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NEW YORK — Retailers and manufacturers are hoping to put more sparkle in Christmas sales with whimsical merchandise and a few tactics borrowed from the Eighties.

With consumers heading into the season feeling cautious, a little holiday dazzle is needed to boost excitement in the mass retail channel this year, noted Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail. In addition to great value and convenience, shoppers are hoping to stumble upon a “pleasant surprise” — items that are innovative and fun — while navigating through the aisles of mass retailers and chain drugstores, added Liebmann.

Overall, retailers forecast holiday sales will slide past last year’s by only 4 to 5 percent. Interestingly, much of that gain will be accomplished not by fragrances, but by color products. Many color products are bought as impulse stocking stuffers and, item by item, can ratchet up sales increases.

“We see a dramatic increase in the amount of lip gloss sold in December,” said Steph Fogelson, president of Lotta Luv. Lotta Luv is gearing up for holiday with more candy and snack licenses than ever, such as Tootsie Roll and Twinkie. This year, there are multiple packages of gift sets to spur stocking-stuffer purchasing.

For adults’ stockings, Marti Bentley, category manager for beauty at Duane Reade, is excited about L’Oréal Kissable Lip color.

This holiday is all about clever packaging and products, buyers said. Unique kits from Markwins International were hits at drugstores, including Walgreens and Medic Drug. “Sometimes it isn’t enough anymore to have the right colors, consumers like a little twist so we are doing more interesting things with cases and other ideas,” said Bill George, the head of North American operations for Markwins.

Another perfect example of collections giving shoppers something beyond traditional is the holiday collection from Sonia Kashuk. Three limited-edition kits offer color for eyes, lips and cheeks, along with a magnifying mirror and travel brushes. Each grouping boasts a pop art, floral design. The Girls Just Wanna Have Fun kit has a slot to hold a driver’s license or credit card. Another kit is so tiny it fits into the palm of the hand — yet features three eye shadows, three lip glosses and blush. The final one is a fold-over kit with three glosses, three eye shadows, two blushes and six makeup brushes. The line is sold exclusively at Target.

This story first appeared in the October 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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When it comes to gift sets, retailers are devoting more space to branded offerings, moving away from no-name kits that simply boast a tremendous value proposition. “The key to winning over consumers this year is branded product,” said Harvey Alstodt, executive vice president of sales for Del Laboratories.

Del Labs is using gift sets to drive sales across its beauty brands, Sally Hansen, LaCross and Healing Beauty, explained Alstodt. This year’s kits package several of these brands together. For example, Sally Hansen’s Something Special for Lips & Nails gift set includes a LaCross nail clipper and nail file alongside two Advanced Hard As Nails polishers and a Sally Hansen Daily Lip Moisture lip gloss for a suggested retail price of $4.99.

Sally Hansen spotlights its nail heritage with a 13-piece salon manicure and pedicure kit called Instant Nail Party — containing everything from toe separators to nail treatments — for a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Revlon, as part of its Get Reddy! holiday collection, will include gift sets promoted by the tag line “Get Gifted!”

Coty Beauty, the leader in mass fragrance and bath and body, will offer its lifestyle brand in value-laden gift sets.

On the fragrance front, Coty has packaged its newest Adidas fragrance for women, Adrenaline Woman, in a holiday set featuring a 1-oz. spray eau de toilette, a purse-size version and a body spray for a suggested retail price of $17.99. An Adrenaline Man gift set, which includes items such as a hair and body wash and deodorant, will retail for $29.99. Similarly, it’s created an Adidas Moves for Her set that includes a 6-oz. “sports splash,” 1-oz. spray eau de toilette, a trial-size version, and body lotion for $24.99. The Adidas Moves for Him version swaps the body lotion with a deodorant.

For its bath and body offerings, Coty’s The Healing Garden is gearing up to capitalize on consumers’ needs for rest and relaxation during the holiday season with a slew of gift sets in various sizes — from stocking stuffers to stand-alone presents.

