John Lewis this week revealed plans to plough further investment into its beauty offer, as it aims to exploit the growing category.

Harvey Nichols beauty lounge

Harvey Nichols beauty lounge

Harvey Nichols laughed a dedicated Beauty Lounge service earlier this month. John Lewis is planning on investing more into its beauty offer

Beauty has been a focus for department store groups more widely in recent months. Harvey Nichols launched a dedicated Beauty Lounge service earlier this month and Debenhams has reported rising sales in the category.

Now John Lewis intends plans to plough £9m into boosting its health and beauty offer. As part of the initiaitive the retailer will increase the size of its beauty halls in the Cambridge, Cribbs Causeway and Bluewater stores by 50%.

So why has beauty become such a battelground for department stores?

A sector for all seasons

As fashion retailers bemoan the impact of unpredictable weather on sales, health and beauty has proven itself to be resilient to changeable English weather.

While of course sun cream sells well in the summer and fragrances fly off the shelves especially fast as Christmas gifting season approaches, products such as make-up and moisturisers enjoy high demand all year round, whatever the weather.

“Retailers and brands are creating a more specialist offer and consumers are buying into it”

Rebecca Marks, Retail Week Prospect

According to Mintel, sales of colour cosmetics have risen by a third over the last five years and soap, bath and shower products have recorded a 4.3% sales increase.

In its half-year results in April, Debenhams highlighted its beauty products as a stand-out category.

Debenhams said it had “rebalanced” its offers to put greater emphasis on non-clothing categories, particularly beauty and gifting. 

John Lewis too sees greater opportunity in beauty.  When he revealed the latest investment, John Lewis buying director for fashion and beauty Ed Connolly said: “Beauty is one of the best performing categories at John Lewis and a significant footfall driver, so this investment is a reflection of our ambition in this space.”

Beauty will also be key focus at the new Chelmsford branch, which will have the largest beauty hall among John Lewis’s smaller full-line department stores at 7,900 sq ft when it opens next month.

John Lewis Beauty Hall

John Lewis Beauty Hall

One of John Lewis’s beauty halls. It has announced plans to invest more into its beauty offer, competing with other department stores that have a greater beauty presence

In the lap of luxury

Withn the beauty category, luxury products are a significant driver of growth for department stores and specialists alike.

Debenhams’s premium make-up sales rose 16% rise in the first half, and John Lewis is extending its luxury offering as part of its beauty investment, adding brands including La Prairie, Charlotte Tilbury and Tom Ford Beauty to its shelves.

Beauty retailers including The Body Shop have also increased their premium product offering in recent months, while Burberry has hailed it as a key growth category.

But why are consumers choosing to spend their money on luxury beauty?

“Beauty is one of the best performing categories at John Lewis and a significant footfall driver, so this investment is a reflection of our ambition in this space”

Ed Connolly, John Lewis

Retail Week Prospect analyst Rebecca Marks says: “There’s a whole lifestyle trend developing in terms of health and beauty and fitness, which means that consumers are willing to invest more.”

Marks references “the kale effect” and the rising popularity of athleisure as being key contributors to increasing willingness among shoppers to splash their cash on premium beauty products.

“Retailers and brands are creating a more specialist offer and consumers are buying into it,” she observes.

Harvey Nichols is catering to the rising popularity of niche beauty treatments in the Beauty Lounge in its Knightsbridge flagship, which employs a beauty “concierge” and offers a variety of unconventional procedures including a treatment to inject vitamins directly into the bloodstream.

The retailer is also renovating its ground floor beauty department offer, slated for completion in the autumn.

A new type of customer

While beauty sales can bolster department stores’s own sales, Marks cautions that the sector is not a foolproof route to increasing sales.

“In the short-term it’s a good way for retailers to protect themselves but you can’t rely on one sole area for growth, particularly not for the long-term,” she says.

Perhaps the greatest long-term benefit that beauty can offer department stores is access to a different kind of customer.

“Typically a department store shopper will be in her 40s so one of the main reasons for retailers to invest in beauty is as a means of drawing in a younger customer,” says Marks.

Sales of fashionable beauty brands such as MAC and Urban Decay have bolstered Debenhams’s beauty performance.

Marks says that department stores could monopolise on the increased footfall in their beauty halls to drive shoppers further into stores, by placing fashion mannequins showcasing younger styles alongside their make-up offer.

As department stores look for ways to reposition themselves as destinations rather than just retail locations, beauty can provide a welcome boon to get a new and affluent shopper through their doors.