William & Mary

Looks over books? Campus bookstores cash in on cosmetics

This article originally appeared on USA Today

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Tucked inside the bookstore at William & Mary, students at the college can just as easily shop for a notebook or sweatshirt as they can try on the latest Smashbox matte liquid lipstick.

At The Glossary, sleek makeup counters and extendable magnifying mirrors at self-service stations could lead shoppers to think they'd walked into a cosmetics chain store like Sephora. But the move to highlight cosmetics on campus isn't coming from a specialty shop, but rather a college-focused spinoff from Barnes & Noble.

Campus bookstore operator Barnes & Noble College has opened five of these beauty shops at schools in the past year and given their success, will likely open more. The move comes after discovering female students were spending an average of $30 a month on makeup and other beauty products, another area of opportunity Barnes & Noble College can use to try to reposition itself from being entirely dependent on book sales.

Barnes & Noble College, a division of Barnes & Noble Education — an independent company that separated from Barnes & Noble last year — is picking up on a trend that is sweeping the retail industry: Sales of chic cosmetics are booming.

A steady cycle of new products, colors and styles is spurring more frequent purchases of beauty products. The success of the Sephora chain has shown the power of letting customers try out brands in person, lending makeup a distinct advantage to physical retailers over online shops. And some say the category is recession-proof: When times get tough shoppers will still spend money to look glam.

"It's kind of affordable fashion," says Karen Grant, a beauty analyst at NPD Group. "You can be cool and not have to invest a lot. That's one of the things that makes beauty so accessible and attractive."

J.C. Penney, Target, Kohl's and Macy's also are implementing plans that include a heavy emphasis on beauty merchandise. Since acquiring makeup and skincare retailer Bluemercury last year, Macy's will end 2016 with 22 versions of the shop within its department stores in addition to opening 24 stand-alone stores this year.

Sales of prestige beauty — a category that doesn't include sales at food and drug stores — grew more last year than any other of the 21 categories NPD tracks, at 7.3% to hit $16 billion.

Interest in cosmetics has boomed in proportion to the number of beauty bloggers, YouTube personalities and social media stars dedicated to showing women — and men — how to groom themselves and pull off specific looks. The advent of the selfie, reality television and Instagram have only perpetuated the trend of obsessing over appearance.

"I really do believe makeup now is more popular than ever," says Sana Cordeaux, director of strategy and operations for Veluxe, an on-demand beauty service app that lets customers summon makeup artists and hair stylists to their homes.

More store spaces could soon be dedicated to a mix of looks and books. For the moment, outposts at William & Mary, Emory University, University of California Riverside, Tulane University and Southern Methodist University represent just a fraction of the 751 campus bookstores Barnes & Noble College operates.

The Glossary was installed to expand the bookstore's appeal. The store is also distinct from typical drug store beauty purchases, featuring high-end, youthful brands such as Butter London, Bliss and Lipstick Queen. William & Mary's even has a display of skincare products for men. The store also offers special promotions, including occasionally bringing in a makeup artist to give students makeovers.

"We didn’t want to have all the students looking and coming into the bookstore with a preconceived notion of what they would find," says Joel Friedman, chief merchandising officer for Barnes & Noble College.

William & Mary students agree that for them, The Glossary is more convenient than venturing to the mall.

"I usually go to Ulta (another cosmetics chain), but this is walking distance," says Vanessa Martinez, 21, who came to check out the shop with her friend Maedot Ohaneson, 20. Neither woman bought anything, but both were intrigued by the idea of a Sephora-like makeup shop inside the same place where they buy school sweatshirts and water bottles.

"If I run out of something, which has happened before and I’ve had to ship it over to my dorm, this is a much better option," says Melanie Aguilar Rojas, 21. "At least now I can talk to somebody about the product and not just look online and read reviews."

Follow Hadley Malcolm on Twitter @hadleypdxdc.