The way consumers buy beauty products is changing. Again.

My first “prestige” beauty experience was in a department store in the mid-1990s. My mom took me to the Clinique counter to get that moisturizer in the yellow bottle (anyone who is a millennial and older knows what I’m talking about). When I graduated from college, I went to Saks and bought Bobbi Brown foundation and a glitter brick highlighter that I had no idea how to use. In high school, Chanel eyeshadow from Macy’s was a prized possession.

Today, it would not occur to me to go to a department store to buy cosmetics or skin care products. Sephora and Ulta Beauty are now the premier beauty shopping destinations with thousands of locations across the US and exclusive locations for the most popular brands.

But we can watch history repeat itself. Big retailers like Target and Walmart realized they had an opportunity; they also have thousands of stores, each with endless aisles that can be the perfect place to discover new products. Drugstores want it, too: CVS recently announced its “Skin Care Center” concept, where low-cost brands like Cerave will sit alongside more expensive lines typically associated with Sephora or Net-a-Porter, including Wander Beauty.

Now, Target, Walmart and CVS are fighting for some of Ulta and Sephora’s market share, even as Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom invest in renovating their floors. Is there enough space for everyone?

In beauty, it all boils down to where the discovery actually takes place. Sephora used to have a lock on the opening, as its decision to offer a previously unknown line was instantly legitimized. Only insiders knew about Drunk Elephant when it entered Sephora in 2015; soon customers were happy to drop nearly $100 on one of the brand’s serums.

After they found success at Sephora, new brands trickled down to Ulta and then to the wider market years later. They rarely made it to major retailers and drugstores, which in the eyes of consumers were for stocking staples like Dove soap or Pantene shampoo.

Now it’s a different world. People find products through social media and their peers. Where they actually buy these products doesn’t really matter—it could be a trip to Sephora or a CVS run. Big retailers and pharmacies want to take advantage of this.

The democratization of beauty—the mixing of expensive and cheap goods and the dispelling of the notion that expensive means “better”—has made brands more willing to expand their distribution into mainstream channels. The evolution of where we shop for beauty, from department stores to specialty retailers, has taken decades. But the transition to big box retail and potentially pharmacies is happening much faster.

Target has made some big strides since “Ulta-fiction” its beauty aisles in 2019, designed to make shoppers feel like they’re in a beauty specialty store inside a big box store. Ulta itself opened about 100 stores in Target stores last year and plans to open about 250 more in 2022. Target has spent years courting startups and direct-to-consumer lines like Harry’s, Quip and Native deodorant to differentiate its beauty offerings from competitors.

Last year, Walmart introduced about 100 new beauty brands under the leadership of then-Vice President and General Manager of Beauty, Musab Balbale. Balbale left Walmart earlier this year to join CVS as chief merchandiser. In an effort to become a beauty destination, CVS offers labels you wouldn’t normally find (or buy) at the drugstore.

In this new democratized market, each store has its strengths: Sephora continues to be trusted as a beauty leader and trendsetter with exclusive brands. Walmart plays on volume: It’s the largest retailer in the world, visited by roughly half of the US population at least weekly. Target is somewhere in the middle—it’s where you go to buy toilet paper and milk, but many shoppers see it as a place to discover exciting new products.

CVS is the wild card: They’re everywhere (almost 10,000 locations in the U.S., five times more than Target stores). But consumers come in to buy the things they need and usually don’t stick around to see what else is on the shelves. The company’s new strategy boils down to, “You thought you just needed toothpaste, but how about this millennial pink dual-ended blush and highlighter from Wander Beauty?” His hurdle is convincing customers to buy $40 worth of beauty products along with a $4 tube of toothpaste.

For me in 2022, what I buy always has a preference for where I buy it. As long as Target, CVS, or Sephora sells exactly what I’m looking for (I’m particular), it doesn’t matter where it’s from. Buying Too Faced Better Than Sex mascara while grabbing Saltines and Advil at Target seems perfectly normal. I’d even buy it from a subway machine if I had the chance.

https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/beauty/the-way-consumers-buy-beauty-products-is-changing-again/ The way consumers buy beauty products is changing. Again.

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