Glam on the Go: The Best New Beauty Counter Is at the Airport


You can find Benefit Cosmetics’ pink kiosks in airports around the United States. (Photo: Courtesy of Benefit)

Vending machines have long been associated with the sale of condoms, tampons, and nutrient-lacking food substances that, personally, I would only eat when desperate — or maybe hung over.

But in recent years, our human yearning for all things convenient has led to the sale of all sorts of items through automated sales contraptions.

You can now buy iPods, mouthwash, ice cream, even clean panties, with the swipe of a credit card and without ever having to exchange two words with a disgruntled store cashier.

But the most fabulous of these inventions is making its mark on international airport terminals across the United States in the form of the Benefit Cosmetics Glam Up & Away! automated retail kiosks.

These fancy pink machines, which are fashioned in the shape of a bus, have been popping up in airports all over the United States and are changing the way we approach shopping for our favorite prettifying products.

Stocked with the brand’s 30 best-selling items, including Ooh La Lift, They’re Real! Mascara, and Benetint, the kiosks are already functional in 25 airports from JFK to Austin.

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Although beauty-product vending is not a new idea (Elizabeth Arden started selling its most popular items from a vending machine back in 1997!), the tactic is seeing massive revenue growth.

“High-traffic airports are the next beauty battleground for prestige cosmetics brands,” said Benefit Cosmetics CEO Jean-André Rougeot. “Benefit is grabbing first-mover advantage.”

Beauty is already the most valuable category for airport retail, with sales of $8.1 billion annually, according to a Datamonitor Group report on international airport retailing.

Plus the sector is set to achieve the fastest growth over the next five years, driven by strong demand in Asia and exclusive promotions on leading brands.

But Benefit is not the only company to jump on this clear change in retail strategy.


Essie’s nail polish vending machine includes 42 shades and a slick user interface. (Courtesy: Essie)

Essie, a nail polish brand, is also rolling out its version of a vending machine called the Essie Color Boutique. The company has outlets at JFK, Dallas, and Oakland airports and launched this month in Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport.

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Essie’s sleek machines will feature 42 shades from its permanent color portfolio plus rotating seasonal shades. You can shop by shade or use the clever interactive interface to scroll through hot nail-art trends and then “shop the look.”

What’s great about the Essie machines is that they do not charge a premium for the convenience, and you pay the same for a bottle of polish from the machine as you would from your local drugstore or Target. (Suggested retail price: $8.50.)

“If you look at the way consumer shopping patterns are changing today, it’s all about consumer-centricity,” says Lauren Consiglio, VP of marketing for Essie’s parent company, L’Oréal USA. “It’s really about making things convenient for the consumer, so we are seeing more and more where the store goes to the shopper. The retail landscape is shifting, and we are all about making it more accessible and convenient for the consumer.”

And since nail polish is an impulse purchase, this concept is perfect for the glam traveler dashing through an airport terminal.

“Nail polish is the highest cosmetic use category,” Consiglio continued. “Cosmetic users use nail polish more than anything else. They buy more of it. The average consumer owns about 25 bottles. They see the machine, and they can’t help but want to play around with it.”


A Sephora airport vending machine

But how successful has this new tactic been, so far?

“It has been very successful,” Consiglio said. “JFK has been doubling our projected daily sales targets. And to put it this way, one machine can do three times what one of our Target stores can do. And Target is our highest-volume retailer. The JFK machine alone averages around 17 units a day.”

And to put that into a monetary figure, a survey by Airports Council International-North America into U.S. travelers’ shopping behaviors in 2013 found that automated retail units in airports produce average gross sales of more than $100,000 per year. Now that’s glam on the go!

Other companies using a similar model include Sephora, which has machines in both airports and JCPenney stores, and Proactiv, which provides a one-stop shop for those on the quest for clear skin.

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