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Prestige Firms Seek a Place in the Sun

NEW YORK -- While more and more customers seek to avoid the harmful effects of exposure to the sun, prestige beauty firms are hoping they'll choose department stores as the source for their protection needs.

But even though many companies have...

NEW YORK — While more and more customers seek to avoid the harmful effects of exposure to the sun, prestige beauty firms are hoping they’ll choose department stores as the source for their protection needs.

But even though many companies have been stepping up their sun care campaigns lately, the department store market remains dwarfed by the drugstore sun business.

“I think that sun protection is a viable category for department stores, but it does represent a challenge,” said Jane Hertzmark, vice president of marketing for Prescriptives. “You need to really make sure that you are offering something above and beyond what is on the drugstore shelves.”

At the moment, according to industry estimates, the prestige market represents only about 7 percent of the sun care category and has been hovering around that percentage for the last few years.

Last year, the total market for sun products, which has been averaging a growth rate of about 6 percent annually for the last few years, was over $400 million at wholesale. This would mean department store sun care sales may not have even broken the $30 million mark.

With that low figure in mind, new efforts are being made to lure consumers into buying what are purportedly higher-quality items, rather than stopping in at the local drugstore for an economy-sized tub of tanning lotion.

“I think the companies that have been the most successful are those which treat sun care as an extension of their treatment business,” said Hertzmark. “They build their sun lines on the credibility they have already established in skin care.”

In 1987, Prescriptives pared down its sun care line to remove all products that offered less than a Sun Protection Factor of 15.

Hertzmark conceded that sun protection is just a fraction of the company’s total business. “We try to combine benefits and functions whenever possible and offer the best technologically advanced products,” she said.

“The big draw is technology,” agreed Victoria Connell, vice president of marketing and development at Elizabeth Arden. “You can leverage your skin care technology to create sun products that have added treatment benefits.”

Arden markets two self-tanners, one for the body and one for the face, which Connell noted do a significant portion of the company’s sun business.

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“People remember the disastrous effects of using self-tanning products years ago,” she said. “When it comes to a product like a self-tanner, people will look for a reputable, prestigious name.”

At LancÖme, self-tanners still account for up to 70 percent of the sun business, but the sun protection category is growing, according to Karen Rae Flinn, assistant vice president for treatment and fragrance marketing.

“The prestige treatment customer who’s investing in skin care is also concerned about aging and is savvy enough to know the importance of skin protection,” Flinn said.

LancÖme’s edge over drugstore SPF products is its high-tech ingredient story, such as an anti-free radical element, Flinn said.

“Sun care for us has really become sun treatment care,” she said, contrasting LancÖme to the mass market’s “fun in the sun” approach.

Dianne Osborne, vice president of treatment marketing for EstÄe Lauder USA, agreed that sun and skin care are becoming mutually inclusive. “It’s impossible to offer comprehensive skin care without sun protection in today’s world,” she said.

Technology is Lauder’s primary advantage over drugstores, Osborne said. Lauder’s Advanced Sun Care line, for example, offers “parallel protection” against UVA, UVB and IR rays, she said, while most mass lines concentrate on UVB rays.

At Clarins, the sun business represents 10 percent of total sales, according to a company spokeswoman. While protection products surged last year by about 30 percent, particularly the high-SPF products, self-tanners remain Clarins’ specialty.

Michelle Taylor, vice president of marketing at Chanel, said that when it comes to self-tanners, quality as a point of difference has to be played up in department stores.

“The person who buys [sun care] in a department store does so because the products are perceived as better,” she said. “People who come to our counter are likely coming in for color, so of course they would expect a good color from a Chanel self-tanner, as well.”

This month, Chanel introduced updated versions of its self-tanners to include an SPF of 8. Although the items are doing well, Taylor said, she noted that sun care overall generates only about 3 percent of Chanel BeautÄ volume.

“Our people are well trained to cross-sell color with skin care, which includes body care,” she said. “Since sun care is part of the all-over body care concept, it’s a natural progression to talk about sun when talking about any of our products.”

Sun care is also not a major part of Origins’ volume.

“We introduced products that filled a niche, that met the needs of our consumers,” said William Lauder. “Our consumers were looking for chemical-free sunscreens and a product that would filter out both UVA and UVB rays.”

The company offers three sun protection products called Let the Sun Shine in SPF’s of 7, 14 and 21.

“Prestige sun care fights against the fact the most people buy sun protection close to the time they go to the beach — at the drugstore or even right on the beach,” Lauder said. “What we need to do is to offer quality that is better than what they can get elsewhere.”

Henry Pohl, vice president of marketing at Shiseido, said the company’s sun products are multifunctional and offer a level of quality that informed consumers know they will be unable to find in the mass market.

Pohl also noted Shiseido’s capacity for service, including using a machine called a Multi-Micro Sensor to detect sun damage and determine skin conditions.

Apart from service and education, a developing consumer interest in natural-based, chemical-free sun products may also push up sales for prestige firms, which are striving to be on the cutting edge of advancement.

Still, no explosion of department store sun sales is expected. The priority, some firms admit, is just not with this category.

“Sun has become a basic component of the business,” said Connell at Arden. “Still, you have to remember that there are other categories fighting for your support. You can only go so far.”