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Target Seeks to Break the Mass-Market Beauty Mold

In beauty, Target wants to take more than just Manhattan.

Last week Target opened one of its smaller, flexible-format stores in Manhattan’s Herald Square with a big emphasis on beauty.

There’s an enormous commitment to NYX Professional Makeup, a Harry’s lounge complete with shaving items positioned in the men’s apparel department and an endcap linking Shea Moisture’s roots to New York City. Target isn’t shying away from a beauty challenge — one of the largest Sephora doors in North America is right next door. And next month Ulta Beauty opens its first Manhattan site. Last month, CVS unveiled a store in Times Square with its elevated beauty format including 500 K-beauty items.

Target Hits the Mark in Beauty
Target is located next door to Sephora.

Target’s Herald Square store, however, is just a tease of the efforts the retailer is plugging into its beauty experience across the country.

By the end of October, 75 stores in the U.S. will sport an overhauled look with lower-profile fixtures, enhanced lighting and an open concept designed to inspire shoppers to explore the beauty assortment. Banishing the bland atmosphere endemic to mass market beauty retailing characterized by rows and rows of pegged cosmetics, Target has created a department that invites product discovery. And it is backing up the decor with enlarged products assortments such as E.l.f. Cosmetics, an exclusive Glow Studio for Target collection from the Glow Recipe creators and an end aisle NYX Brow Bar.

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Target Hits the Mark in Beauty
There is a large NYX department at Herald Square.

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“Our guests love to explore and be inspired. We see that across our assortment and it’s particularly true in a category like beauty. This is one of the reasons we’re investing to create a more compelling experience online and in our stores,” said Mark Tritton, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at Target. “The new design in beauty pulls you in, it’s a specialty environment that invites you to shop.”

Although Target doesn’t break out beauty sales in its annual report, those familiar with the chain estimate the category (including cosmetics, hair and skin) contributes more than $7 billion in sales — at least 10 percent of total sales. With the ramped-up department, experts think that percentage will balloon.

Target Hits the Mark in Beauty
Target is blowing out its beauty department. Seventy five doors will have this look by the end of 2017. Robert Chapman

More than 400 stores will get the white-glove treatment by the end of 2018. Target is also expanding its Beauty Concierge Program to feature service counters where trained associates can not only answer questions and perform skin-care consultations, but also hand out samples and help with swatching — the social media phenomenon credited with boosting color cosmetics sales.

“It can be hard to do sampling in our channel, so we’ve pulled in some specialty store elements that we think are highly relatable to what our guests say they are looking for such as sampling,” said Christina Hennington, senior vice president of Beauty and Essentials, about the new beauty counter. “We have a dedicated service desk where beauty concierges can really spend time understanding the guests’ needs and are using samples and products to do color matching and sampling. We continue to invest in more labor across beauty in general across all stores so service isn’t only available to the few.” Buoyed by the success from the initial beauty concierge efforts, Target now has dedicated trained beauty experts during all open store hours.

By listening to consumers — company officials go so far as to venture into homes to study consumers — Target is also refining its assortment to put its stamp on men’s, natural personal care and South Korean-inspired products. “We are creating areas for discovery,” explained Hennington, pointing out displays such as those for trial sizes, colorful bath lines and masks. “Unique at the front of the store is an area for naturals which has done well for us, as well as mini trial items at good price points and colorful poufs, bath bombs and gels.”

Target Hits the Mark in Beauty
Harry’s Lounge in Herald Square, 40 other stores are getting expanded men’s departments this year.

With sales of men’s grooming products booming, Target is introducing a destination department in select stores with 40 slated by the end of the month. Beyond the traditional men’s legacy brands, Target has handpicked niche labels such as Rebels Refinery, Beardbrand, Byrd Hairdo and Duke Cannon. “We wanted to make a place that looks like it was meant for guys,” said Hennington. “We’re making a big bet on men’s. Men are changing, they have higher expectations and we need to deliver that as a retailer.”

Hennington said there are gaps in the mass market nudging Target merchants to uncover new brands. “If we don’t have the solution, we will find it. Our buyers are sleuths, attending trade shows and looking at social media. Some brands come to us, others we call and ask about. We want to have what people are talking about,” Hennington said, adding the company also looks at online reviews.

The outposts in Target’s fresh look also help the chain react to trends swiftly. With complicated planogram resets typical of the mass market, retailers haven’t been able to jump onto emerging beauty styles. “The little hot spots let us get trend stories out. We are presenting key trends rather than brand stories such as a dry shampoo destination or top 10 contouring solutions. Based on our research that’s how our guests are shopping,” Hennington concluded.