Masstige is exactly what the hybrid term suggests: Something you need to go to a drugstore for. No, not because a certain condition has lasted for more than four hours.

Masstige skin- and hair-care products are similar to the prestige brands found at upscale department stores but sold at mass market retailers like drugstores and big-box retailers.

The drugstore industry, in particular, has taken a liking to masstige products. So have drugstore customers, many of whom are willing to pay upwards of $55 for a jar of skin cream that promises to do some of the same things as higher-priced, department-store brands.

But will customers remain willing to spend more on products sold in a place that also carries beef jerky and digestive aids?

Convenience as luxury?

Possibly. But consumers aren’t letting that unappetizing juxtaposition stop them from laying down some serious amounts of cash at the likes of Walgreens or Rite Aid. Young shoppers, in particular, have few qualms about heading to the drugstore for beauty products they’ve already researched online. Those shoppers, says one research analyst, “care less about what store they are buying at, and more about the product and the product features.”

And shoppers in a hurry – these young people these days! – like the convenience a drugstore can offer. “Department stores have limited hours and limited locations,” says the analyst, “whereas your average drugstore is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.” As, of course, many a young man knows.

Beauty shoppers also spend more at drugstores. Rite Aid’s VP of health and beauty says the average haul of beauty shoppers is higher than that of the store’s standard customer.

Given all that, drugstores have learned to tailor their store layouts and product offerings to appeal to the two kinds of shoppers that buy beauty products—those that regularly stock up on staples and those who buy on impulse.

Snake oil that really works…on snakes

Brands, ever-aware of securing shoppers’ attention, are now offering masstige products that do more than simply clean or moisturize. Shoppers still need to be convinced that the money they’re spending will help them cure a certain ill or improve a specific condition. “We have to have an obsession about being new, better, different,” says one marketing veep.

Here’s what one company, Unilever, is doing with masstige:

  • The company’s Dove division launched two brands specifically for the masstige market: One line, for women with very dry skin, features a cleansing bar for $7.99 and an eczema “therapy cream” that runs $19.99. Another line geared toward men has a pre-shave exfoliator ($21.99) and a post-shave “repair balm” ($25.99). No more Aqua Velva for you!
  • Unilever’s Nexxus hair-care products are typically sold at salons – and also at selected retail outlets. The company’s VP for hair says that the brand’s tagline, “Salon Hair Care,” is less about where it is sold and “more a distinction of the quality of the product.”

Class neutrality

The notion of browsing high-quality beauty products in functional environs is hardly new. More than ten years ago, Sephora introduced consumers to an “open-sell” environment, eliminating display cases so that people could sample products without dealing with a cosmetics concierge. And the retail chain Ulta was credited as the first to display mass and prestige products on the same selling floor.

Walgreens has furthered those concepts by allowing customers to browse through mass, masstige and what the chain calls its proprietary “prestige” items. The company’s beauty honcho says that the variety of types of products offered is in keeping with another shopping trend – mixing higher- and lower-end clothing items in the same selling space.

Will the drugstore masstige trend last? If the chains themselves have anything to say about it, absolutely. Says one exec, “At a premium price point, you don’t need to sell as many units to generate the same sales and profit.”

Plus, there’s always something you need at the drugstore. Or at least there had better be.

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