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EXCLUSIVE: CVS Pharmacy Dips Toes in Prestige Beauty

CVS is the latest mass market beauty retailer to edge into prestige.

CVS Pharmacy is getting into the prestige beauty game.

The retailer will be launching a new format for merchandising skin care, dubbed the Skin Care Center. The space will feature an array of brands, from mass market giants CeraVe and La Roche-Posay to the channel’s newcomers, like Blume and Volition Beauty, both of which are entering mass for the first time. Wander Beauty, the prestige skin care and makeup brand, will also be participating.

Other mass market retailers have found their ways into prestige beauty. Ulta Beauty’s shops-in-shop with Target Corp. are in full force, as are Sephora’s with Kohl’s. Walmart unveiled a similar partnership with Space NK to bring prestige beauty to its aisles. The impetus for the new Skin Care Centers, which follow a similar shop-in-shop format, was to find new ways to streamline product discovery for consumers, said Andrea Harrison, vice president of beauty and personal care at CVS Pharmacy.

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“It was designed to be a place where people could get help to find skin solutions at their corner store, or a place they’re already comfortable,” she said. “When I think about the journey a skin care customer goes on, you’ve got a really wide range of education and engagement in the space…lots of people don’t even know where to start. There’s really a lack of accessibility in some places.”

Meant to be focused on skin care solutions, the space also plays to consumer trust in CVS for health and wellness needs. Products will be merchandised according to both category and concern. “Most customers put skin care really close to self care, and certainly close to health care,” Harrison added. “Given our role that we play as a trusted health and wellness destination, that’s a piece of the story we need to make sure we offer.”

CVS teamed with L’Oréal on the space’s services components, which are robust. The Skin Care Center’s beauty consultants, which include licensed aestheticians, are trained in on-site diagnostic tools, such as SkinScope’s LED technology and ModiFace’s Derm Skin analyzer.

“This provides the beauty consultants the ability to analyze your skin in real time to help make recommendations, based on their training,” Harrison said. “It’s someone who can look at your skin and tell you, ‘This is what I see.'”

Part of building out services is also meeting the needs of as many consumers as possible. “We have found that up to 40 percent of our customers are customers with melanin-rich skin needs that are not always served by traditional mass retailers,” Harrison said, noting that sun care and other skin care products in the assortment meet the concerns of all skin tones.

Harrison described the foray as “customer-led,” adding that “we do our best when we listen to our customers. We know that they shop multiple channels, and we also wanted to go slow and test the exploration end of prestige while introducing some new things. Our customers, on average, might not be as familiar with these brands, but there’s definitely an opportunity to provide discovery.”

Despite big ambitions, the retailer is starting small with prestige. Skin Care Centers are only launching in three doors to start, in New York City and Walnut Creek and Woodland Hills, Calif.

“We’ll see how customers react, and continue to then build on that as we talk to other potential partners,” Harrison said. She’s also toying with ingestibles, introducing a collection of supplements for hair and skin, which have seen heightened interest from customers.

“We intend to be very customer-led in terms of where we go, and we will take the best of the things our customers love and start to scale them into our beauty consultant doors. We’ve got a lot of latitude,” she continued.

Patricia Santos, founder of partner brand Volition Beauty, echoed, “If there is one thing that we’ve learned about retail from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that consumers want to shop prestige beauty in convenient retail locations where they already shop. The CVS Skin Care Center offers Volition Beauty adjacencies with dermatologist tested and recommended brands that serve to reinforce the clinical performance of our formulas.”

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