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Beauty at Target Aims for Sweet Spot Between Style and Essentials

Target will launch an augmented reality beauty experience called Beauty Studio for virtual try-ons.

Last year, when retail headlines were filled with doom for traditional retailing, Target made the decision to invest billions into modernizing categories the company felt set it apart from the competition. Beauty fell directly into the crosshairs. “In 2017, we began rolling out an elevated beauty experience to make our assortment easier, more fun and more inspiring to shop,” said Christina Hennington, Target’s senior vice president, merchandising, essentials, beauty and wellness. The look is highlighted with upgraded fixtures, enhanced lighting and an open shopping concept that Hennington said delivers “a specialty experience with mass reach.”

This year, Target is building on the momentum the new generation look achieved, with plans to have 400 updated stores by yearend and 1,000 within three years. “Beauty is an important part of Target’s multicategory portfolio as it sits in the sweet spot between style and essentials.”

After realizing many of its employees had passion for categories, especially beauty, where many scour social media for trends, Target initiated a shift in its hiring and training. In the past, Hennington said, employees worked in several categories with beauty just another stop in the rotation. “That’s not a winning formula in this industry. We knew that if we are going to create a truly elevated experience, we had to think differently about how to leverage our most valuable assets, our people.” Now Target’s 1,800 stores have trained beauty experts to provide advice. Plus, Target is broadening its Beauty Concierge program, first launched in 2012, to include a service counter where shoppers can get samples, ask about swatching and receive skin-care consultations.

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The assortment offered is essential in Target’s beauty department and the company has been aggressive in finding more natural and naturally positioned products at “accessible” prices. Growing demand for “better-for-you” products prompted Target’s Chemical strategy last year, designed to bring transparency to ingredient stories. There is also a wellness icon program, where beauty is among the first categories to feature the marker. “Whether it is products free of phthalates, sulfates or parabens, we want our guests to have clear information on the products they are looking for and find them quickly. Chemical transparency is something our guests care about.”

The U.S. consumer base is also becoming more multiethnic. Target already carries more than 100 brands for a diverse audience but realized it could do a better job in cosmetics. “We carry shade ranges that were offered in the industry, but we decided to go further. We took a big step ahead last month when we announced a new partnership with eight up-and-coming brands created by a diverse group of women entrepreneurs.” The lines will be featured on prime real estate on endcaps for eight months rather than the typical six to eight weeks allotted for the highly visible displays.

Target has built speed into its operating model. The new eight brands, for example, were brought to launch just six months after the initial meeting with the founders. And Target is launching new items on target.com monthly rather than waiting for three- to six-month resets.

The retailer is also on the hunt for more men. “We all know men’s grooming is a huge, booming business and we expect it to double between 2016 and 2020,” Hennington said, noting men’s shopping habits are changing. “They are increasingly style savvy and more selective. I wouldn’t be the first to say we underserve the male guest at Target.” To that end, Target revealed a jazzed-up in-store experience for men’s grooming. “We’re not about to neglect the family man, the guy who comes in for Old Spice and Mach3 razors. We’re also aggressively going after the grooming-conscious gentlemen who wants to try out new stuff.” The look, dubbed Men’s World 2.0, will be in 100 stores by the end of the year sporting wood detailing, black shelfs and enhanced lighting.

“We’re also talking about the need in the beauty space to try things on, whether in store or especially online, and how that can be a barrier. We are testing Target Beauty Studio, an augmented reality and 100-point tracking technology to allow guest to virtually try on over 700 beauty items,” she said. A version is expected to be on target.com and in stores.