By ANJALI CORDEIRO And ELLEN BYRON
Procter & Gamble Co. plans to launch an online store that will sell key brands, aiming to study consumer buying habits as it counters moves by traditional retailers, which have reduced the variety of brands they carry.
P&G spokeswoman Tressie Long said the company sees the new online store as more of a "learning lab," where it can study consumers' online buying habits, rather than as a direct source of sales growth. P&G, which already sells its products online through the Web sites of such retailers as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., says it will share what it learns with retailers that carry its brands.
P&G's new "eStore" will start as a pilot using 5,000 consumers in coming days. The site will carry only P&G products but will be owned and operated by PFSweb, an e-commerce service provider. Pricing on the site will be at the discretion of PFSweb, P&G says.
Not every P&G product will be available via the site initially, although big brands including Tide, Pampers and Olay will be sold there. The new Web site, at pgestore.com, is not yet publicly accessible but will be up for use beyond the pilot program in the spring. There will be a flat $5 shipping fee for all orders.
Procter & Gamble has increasingly been looking for new avenues of growth as consumers have cut back. In recent months the company has said it will push to sell more of its products online,
Despite P&G's push into the online medium, sales at traditional retailers will remain key to its business. P&G gets about half a billion dollars in online sales, a fraction of its roughly $79 billion in annual sales. Researcher Nielsen estimates online sales of consumer packaged goods including food, beverage, health and beauty aids and household cleaners increased 20% to 25% between 2004 and 2008, hitting roughly $10 billion in 2008.
In separate news, Procter & Gamble plans to end its fragrance licensing agreement with Valentino Fashion Group, according to a person familiar with the matter. Puig Beauty & Fashion Group SL, the Spanish fashion and fragrance company, is expected to take over the license from P&G in February 2011, this person said.
P&G produces a number of fragrances for Valentino, which is owned by U.K. based private-equity fund Permira. But sales never reached the heights of P&G's other fragrance licenses, including those with Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, which last year launched a makeup line.
A spokeswoman from P&G declined to comment. A spokesman from Puig couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
P&G wants to weed out underperforming brands to focus on its more competitive products. The company has been moving into luxury beauty products, including the expansion of skin care line SK-II and its acquisition of high-end men's grooming lines like The Art of Shaving.