Sears puts a new face on beauty departments

After bringing back the toy department and the Christmas Club, Sears is making another play for shopper dollars by giving its cosmetics department a makeover.

Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD) announced it will launch new beauty departments in Sears stores featuring both prestige brands such as Calvin Klein and mass-market cosmetics from L'Oreal, Maybelline and others. The company also signed an exclusive deal to sell the Yves Rocher line of botanical beauty products.

The first Sears Beauty departments will open this month in 13 stores in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

The cosmetics are a clear play for women customers. Through all its ups and downs, Sears has been known for its appliances and hardware -- brands such as Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard are mainstays in American homes -- but soft goods have been a tough sell for the store chain. Last week, the company reported same-stores sales were down 8.6 percent in the last quarter -- nearly $1 billion less than last year.

It's no coincidence that cosmetics are placed on the ground floor of department stores, near the entrance: They attract women shoppers, who draw money in the door. Looking to improve its image, J.C. Penney joined with French cosmetics chain Sephora to open shops in its department stores; and Target Corp. has an exclusive deal with the British drugstore chain Boots to sell its beauty products in U.S. stores as part of its cult-discounter ethos.

But Sears attempts at beauty have made it look bad before. A decade ago, it had an ambitious Circle of Beauty department that failed to perk sales. In 2000, it joined with JC Penney & Co. to plan a series of beauty departments selling an exclusive Avon Products line, but withdrew from the project before it even launched.

With the economy still weak and this year's holiday shopping season in doubt, Sears is going back to basics. Last month, it announced it was bringing toy departments back into its stores. And this month, Sears Holdings' introduction of a Christmas Club for Sears and Kmart customers was greeted enthusiastically by customers.,feedConfig,localizationConfig,entry&id=676459&pid=676458&uts=1251407306
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Geert Vanden Wijngaert, AP
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