Where Cost Often Counts
Trends in Personal Care Product Sales

By Sara Hodon

Personal care products like soaps and lotions are a guilty pleasure for some customers—perhaps a last-minute splurge as a treat for themselves or gift for a special occasion. Yet for others, they are merely functional items, not unlike any other cleaning product, so the more inexpensive, the better.  Personal care product lines are as wide-ranging as the customers who use them, and but retailers like discount stores and pharmacy/gift shops that were interviewed for this article said the price points are a major factor in the brands they carry, regardless of the product or the result it promises to deliver.

“The things that sell best are the dollar items—anything we can sell for $1,” said Ciara Good, manager at Extreme Value in Phoenix, Ariz. “It has a lot to do with our demographic, which is lower income. I have a generic brand of lotion called Azea that sells for $1 and is probably the best-selling item in the whole store. Because our stock changes so much, we get whatever we get, but I try to keep up with shampoos and conditioners because that’s what people need. I try to always have something in here, even if it’s not the same shampoo I had in here two weeks ago. People just need those staple items.”

Destiny Shaver photographed with Earth Luxe Soaps at Hershey Pharmacy and Gift Shop. “Testers are essential for selling bath and body,” the store’s buyer said.

Customers look to discount stores for good bargains on household essentials; pharmacies are quickly becoming a one-stop shop for prescriptions and health needs as well as a resource for last-minute gifts or hard-to-find items, particularly in rural communities. Retailers take their role in their customers’ lives seriously, striving to offer a good, affordable product selection, personalized attention, and, above all, convenience. 

Sharon Babcock, gift shop supervisor/lead buyer at Dedrick’s Pharmacy and Gifts in New Paltz, N.Y., said their best-selling personal care products are typically in the low- to mid-priced range. “We sell a lot of Aveeno and Oil of Olay, and Burt’s Bees does very well for us,” she said. “Dove body wash is probably our most popular brand, and we also sell a lot of Badger products, and for men we sell a lot of Duke Cannon. They sell well for different reasons. For Burt’s Bees I think people like that they’re natural products; for Duke Cannon I think it’s the packaging—it has a very masculine, almost military look. But the price point is what’s really important. People are just savvy with their spending.” She added, “To bring in an expensive item only to have it sit on the shelf doesn’t do us much good.”

Innis of the Sea products at Hershey Pharmacy and Gift Shop. The line has a fresh scent with a universal appeal, according to the store’s buyer.

Keeping price point in mind, Barbara Farr, buyer at Hershey Pharmacy and Gift Shop in Hershey, Pa., said the personal care product lines they carry are more of an affordable indulgence and sell very well for them. “Our top-selling products are specialty soaps, moisturizing hand creams, and bath bombs. These items are affordable, allowing the customer to add a little luxury to everyday life.” Some of their product lines include Design Works, Innis, Camille Beckman, Naked Bee, Burt’s Bees, Tokyo Milk, Earth Luxe, and Dionis. She said choosing the “right” product and fragrance is very much a matter of personal preference. “Selecting the scent is a very individual choice. We have a large selection to suit all tastes.  There are floral scents such as lavender or rosewater, scents of hearth and home like vanilla, sweet honey or fresh citrus, and there are bold scents like Dead Sexy and La Vie La Mort from Tokyo Milk. And lastly, we have the fresh and clean scents like Innis of the Sea with its universal appeal.”

Sales Associate Jen Puleo of Dedrick’s Pharmacy and Gifts in New Paltz, N.Y. Best-selling personal care products for the store are typically in the low-to-mid price range.

Discount stores can have an overwhelming amount of merchandise, and shoppers are usually stopping at a pharmacy to pick up a prescription or over-the-counter item, so retailers say location and visibility are important when stocking personal care products. Grouping and stocking end caps are two of their most effective methods. “We put things in prominent locations. For instance, for Father’s Day we put the Duke Cannon products on end caps and on a display right in the pharmacy, so people waiting in line for their prescriptions could see the items,” Babcock said. “We also sell a lot of the Dr. Teal’s line, and we display those items right in the pharmacy, as well.” Seeing the products serves as a reminder to customers that certain holidays or special occasions are coming up. Other retailers dedicate a section or entire aisle to their personal care product inventory, depending on how much space they have available. “I try to put the better brands at eye level,” Good said. “The ones I have a million of …I might put them at eye level at a cheaper price. Because I get a lower stock of the bigger name brands, I put them at eye level so people can see them. People will look at what is directly in front of them first. The lower, generic brands are on the lower shelves.” She added, “Or else I’ll do something called ‘striping’ where I put one brand across an entire shelf. That’s a good way to spread out the product and make the shelf look full.” Farr said, “Our bath and body products live in their own ‘neighborhood’ in our gift department with over 20 linear feet filled with goodies for them to sample. Customers of all ages are able to find something to suit their fancy. Younger shoppers look for bath bombs and body spray, while a more mature shopper may want a hand cream for her purse.” Overall, the Hershey Pharmacy occupies 5,000 square feet.

Barbara Farr, buyer, of Hershey Pharmacy and Gift Shop. Farr said that the personal care product lines the store carries are more of an affordable indulgence that sell well.

But sometimes offering a smaller selection is better for the customer, who can often be overwhelmed by the various brands and products. Edward Melber, RPH, owner, and Anne Melber, buyer, of Weatherly Community Pharmacy and Gifts in Weatherly, Pa., said their limited inventory takes some of the stress off the customer. “We have a small gift section, but it’s nice and we’re proud of it,” Anne said. “Our original prices are usually lower than department store sales prices, and we’re the only gift shop in town.” The pharmacy occupies 1,222 square feet, so every bit of space is important. Edward said they display their personal care products on metal shelving; new or seasonal items are showcased on glass display racks in the center of the store. He said most of their personal care product lines are in the low- to mid-price range; their pharmacy is in a small town, with many of their customers on limited incomes.

A personal care products section at the Hershey Pharmacy and Gift Shop. “Selecting the scent is a very individual choice. We have a large selection to suit all tastes,” the store’s buyer said.

Displaying sample or tester products has long been an effective method of boosting sales, particularly for bath and body products, and it is still practiced by many retailers.  Farr said, “Testers are essential for selling bath and body. Our department has ample, well-marked testers. This way our customers can experience the product for themselves before purchasing.” Farr noted her staff attends trade shows to learn more about new products and trends, and said any product that catches their interest in a vendor catalog is tested first. 

Most customers purchasing bath and body products fall into one of two categories—those looking for items which are inexpensive but effective, or higher-end and sumptuous. Fortunately, both discount stores and pharmacies are uniquely positioned to carry items for both kinds of consumers, plus a few lines that fall somewhere in between. 

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