The great beauty race is on.
Less than two weeks after Sephora and Kohl’s unveiled their store-in-store concept, Ulta Beauty at Target opened its first doors on Sunday. In total, 52 brick-and-mortar doors are open, out of an anticipated 100 this year. The Ulta Beauty assortment has also launched online at target.com, with top billing for the time being on the homepage.
More than 50 prestige brands are part of the mix, including MAC Cosmetics, Clinique, Tarte, Too Faced, The Ordinary, Tula, Mario Badescu, Philsophy, Pattern Beauty, Ouai, It Cosmetics, Shiseido and First Aid Beauty. Rather than present the full brand lineup, Ulta Beauty at Target features a curated assortment of each brand, which executives from each retailer consider a key differentiator.
“The key word here is ‘curated,’” said Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer of Ulta Beauty. “It is a curated assortment of brands — the top trending, top volume, very relevant brands, but also, the products within those brands. We’ve chosen the hero products, the bestselling skus, the most-loved products within each brand’s selection.”
The goal was to simplify the selection process for shoppers. “We want to make it really simple and joyful, really allowing the guest to trust that we have taken a lot of work out for them, so shopping is easy, accessible and fun,” said Cassandra Jones, vice president of beauty at Target.
The move marks the marriage of two powerful retailers: Ulta has more than 1,200 stores in the U.S. and 32 million Ultimate Reward loyalty club members, while Target has 1,909 stores and more than 80 million people in its Target Circle loyalty club. Members will receive points from both on each purpose, similar to Sephora and Kohl’s.
One key difference, however, is that whereas Kohl’s had no beauty department so to speak of before the Sephora partnership, Target, like Ulta, has a very robust business, meaning finding the right balance.
“Target and Ulta are balancing this interesting middle ground,” said Jefferies analyst Steph Wissink. “They’re both in beauty and by partnering, they don’t want to cannibalize each other, so they have to strategize for the purely incremental. Kohl’s was not in the beauty business — this is all upside for them.”
Ulta Beauty at Target measures about 1,000 square feet, and is located adjacent to the mass retailer’s beauty department. An Ulta-trained sales associate will staff each unit, and there will also be a Target beauty concierge, part of the overall larger department, to assist beauty shoppers. Of the openings thus far, 10 are in California, with four in the Los Angeles area alone. There are six in Colorado and 13 in Minnesota, with eight planned for New York, in Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Westchester.
“It looks like Target,” said Wissink. “That is the most distinct delta between the two experiences. This reflects Target’s strength in visual merchandising.”
The space is divided into three areas: the core section, which features the larger selection of brands; the discovery zone, a more curated offering designed to feature trends and newness, where products will rotate about every two months, and must-have minis, featuring smaller sizes.
For Target, the partnership represents the opportunity to work directly with prestige brands that have been reluctant to enter the retailer. For Ulta, the goal is to tap into Target’s enormous customer base and pique their interest in prestige beauty with a curated offering that will drive them to a full-line Ulta location or Ulta.com.
“I was like, ‘Oh this is new,’” said Priscilla Song, 29, of seeing the Ulta Beauty display inside the Target at 3535 S La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles.
“For me, Ulta is a little more out of the way, and so having it at Target is nice, especially for very common things. Like, I got an eye shadow primer but a little one. Getting little things like that is convenient,” she said.
Song was planning on purchasing Urban Decay’s mini, 5-ml. “Eyeshadow Primer Potion,” priced at $13.
“I’m familiar with it and like how small it is,” she said of the product. It’s easier to carry around, if needed, she remarked.
Song rarely purchases cosmetics and prefers skin care, but primers for her eyes are a must, she explained, when putting on makeup for special occasions.
“My parents are Korean, and so my mom is very focused on skin care and those steps,” Song said, adding, “I’m mono-lidded, and my eyelids can get kind of oily, and so when I like to use eye shadow and things like that, primers are really important for me, personally.”
She typically buys beauty goods online, she noted: “But if something is hard to get or I need something more immediately, I would go in person.”
As an L.A. resident and frequent Target shopper — it’s her one-stop shop — having Ulta at the retailer is simply “convenient,” she repeated.
Melissa Holber shared the same sentiment. And she, too, had mini-sized eye products in her cart: Benefit’s “Precisely My Brow Pencil” and “They’re Real! Magnet Extreme Lengthening Mascara.”
She doesn’t typically shop at Target for beauty, she said.
“I normally go to Ulta,” said the 45-year-old. She was visiting from Fresno to help her daughter, who’s attending the University of Southern California in the fall, relocate to L.A.
“I’m finding some essentials for her house and need to pick up some makeup,” she explained. “I have the full-size ones at home as well. So, these are just — I’m going to be in town for a couple of days. So got what I needed.”
The collaboration was news to her, until she stumbled upon the Ulta Beauty section.
“The brands are good,” Holber said of the selection. “I mean, obviously there’s not a whole lot to choose from. So, that part is kind of a downfall. But they had what I wanted, so it worked.”
There were two Target sales associates — sporting black aprons with Target’s logo and “beauty” written across in white — at the Ulta Beauty section inside the store on Monday. It was around noon, and they were still filling shelves. The aisles were quiet, and shoppers who strolled past often commented on seeing Ulta Beauty at Target, but they rarely stopped to investigate or shop.
“Oh, wow, they opened up a mini Ulta here. Damn,” said a gentleman on the phone, as he walked past.
Those who did check out the space were given samples (which included Benefit’s hero eye products, Alterna hair care and singer Ariana Grande’s Cloud fragrance).
Located across from Target’s personal care and beauty sections, between lingerie and women’s clothing, the Ulta Beauty experience featured the beauty retailer’s familiar sign and signature orange hue throughout. There are cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance, with MAC Cosmetics, Tarte Cosmetics, Tracee Ellis Ross’ Pattern Beauty and Grande’s perfumes prominently placed.
“It looks dark inside,” remarked a woman shopping with her granddaughter. In contrast to its surroundings, spotlighted with lit-up signs, the section was indeed darker than the rest, only lit from Target’s ceiling lights.
What was noticeable, however, was its “now trending” section, which is displayed in the very front. The focus is eyes, featuring three rows of cosmetic products by Morphe, Urban Decay, Juvia’s Place, Stila, MAC Cosmetics, Ulta Beauty, Smashbox Beauty Cosmetics, Tarte Cosmetics, Clinique, Too Faced Cosmetics, Benefit Cosmetics and Millie Bobby Brown’s Florence by Mills. Prices are in the $20 range.
“Prep with primer. Layer on lasting color. Define with liner. Amplify with mascara,” read the signs.