It’s the final stretch of the holiday selling season and the pace is picking up in the mass market and specialty channel.

Beauty retailers are getting traction from niche beauty brands, retail exclusives, makeup brushes and styling tools. Those hot items, coupled with a “one for you, one for me,” buying strategy are beginning to deliver some holiday cheer. Lower gas prices, moderate weather throughout most of the country and heavy promotions are also credited with putting shoppers in a spending mood. Estimates forecast that sales should gain about 3 percent in the beauty category, but what is more important, buyers said, is that there seems to be budding optimism, which they hope will carry over into 2015. “This is the first time since 2007 that holiday feels like holiday, busy and healthy. It finally feels like the recession is behind us,” said Lindsay Crames, president of Beauty Fashion Sales, which represents niche beauty lines such as Kevyn Aucoin, Vincent Longo and Dr. Brandt.

Ulta also expects consumers to spend more this holiday.  Speaking to Wall Street analysts earlier this month, Ulta chief executive officer Mary Dillon said, “This year there is a much healthier consumer sentiment. There’s still pressure on the household budget, but overall the outlook is better, the job [market] is more positive.” In the drugstore channel, promotions, such as buy-one, get-one 50 percent off are still big traffic lures used by chains such as CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Target, Wal-mart and Walgreens. But many retailers are trying to reduce reliance on deals.

Ulta, for example, zeroes in on its 14.5 million active loyalty members to “better balance” promotion efforts, said Dillon.   

CVS stores are also stocked with specials for its loyalty members. “This year in particular, we are rewarding our ExtraCare members in the store, on CVS.com and through our CVS Mobile app with even more savings and deals helping our most loyal shoppers save the way they prefer,” said Judy Sansone, senior vice president of merchandising for CVS. Examples include purse size Marc Jacobs and Burberry fragrances for $9.98, a spa bath basket with a robe for $11.99 and a Wet ‘n’ wild nail color set priced at $2.99.

Beauty tools are emerging as gift ideas that shoppers prefer to buy at mass or specialty stores. Molly Sloat, Ulta’s trend director, singled out an exclusive Ultra CHI flat iron in shimmering shades and confetti prints as a hit in its 765 doors. Ken Bern, founder of GBS The Beauty Store agreed devices are on holiday lists. “The Foreo Luna, which hit GBS shelves this summer, is our top-selling device. Other in-demand high-tech products include the NuFace microcurrent facial toning device and Quasar light treatment devices. Customers love the concept of high-tech beauty because it further enhances their anti-aging regimen,” he said.

Mass marketers also enjoyed the boom in tools. A Target spokeswoman noted CHI and Remington hair tools are among the chain’s standouts. Rite Aid advertised Wahl Haircut kits, trimmers and shavers under its holiday gift ideas. Subscription beauty box marketers are seeing a nice holiday bounce, such as Glossybox with its sold out holiday selection. “We always want Glossybox to feel like a gift, but our special-edition boxes offer a unique opportunity to give our subscribers and brand partners added value during a specific time of the year,” said Elian Pres-Gurwits, president and managing director of Glossybox North America. “For Holiday 2014, we curated an exceptional box filled with seven full-size prestige color cosmetics products and a deluxe sample size fragrance, because we know makeup is our subscriber’s preferred category.” The box includes Calvin Klein Reveal, Teadora Lip Butter, Jouer lip gloss, NCLA nail lacquer, lipstick from The Lip Bar, eye shadow from Obsessive Compulsive, eyeliner from Cargo and Korres Mascara. The company noted that many bought a year subscription as a gift for someone, and sent the holiday box as a preview.

Retailers said they noticed more consumers buying cosmetics this season to update their makeup kits. “This can mean a dark wine colored lipstick or using hot rollers if you normally straighten your hair. It’s a great opportunity to experiment with some seasonal trends,” said Sloat of Ulta. The store has  also seen an uptick in exclusives, such as Becca cosmetics for women of color sold in 282 doors and a new exclusive brush collection with IT Cosmetics. Target also identified its proprietary Sonia Kashuk 10-piece brush set as a holiday winner. One drugstore chain executive noted that the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel, especially the topcoat, are in such demand that chains have been put on allocation to get supplies.

The fragrance category remains frustrating for a number of retailers. But with many shoppers indicating they still have gifts to buy, retailers hope fragrance gift sets will clear out in the final days.

Chains also tried technology to build volume. Ulta, for example, is using iPads where shoppers can order from a larger selection for home delivery. CVS customers can follow @CVS_Extra on Twitter to learn about upcoming promotions and ways to win a variety of gift items through special contests. Through its online gift guide, shoppers can watch short videos featuring popular bloggers who have partnered with CVS/pharmacy this season to share advice and family traditions.

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