauty staples. “I think consumers continue to be careful with their spending. The Johnson’s/Harris Poll showed that 71 percent of adults indicated they would be more likely to use baby products if they were less expensive than the adult equivalent,” she said.

There’s even room for the trend to expand, retailers and experts said. “The poll results revealed 73 percent of U.S. men and women would be more likely to use products found in the baby aisles if they knew more uses for them,” said Cabot. She offers up many, including baby oil to remove a tight ring to baby powder to maintain a blow out. “Baby oil even works well for things around the house like fixing a squeaky hinge,” she said.

Beyond the economy, Cabot said adults also like baby beauty items because they are “just plain nostalgic.” Many consumers associated the scents of baby products and iconic bottles to their childhoods. “That in itself is a reason some people prefer to use these products as part of their regular self-care routines,” she said.

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