How to Cure the Makeup Counter Blues

Last year, online makeup sales increased by nearly 30 percent, while those in department stores and specialty boutiques like Ulta and Sephora rose just 3 percent, according to the research marketing company NPD Group. For skin-care products, growth of online sales outpaced physical ones by 700 percent.

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, New York Times

Last year, online makeup sales increased by nearly 30 percent, while those in department stores and specialty boutiques like Ulta and Sephora rose just 3 percent, according to the research marketing company NPD Group. For skin-care products, growth of online sales outpaced physical ones by 700 percent.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, millennials, the web-savvy demographic whose voracious love for beauty products has helped drive the industry’s growth, are the country’s biggest consumers of both categories.

To lure shoppers away from their computer screens, department stores are rethinking their approach to beauty, dismissing standard single-brand counters in favor of a more approachable open floor plan, often stocked with under-the-radar brands. Frequently the new focus is as much on presenting experiences as products.

A few months ago, Bloomingdale’s added a department called Glowhaus in five of its stores, including its SoHo outpost on Lower Broadway. The area looks like a free-standing beauty boutique, with open displays that encourage shoppers to browse, and a large central table to test products.

It feels more in line with a store like Space NK than what you’d expect at a big multicategory emporium. Around 30 brands are included, with trend-conscious labels like Rouge Bunny Rouge, the BrowGal and Lime Crime. Nothing in the department costs more than $100.

“The intention was to make it inviting,” said Nicole Grochmal, who oversees buying for Glowhaus. “We wanted people to sit and explore, and also to have a place where the associates can do tutorials in small groups.” Since opening the department, millennial traffic in the SoHo store has increased, according to Bloomingdale’s, and more Glowhaus departments are planned.

“Niche” has been a buzzword in the beauty industry for several years, and, as a category, niche products have become a priority for many stores. In April, for instance, Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s store added a small area dedicated to brands including Haeckels and Musgo Real. And when Nordstrom opened its men’s store in New York in April, it became the only retailer in the United States to carry Murdock London, a British grooming brand.

“There are a lot of customers that don’t want to buy a product that everybody else has,” said Gemma Lionello, an executive vice president at Nordstrom. “They are looking for something that’s very limited and something that they can feel like they discovered.”

Last year, Nordstrom added a section focused on natural beauty in about a third of its stores, stocked with mostly niche brands like Herbivore Botanicals and Lanolips. Those areas proved so successful that a space with wellness products was added earlier this year. Its top sellers include Shiffa jade face rollers and Hum Nutrition supplements.

“The millennial customer definitely has an affinity for the natural beauty category,” Lionello said. “But what we’re seeing is that all customers are interested in this category.”

Barneys New York recently opened a space with a similar focus called Conscious Beauty. The department, in its Manhattan and Los Angeles locations, has both topical products, including a skin-care line by the holistic facialist Annee de Mamiel, and ingestibles like Rejuvenated collagen supplements. In an unusual move for Barneys, so-called shelf talkers — signs placed near the products to explain them — are integrated into the open displays.

A Conscious Beauty menu of edible items prepared with powders from Moon Juice, which is also carried in the section, has been added at some of the store’s restaurants; options at Genes Café in Midtown include a chunky vegan cookie with Moon Juice Sex Dust in the dough.

At stores including Barneys and Nordstrom, these dedicated areas are tucked near traditional makeup and skin-care counters. The new beauty department at Saks Fifth Avenue, which opens this week, is a lot splashier, and hard to miss. The store has moved its entire beauty section to the second floor and enlarged it by about 40 percent. The layout will include elegant boutique-like areas for brands including Givenchy, Guerlain and Tom Ford, as well as a large event space that will host talks and tutorials.

There are also 15 treatment rooms, some with views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; five of the spaces are dedicated to luxury brands like La Prairie, Sisley-Paris and Dior, which has modeled its sleek space after its spa at the Plaza Athénée in Paris.

The spa-room treatments, like the Original Miracle Facial that La Mer will be offering, are undeniably indulgent, but they will be free. (Purchasing products afterward is highly encouraged.)

Other experiential treatments will be offered for a charge: Eyebrow threading at Blink Brow Bar London, for example, is $34; a speedy eco-friendly manicure from Sundays is $15; sessions at FaceGym, a British brand that offers workouts to tone facial muscles, start at $70. Seasonal bouquets by the Los Angeles florist Eric Buterbaugh will also be carried in the space.

“What we wanted was a space where you wanted to stay,” said Tracy Margolies, the chief merchant at Saks. And the assortment of activities does, of course, lend itself to social media.

“It’s very Instagrammable,” said Larissa Jensen, a beauty industry analyst at NPD. “The environment is, ‘I’m there with my friends, and I’m going to capture it.’ All of these things are getting you into the store. It’s, ‘Look what I did.’ It’s sort of showing your coolness factor and putting it out there.”

Although the department will include stalwarts like Clinique and Lancôme, niche labels including Angela Caglia, Care/of and ReFa will be offered, too. The store will also carry several brands exclusively in the United States, including Floraïku and Orveda.

“It’s sort of the editorial darlings, these brands that people are reading about,” said Kate Oldham, a senior vice president at Saks who oversees beauty as well as jewelry and home. “We don’t feel it will take away from other brands. We feel it will add to our customer’s experience when they come up.”

Saks, like other stores, is selling these items online as well, but getting shoppers in their doors remains an important part of the beauty business. In spite of the rise in online shopping, physical purchases account for nearly three-quarters of overall beauty sales, according to NPD.

“Volume still comes from brick-and-mortars,” Jensen of NPD said. “It’s still where brands need to win.”

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