Its Body Lotion Sampler Set includes three trial-sized body lotions in scents such as Lavendertheraphy, Jasminetheraphy, White Teatheraphy and Zzztheraphy. On the premium end, its Delux Tote Set, available in four scents, is filled with a body mist, body lotion, shower gel, bath soak and cozy terry cloth slippers for a suggested retail price of $24.99.

Calgon gift sets aim to deliver on the brand’s “take me away” positioning with tropical themes. For example, the Calgon Tropical Dream Deluxe Gift Set is touted as a “spa-in-a-bag.” Inside the reusable plastic tote includes a regular and trial-sized body mist, body lotion, shower gel and back scrubber. In addition to the Tropical Dream scent, the set is available in Hawaiian Ginger, Tahitian Orchid and Ahh…Spa! Tropics for a suggested retail price of $16.99.

What’s interesting, sources said, is that Christmas over the past few years has become less and less about fragrance and more about color, bath and skin care. “We are seeing a return to the Eighties when manufacturers had shade breaks for the holidays,” said Joann Tyson, president of Cosmetic Promotions, an organization that helps retailers build beauty sales. She cited Revlon’s Get Reddy! promotion as a prime example. “Get Reddy! has a consistent theme that is carried out over the promotion,” said Tyson, who added her staff would be sampling the items in some stores. She also liked Maybelline’s daring move of promoting purple shades for holiday.

Coty expects to make a big splash with Rimmel cosmetics, which will expand its U.S. presence outside Wal-Mart doors in November. Rimmel’s Disco Glam holiday collection, not intended for the shy type, includes items such as a Crystal Shimmer Shadow Pencil for $6 and Vinyl Stars Lipgloss for $6.

Prestige Cosmetics is also going for the “wow” factor with an edible body shimmer called Delicious, according to Tom Winarick, the company’s executive vice president. There are four flavors priced at $6.95.

Retailers can build sales on offbeat items during the holiday period, Tyson said. “I have a list of items that should never be out of stock during the holidays such as false eyelashes, false nails and anything red.”

Skin care is also set to star this Christmas — perhaps as women attempt at-home dermabrasion to look younger for the new year. Early results from at-home spa service products such as L’Oréal’s ReFinish and Neutrogena’s Advanced Facial Peel are sensational, buyers said.

Although fragrances haven’t been on Santa’s list, there are efforts to boost sales this Yule. Select Rite Aid stores will feature samples of Dana fragrances. J.C. Penney will kick off heavy sampling of Coty’s scent offerings around Thanksgiving. All eyes are also on Wal-Mart where the Enchantment fragrance, kicked off on ABC’s “All My Children” soap, is expected to be the top seller for Christmas. Sources said it is already the top-selling brand at Wal-Mart. After Christmas, other retailers get dibs on the scent. It is the first year some other retailers can promote the MaryKateandAshley scent, which also bowed in Wal-Mart.

Several retailers are focusing their exclusive offerings on the delicious food scents traditionally associated with the winter months. Rite Aid and Kmart are hoping the way to consumers’ wallets is through food-scented bath items.

Although not edible, Rite Aid is introducing Pure Spring items in its bath collection that category manager Judy Wray said, “smell so good you’ll want to eat them.” The new Pure Spring holiday Dessert Collection, a 3-in-1 product, can be used as a shampoo, conditioner and body wash. The versatile product is available in five flavors — chocolate fudge, gingerbread, cranberry cocktail, pumpkin pie and banana nut bread — for $6.99. Another new addition to Pure Spring this holiday a four-pack of scented candles shaped like chocolate bon bons. The white and milk chocolate candles are packaged in a gold box with a black bow to mirror the luxe of Godiva.

Kmart is creating what it calls “seven-day gifts sets” called Body Recipes, a collection of bath and body products in seven scents. Fragrances include candy apple, banana nut bread, key lime pie, warm gingerbread, hazelnut, blueberry muffin, and vanilla pound cake. Price points range from $9.99 for trial-size sets to $24.99 gift baskets.