By  on August 31, 2012

NEW YORK — School bells are ringing and so are mass merchants’ cash registers.

A spate of hot beauty items across the nail polish, mascara and skin-care categories promise to boost back-to-school beauty sales by an estimated 8 to 10 percent, according to a survey of drugstore buyers and mass beauty brands.

This year’s forecast increase follows a disappointing b-t-s season in 2011, when consumers along the East Coast flocked to stores for batteries, water and flashlights in advance of Hurricane Irene, leaving beauty shelves untouched, said mass merchants.

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This year, the average person with children in kindergarten through 12th grade will spend $688.62 on b-t-s purchases, up from $603.63 last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Back-to-School and College Surveys, conducted by BigInsight. Overall, school and college shoppers this year are expected to spend a total of $83.8 billion, making b-t-s the second-largest selling season following the December holidays.

The nail-care category is expected to be particularly robust this season. “All of my nail brands, except one, are up double digits,” said one drugstore beauty buyer, who asked not to be named.

“Nail is incredible — from sales of nail colors in stores to appointments in our stores with salons, especially [in] Puerto Rico,” said Joe Magnacca, president of daily living products and solutions for Walgreens. Women, he added, are making nails a fashion statement, and some are even painting each nail a different color, which is fueling sales of multiple colors.

Stephanie Harris, a freshman at Syracuse University, said, “I might wait to see what backpack people have, but I bought six new nail colors because that’s easy to change and less expensive if I don’t pick what’s in style.”

The fastest-growing segment within nail is at-home nail gels, a market estimated to total $2.6 billion across salons and retail. At retail, the kits include Red Carpet Manicure, Pacific World’s SensatioNail and two offerings from Sally Hansen, Salon InstaGel Strips and Salon GelPolish. Kiss Products will soon introduce an at-home gel polish called Everlasting Gel Polish. In general, the starter kits can retail for as much as $80.

Beyond gel manicures, buyers said shoppers can’t get enough of nail art and fresh polish colors. Jesse Lawrence, president of CRL Marketing, which recently introduced the JulieG line at Rite Aid, said that brand’s sales are up 18 percent as girls discover the on-trend colors created by video blogger Julie Gutierrez.

Retailers also singled out mascaras and skin care as strong categories this season.

The fastest movers in mascara, said retailers, are Maybelline’s Great Lash and Mega Plush, Rimmel’s Scandaleyes and Cover Girl’s Lashblast. In the skin-care category, the strongest performers include Olay, Jergens Natural Glow, Roc and L’Oréal Youth Code.

Retail chains that court young consumers are also seeing volume gains. At Ulta, a new line called Cheer Chics is catching on with young shoppers due in part to clever names, such as Cheers 2 U Shampoo and Bring It On Body Lotion.

Despite the rosy outlook, retailers expressed concern that rampant promotions — ranging from buy one, get one at 50 percent off to free gas — could put a crimp in profits. Most retailers have tried to wean shoppers off such promotions, but the b-t-s season is rife with them. CVS Pharmacy offered free gas with the purchase of $30 or more on specific items. Target gave away $5 gift cards with the purchase of three Pantene hair-care items. Walgreens made use of its SaturDate with Beauty specials to promote the new Essie Metallics nail polish. Walgreens is also offering $8 and $10 off select fragrances.

“The goal is to get shoppers in so they buy more of their needs at your store, since wholesale clubs like BJ’s are attracting more back-to-school sales by offering more apparel and supplies,” said Allan Mottus, industry consultant.

The season is still young, and last-minute shoppers could push sales gains even higher once September sales are tallied. “These next two weeks are of utmost importance when it comes to attracting families who still have apparel, electronics and school supplies to stock up on,” said NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay. “Given how much of an impact the economy is having on consumers’ buying decisions, retailers will remain competitive up through the final sale after Labor Day, rolling out Web, in-store and even mobile promotions to entice children and their parents.”

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