Shopping patterns are shifting as beauty finds a home in more places.

Beauty shoppers are a fickle crew, according to a recent study by the NPD Group called “Where America Shops for Beauty.” These consumers are not bound by traditional retail channels and are increasingly seeking new venues to buy their beauty wares.

Fifty-eight percent of women “usually” head to mass merchants for beauty products, but in the last five years, an increasing number of women have begun turning to specialty shops and the Internet. In fact, according to NPD, while only one in 10 women say they usually shop specialty stores — including Sephora, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Perfumania — for makeup, 61 percent report they are buying from these types of stores more often than they were five years ago. And although it has a smaller base of shoppers, the Internet shows similar growth with 62 percent of women reporting that they are making more frequent makeup purchases online, where they can often find a wider breadth of products.

The success of Beauty.com and its sister site, Drugstore.com, reflects women’s propensity for cross-channel shopping. These sites allow them to purchase mass and prestige products in one place, noted Kathleen McNeill, general manager of Beauty.com and general manager of beauty for Drugstore.com, who joined the company one month ago from Bath & Body Works. Women also flock to the Internet for convenience and education. For instance, as McNeill pointed out, a customer can order a lipstick during her lunch break. Shoppers also can read peer reviews of thousands of beauty products on Beauty.com.

Department store outlets are still one of the go-to channels for beauty shoppers — one in five women say they usually shop there — but a broadened retail landscape could threaten department stores’ lead over specialty retailers.

The beauty industry’s retail landscape may have become very fragmented, but department stores are still the largest purveyor of prestige cosmetics, said an NPD spokeswoman.

At the recent WWD Beauty CEO Summit, Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail, gave a speech analyzing women’s changing shopping behaviors. She noted that when WSL did its first study, “How America Shops,” 15 years ago, it tracked eight retail channels. Today, it tracks 24, a number that includes only the major specialty stores.

This story first appeared in the July 10, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Fifteen years ago, there were so few places to shop…for beauty. You went to the department store or the drugstore or the discount store or the supermarket, or you went ding-dong, Avon calling,” said Liebmann. “Today, when consumers go shopping for beauty, or for anything else, there are so many places they can buy their products.”

In terms of what women buy and where they buy it, NPD’s findings indicate that most women “usually” head to mass merchants for everyday beauty needs such as hair care and skin care products. Of the nearly two in three women, or 65 percent, who generally buy hair care in mass merchants, 27 percent say they have been purchasing those products there more often.

Women are increasingly turning to the Internet for skin care products and fragrances. According to NPD, more than 50 percent of women surveyed said they purchased skin care online more often over the last five years, while 42 percent reported they purchased fragrances online more frequently during that time.

When it comes to where women usually buy fragrance, department stores remain in the lead at 39 percent, but by a slim margin. Roughly one in three women said they usually shop for fragrance in specialty stores and mass merchants.

Industry consultant Allan Mottus said that, like last year, he expects online retailers will benefit from the spoils of a packed fragrance lineup this holiday.

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