Spending more at the specialty counter may be a bargain in the long run Cosmetics industry reeling in prices


There was a time when if a woman couldn't swing the cost of a new coat, she could always tighten her Gucci belt and boost her spirits with a new lipstick. With top-of-the-line lipsticks pushing the $20 mark, that lipstick may be an extravagance instead of a litttle whim, and the cosmetics industry is beginning to smell consumer resistance.

Women's Wear Daily reported last month that the industry -- which has never shied away from high prices -- is seriously concerned, and some companies have already taken steps to sell the consumer on value as well as label.

* Estee Lauder is eliminating the minimum required for a gift-with-purchase promotion this spring, allowing consumers to buy any item in the line.

* Cosmair's European fragrance division is offering "limited edition" smaller sizes of basic products at lower introductory prices.

* Clinique will unveil a new ad campaign headlined "What Price Great Skin?" The ad says Clinique's three-product skin care system can be had for $29.50.

* Yves Saint Laurent Parfums added Opium Secret de Parfum at $59.50 to its Opium line, which previously had a $77 opening price point.

These may not be measures to thrill the hard-core bargain hunter, but a sure sign that the industry is anxious to hold on to its loyal customers and attract new fans at a time when discount outlets are mushrooming and popular drugstore brands are refining their packaging and advertising.

Ironically, spending more at the department store specialty counter could result in long-term savings. Who doesn't have a box full of mismatched and glaringly wrong colors tucked away in the vanity? All bought on impulse at the supermarket, never to be used again. Cosmetics representatives are trained in color selection and skin analysis. They know tricks of the trade, so advice from a smart saleswoman has more value than hints from a well-intentioned friend.

The sharp ones will keep customer names on file and give advance notice of special events and sales. Return visits mean little samples tucked in with the purchase.

And special demonstrations and make-overs by top makeup artists are a chance to learn how to update a look. Most require an appointment in advance, but there's no obligation to buy the whole face. Yet the extra fuss and pampering can mean time and money well spent.

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