For local Target shoppers looking for that right combination of blush and base, beauty used to be only shelf deep.
But come July, specially trained, black and pink uniformed employees will help customers figure out which of the 9,500 units of beauty products lining Target shelves best fit their needs.
The Minneapolis-based retailer plans to launch the service, known as Target Beauty Concierge, at 36 stores throughout the Twin Cities next month. First piloted in Chicago, the service will soon expand to 200 stores across the country, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., by the end of 2013. The specialists, hired through an outside vendor Target declined to identify, will offer shoppers unbiased advice on cosmetics, hair care, and skin care, much in the same way Blue Shirts at Best Buy stores advise customers on their ideal smartphone or flat-panel television.
"Our guests tell us that they need more help on the education side," said Christina Hennington, Target's vice president and merchandise manager for beauty. "They need a service that's really one-on-one and personalized."
In a sense, beauty concierges are not new and can easily be found at Macy's and Nordstrom. Target's program stands out because it shows a mass discounter is willing to spend money on a service consumers normally associate with high-end department stores, analysts say.
"It's the democratization of luxury," said Jacqui Stafford, a New York-based fashion editor and author of "The Wow Factor." "It's accessible to everyone."
In the past, stores relied on a more of a do-it-yourself model, Stafford said. "Now it feels like we're going back to helping people to shop."
For example, the retailer had recently tested staffing its electronics sections with Best Buy's Geek Squad agents.
With U.S. sales sluggish, Target is investing billions of dollars by expanding into Canada and upgrading its website and mobile applications. But Target's 1,784 stores generates most of its more than $70 billion in annual sales and the retailer needs to find new ways to convince people to keep shopping at its stores.
Efforts like its Redcard loyalty program and P-Fresh grocery format have helped, but mostly in its lower-margin food and household essentials categories. To boost profitability, the company has expanded into female-friendly, higher-end categories like maternity wear, lingerie, and even wedding dresses, which it recently introduced at Target.com for $69.99 to $129.99.
Therefore it seems natural for Target to turn its attention to beauty products, an industry still growing and highly profitable. For example, market research firm The NPD Group reported earlier this month that prestige women's fragrance dollar sales jumped 8 percent while units were up 3 percent in the first three months of 2013 vs. the same period last year. The average price grew 5 percent.
"If you think about the beauty space, [discounters] usually don't offer this level of service," Hennington, the Target executive, said. "It's exceptional value. Just like we can sell fashion, we can also sell beauty."
Having a knowledgeable specialist to provide advice can also really boost sales, analysts say. Georganne Bender, a retail consultant based in Chicago, recently interacted with a Target beauty specialist and left the store buying an item she never knew about.
"If you are the only one shopping, it's tough to understand to all of the products," Bender said. "Target can capitalize on this, if you can get someone to use the product."
Hennington said Target is still tweaking the program. For instance, will Target dedicate special space in the store to the concierge? The company is also exploring on how to integrate the service with its Redcard program and website and multichannel efforts.
Over the past few years, an explosion of YouTube videos and blogs, often from regular people, offer tutorials on makeup and beauty.
Stafford says Target can seize the opportunity to break through the clutter and establish itself on social media as a trusted source on beauty.
"Anytime you can offer some personalized, individual attention to consumers, that can only be a good thing," she said.