Masks were popular at War-Mart.

The mass market, once the last-minute holiday gift-shopping stop, muscled its way in on the early beauty shopping bonanza this year.

With the cosmetics business clicking on all gears, chains such as CVS, Walgreens, Target Corp., Kohl’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. released deep discounts earlier than in the past.

The ploy worked with spot checks over the weekend of mass stores reporting traffic and sales up an estimated 4 percent over last year. The stream of customers started on Thanksgiving Day when many drug and discount stores stayed open. Many customers were buying for themselves with plans to buy gifts in the weeks to come.

One beauty brand top executive said he noticed chains releasing their deals as early Nov. 1. “The extended sale period is an intentional plan [of retailers] to stay relevant to eager shoppers. Watch for even more heavy discounting in the weeks to come to fend off e-commerce competitors.” Retailers queried by WWD confessed off the record. “We wanted to get out ahead of the Kylie Cosmetics of the world,” said one.

Beyond halting the flow of sales to online, mass retailers want to claim a share of the $62 billion U.S. cosmetics category as measured by MarketResearch.com.

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With a Deloitte survey indicating 75 percent of Americans planned to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend, mass chains decided why not try their hand at wrangling them to their stores. They also hoped to showcase efforts taken over the past year to burnish the image of mass beauty departments. In select stores, Target has lower-profile gondolas, areas designed for product discovery and counters where beauty experts can offer samples and swatching. Wal-Mart also has some units equipped with gleaming white fixtures, extended shades (offering mass a chance to compete with Fenty) and digital tools, including augmented reality.

Big-box chains need all the ammunition they can muster with everyone from apparel merchants, such as Anthropologie and Madewell venturing deeper into beauty, along with off-pricers like T.J. Maxx and Ross Stores. Even 7-Eleven wants in on the beauty boom, announcing its own makeup launch last week. Add to that doorbusters from competitors including Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Macy’s Inc. and mass merchants had their work cut out for them. Ulta Beauty, in particular, offered deals for less than $10 — putting them in the sweet spot for drugstore and discount-store pricing.

“The [beauty] category has been on a nice growth curve over the last couple of years and because of that, a lot of people entered the fray. Demand has risen for cosmetics but the supply has also risen,” explained Craig Johnson, the chief executive officer of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting and research firm. That further divides up the pie and also could be responsible for some of the heavy discounting, he explained.

Appealing to shoppers with keen value could be the right formula, according to a survey from PwC that found 63 percent of consumers said price motivates their purchases.

Target promoted beauty gift sets. 

Among the deals from major chains were E.l.f. and Profusion gift sets at 50 percent off at Target, buy one, get one 50-percent-mix-and-match across L.A. Colors or Wet ‘n’ Wild at Walgreens Boots Alliance and 25 percent off hair-care devices at Kohl’s. Even better than the prices, some shoppers told WWD, were the loyalty benefits. At the CVS drugstore in Hillsborough, N.J., for example, throngs of customers hit the store when it opened to stock up on beauty basics like mascara and score ExtraBucks Rewards. For example, $15 spent on any Cover Girl foundation, powder, blush, concealer, lip or eye product netted $5 in its loyalty award program. At Kohl’s, customers received $15 for every $50 spent.

The mass market took advantage of consumer desire for kits, according to Jefferies’ equity analyst Stephanie Wissink. “Mass brands including E.l.f., Essence, Maybelline, NYX and private label participated in the strong ‘kit’ trend across makeup, nail and tools. Target ran a buy-one-get-one-50-percent-off sets event over the weekend and by Sunday, endcap displays were well picked over. Brushes, sponges and shadow palettes were the best sellers, another nod to a continuation of a strong color and artistry trend across prestige and mass brands,” Wissink reported.

Price rules, but there were mass retailers also looking to provide experiences online foes can’t offer. At Bed, Bath and Beyond’s Face Values and Beyond concept store at 90th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, makeup artists from L’Oréal performed in-store makeovers.

The local drugstore or discount store might not be the first choice for gift purchasing, but the weekend of Black Friday was ripe for self-purchases. With that in mind, Walgreens offered a buy two, get a third free offer on skin care. That, along with Soap & Glory’s Flatter Box priced at $15 (regular $30), were big sellers on Black Friday, according to a Walgreens beauty adviser in New Jersey.

At a Wal-Mart near Princeton, N.J., the chain’s recent efforts to add more on-trend beauty items paid off. A display of facial masks was heavily shopped. Several consumers had yet to try sheet masks, suggesting the added exposure in the mass market will add to the booming mask business.

 

Walgreens’ fragrance display with testers. 

While fragrances were displayed, the category remains a last-minute purchase, buyers said. However, Walgreens did offer $10 off select designer scents and a buy-one-get-one-50-percent-off. Several fragrances were housed in a holiday open-sell fixtures with testers tethered in to prevent pilferage while still offering the chance to sample. Mass fragrance sales, in the past, have been hindered by keeping inventory under lock and key and without a chance to smell before buying.

Mass retailers also hauled out their best offers for Cyber Monday as the channel embraces the seamless shopping strategy. CVS, for example, touted cyber savings all week at CVS.com with 30 percent off items such as NYX cheek palettes, Maybelline Matte Ink lipstick. Walgreens served up cyber week deals including 25 percent off E.l.f., NYX and its newly rolled out exclusive cosmetics line called CYO.

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