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Why Barnes & Noble Is Getting Into Beauty

Photos: Barnes & Noble

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Right across the aisle from a stack of College of William & Mary sweatshirts at the Barnes & Noble campus bookstore in Williamsburg, Virginia, there’s a display with over 50 lipsticks and lip glosses.

The lip products, by Lipstick Queen, sit next to items from Bliss’s new makeup line, and adjacent to bottles of Living Proof dry shampoo, Butter London nail polish, and Philosophy Pink Frosted Animal Cracker shower gel. The mini beauty store is wedged between the cookbook and art book sections.

Welcome to The Glossary, Barnes & Noble’s unexpected foray into the world of beauty. The bookstore chain is testing out a new concept store within Barnes & Noble College bookstores across the country. The stores are stocked with premium brands like Smashbox along with drugstore names like Burt’s Bees, CoverGirl, L'Oréal, and Maybelline.

To hear B&N execs tell it, college students are so excited about the chance to shop beauty products on campus, the reaction sounds like a Justin Bieber concert.

"I had the luxury of going to every single store and installing all of this within the location and just to hear the squeals of delight from the students when they first see us," says Lisa Mazzio, Barnes & Noble’s director of merchandise, fashion trends and beauty, who spearheaded The Glossary concept along with Joel Friedman, vice president and chief merchandising officer for Barnes & Noble College.

"Once we start putting the product on the shelves, the students are like, 'Oh my God… I can't believe this is coming here. We're going to have Smashbox, we're going to have Philosophy,’" Mazzio says.

The students are like, 'Oh my God… I can't believe this is coming here.'

So far, The Glossary locations have popped up at Barnes & Noble bookstores at Emory University, Southern Methodist University, Tulane University, and the College of William & Mary. Come August, University of California at Riverside will get its own The Glossary, with possibly more campuses to come.

Barnes & Noble’s move from textbooks to beauty isn’t as incongruous as it seems. The chain already carried beauty products from drugstore brands like CoverGirl and Burt’s Bees at its campus bookstores, and those were selling well.

In addition, Barnes & Noble has a built-in audience for beauty on campus. Diana Smith, a senior research analyst at market research firm Mintel, analyzed The Glossary concept in May and noted that adults age 18 to 24 (a.k.a. college-aged) are heavy buyers of beauty products.

"Over six in 10 bought eight+ items in the past year. Price and store location convenience are key drivers that influence where they shop," she writes. "Who would have ever thought about buying beauty products at a bookstore? But it makes sense. It adds convenience and makes popular name brands easily accessible to receptive audiences."

With its selection of tester products, mascara wands, and makeup removers, the pop-up looks very similar to another beauty store. "There’s a Sephora in the middle of the book store," Williamsburg resident Angelina Sarina told Racked. "That’s really bizarre."

Turns out B&N was heavily inspired by Sephora. "I’ve always been intrigued by the success of Sephora. We actually had some dialogue with them a number of years ago to see if they wanted to explore coming into our store and creating a store within a store," Friedman said.

That ended up not happening, but the Barnes & Noble execs decided to create a beauty concept from the ground up — with input directly from college students about what they wanted from a campus makeup store.

The research that we did with the students was so detailed.

The brand ran focus group with students across the country. "They sent a lot of pictures to us. They showed us their makeup bags," Mazzio says. "The research that we did with the students was so detailed. We asked them how did they first discover makeup? We asked what are you looking for in makeup? We asked them what the essentials were, and then we asked them what the go-to brands are. They helped shape some of the brand selection for us."

Meanwhile, Mazzio and Friedman were analyzing optimal campus locations for The Glossary outposts. "We definitely want to make sure that it's in a location where we have that demographic, where she is brand-savvy and there's not much around her," Mazzio said. "A lot of our college campuses are in areas where there's not a lot of competition... Most freshman don't have cars and transportation on campus to get to the mall. The mall could be miles and miles away from them."

The gender divide of students was a factor, too: Mazzio confirmed that Barnes & Noble looked at the male to female ratio on campus. But in the interest of fairness, the College of William & Mary outpost does have Jack Black products for male students.

If Barnes & Noble is selling nail polish and concealer, does this mean books are doomed? After all, times are hard out there for brick-and-mortar bookstores, including Barnes & Noble. Friedman tells Racked he hasn’t gotten that reaction. "I don't think we've come across that at all, in terms of how are stores are viewed, whether it’s by the clients or what we hear from the students. They think really of us as the village green and the place they want to go and hang out," he says.

"I think years ago, the perception of the bookstore [on campus] was the place I have to go to buy my books which are overpriced," Friedman says. "Today… it's not a place they have to go, it's a place they want to go. What we've tried to turn the building is a series of products that they want, not just products that they need."

Of course, what college kids want and what they can afford typically differ.

"It's a little pricier than what students might buy," William & Mary student Madeleine Engler said. Added fellow student Catherine Denton, "I feel like it will be successful in Williamsburg, because a lot of tourists come through here."