Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — Rite Aid, a chain traditionally known for its pharmacy rather than its front-end selection, inaugurated a money-back guarantee in March as the latest step in its three-year campaign to enhance the image of its cosmetics department.
Three years ago, Rite Aid learned via the acquisition of a chain that was strong in beauty that the category can bring strong returns.
The first incarnation of its new, upgraded look was unveiled in 1993 in a Baltimore-area store. Rite Aid, prior to this store, never carried prestige fragrances.
The new look features eight feet of designer fragrances secured through a wholesaler. Bath was another department expanded in the first new prototype.
Beth Kaplan, executive vice president of marketing, believes there are still opportunities for Rite Aid to further develop bath. “The shopping experience should be like entering a spring garden,” she said.
Perry Hall, Md., was the next step in Rite Aid’s growth in beauty. The 13,000-square-foot store, twice the size of older Rite Aids, afforded the chain a chance to open up the cosmetics area.
Although there weren’t more fixtures, there was ample space to give the department a more airy feel. A new decor package was integrated into the store featuring lights on the shelving.
The chain continues to tweak its cosmetics presentation. Open sell is being tested in fragrances. More space is being cleared on fixtures for testers and point-of-sale information, including a new Rite Aid publication called, Beauty the Rite Way.
Rite Aid’s Manhattan units feature some of the tactics culled from the Perry Hall prototype, and Kaplan said the market has proved to be a good laboratory to see what sells.
“The Manhattan stores are extremely productive, and we’re very encouraged by what we see,” she said. “We’re learning more about the very sophisticated New York customer.” New Yorkers, she added, are willing to try innovative products, especially those from regional vendors. “We’re pleased with that out of all the choices shoppers have in Manhattan, many like our merchandise offerings,” said Kaplan.
Many of the merchandising shifts being made at Rite Aid are coming from the chain’s experience with category management. Rite Aid has actually split its category management organization into two separate units — category marketing and category management. Both groups report to Kaplan.
The category marketing group is charged with the tasks of developing comprehensive marketing plans for the core categories Rite Aid has targeted for growth — including beauty. The category management group functions as a buying organization and is charged with day-to-day supplier interaction.
“We want to take the practice of category management to the next level by removing the constraints of managing day-to-day details from the category marketing managers, giving them the ability to focus on strategic objectives.”
The cosmetics guarantee has been one outgrowth of the new strategies, and Kaplan said in tests it was a winning format. “We already have established more of a cosmetics following in the East with our expanded stores. But now we’re converting the Thrifty PayLess stores in the West, and we needed a uniform way to communicate our quality. We’ve premarket-tested this concept and found that women love it because it gives them an extra level of assurance,” said Kaplan.
What’s next for Rite Aid’s beauty department? “I’m not ready to tip my hat,” Kaplan concluded, “but stay tuned.”

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