Time for travel retail to nail it?

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Last week I was invited to London to the Estée Lauder Companies’ Fall Preview, which provided a mightily useful sneak peek at the group’s forthcoming key launches for the autumn/winter season. (I know – autumn/winter! In the UK we’ve sent out a search party for spring and summer…)

Many high-profile launches stood out, as did the group’s renewed focus on the nail sector in general (MAC alone is launching 65 new nail shades). It’s a savvy development. In the domestic market, nails are having a moment. The sector is booming big-time, driven by a wealth of innovation that includes not just stunning shade palettes, but nail art, nail tattoos, nail gems, transfers, stick-on nail wraps, crackle polish, magnetic polish and long-lasting gels, all showcased by techniques such as caviar manicures (involving pearls not fish eggs), dipping, ombre, fade effects and marbleising. Still with me? Celebrities and sports stars are fuelling the trend. Certain cult shades/products even have waiting lists.


Wimbledon champ Serena Williams and her trademark talons; the tennis player has even collaborated with OPI to create her own Glam Slam collection

According to market research firm NPD Group, nails are the fastest-growing segment within US prestige colour cosmetics, up +67% this year and worth a whopping US$32 million. And it’s not just a US thing; for example, France isn’t too far behind. Yet in travel retail, the category is virtually non-existent. Perhaps it’s time to question why?

Yes, we all know about the constraints of margin and space. But depending on the brand, in terms of size and price, there’s not much difference between a nail polish and a lipstick, and travel retail manages to sell scores of the latter.

So why is the channel neglecting a democratic, affordable category that can be tailored to appeal to all ages and pockets (though if it’s high-end you’re after, Tom Ford Nail Lacquer retails domestically at £25)? Importantly, it offers an excellent opportunity to drive footfall and penetration – particularly during the peak summer holiday season. Nail polish is an ideal impulse purchase: fast, easy and fun. Great for gifting, too.


It’s a bling thing: Singer Jessie J shows off her nails on Twitter

Nail products also offer great scope for exciting, impactful animations and promotions. And they represent an ideal way to inject some colour and theatre, and allow passengers of all ages and nationalities to tap into cutting-edge fashion looks and seasonal trends (anyone else see the cross-category potential here?). I am almost certainly too old to pull off sparkly purple eye shadow, but I can rock a turquoise glitter nail with the best of them. So can my 11 year old. And possibly my mum. In other words, the target audience is huge.

P&C is a pillar category for most retailers, and it is completely understandable why the “if it ain’t broke…” philosophy prevails. But if the category is to continue evolving, it needs to experiment. It needs to reach out. It needs to try new things.

That’s not just my opinion. I recently interviewed Gebr Heinemann’s extremely knowledgeable and ever-forthright Kay Spanger, for a Category Insight supplement on fragrances and cosmetics. He had some interesting things to say, particularly regarding how he thought P&C was losing its ability to excite and engage travellers.


Dannii Minogue Tweets her purple spectrum manicure

“Today, beauty is for us the category where we feel there is the lowest level of innovation regarding animations,” he says. “The perfume industry today is only thinking by group or by brand, to increase their market share. They are not really thinking about how to increase the category overall…I am worried about the category globally,” Spanger added. “It has reached a certain stage.”

That’s a strong message, from a very powerful retailer. And doubtless not everyone will agree. But P&C must be careful not to take its past success for granted, if it is to continue to grow in the future. A little fresh thinking wouldn’t hurt. Maybe nailing it would be a good place to start?

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  • Interesting Rebecca, but true – we displayed the “Revlon Nail Bar” at TFWE 2011 (and will again this year) and those forward thinking Revlon customers who bought into the concept and nail growth strategy have certainly reaped the benefits since then, dynamically growing a segment that had essentially vanished due to space, margins and general apathy. To those reading this who want one, you know who to call!