New Web site fills health, beauty gap

By Published on ., a new Web site backed by Digest Media Group, seeks to fill the gap left by the often-paltry ethnic health and beauty aids offered by bricks-and-mortar retailers and join the growing trend of Internet sales to consumers.

The site features thousands of products, many the company claims sold at 70% below comparable retail store prices. The site is appealing to time-pressed African-American women who are buying not only for themselves but also other family members. "So many women tell us that they run from store to store, trying to find all of the different products they want," says Susan Benjamin, president-CEO of, as well as editor in chief of Family Digest. "And if they do find [the products they want], then the pricing amounts to highway robbery."

Digest Media Group publishes Family Digest, Family Digest Baby, two Web sites ( and ( and the "Family Minute" radio program. Digest Media Group founder Darryl Mobley, a former Procter & Gamble Co. beauty care executive, launched as a separate business in November.

"It was the letters that we received from our readers that really inspired us to created," says Ms. Benjamin, who was a brand manager at P&G and worked in sales for IBM Corp. before joining Family Digest.


In the site's first 10 days, received an average of 11,000 visits per day, Ms. Benjamin says. While she would not reveal sales, she says the site is profitable. Radio and spot TV support is planned this year, as well as targeted mailings. Advertising is handled in-house.

Essence is another African-American publication that has moved into online retailing. Essence Online ( offers products from the new Essence Holiday Boutique and the existing Essence Direct catalog, Essence Art Reproductions, Essence books, plus contests and entertainment events.

"We are appealing to the same audience, the affluent, college-educated, African-American woman who already believes in us and the Essence brand," says Clarence Smith, president, Essence Communications.

The Essence site, which is currently undergoing reconstruction, has been averaging 2.4 million hits per month, Mr. Smith says.

According to Forrester Research, consumers will spend as much as $10.3 billion on Internet purchases of health and beauty products by 2003. Of that, the majority of purchases will be made by women.


The overall market for African-American beauty products, including hair and skincare items, men's shaving supplies, cosmetics, hosiery and children's toiletries, accounts for $6 billion in sales annually, says Ms. Benjamin.

African-American families spend about 10% of their shopping dollars on health and beauty care products, compared with 8% spent by the general market, according to the trade association American Health and Beauty Aids Institute.

It's important to note, however, that ethnic beauty care Web sites also are competing against other online retailers, such as and

"It's really not so difficult, at least in major urban markets, to find a good selection and good prices on ethnic beauty care products," notes Wendy Liebmann, president, WSL Strategic Retail, a retail consultancy.


"Online beauty sites may do better in the long run as venues for restocking of items but not for sampling, where women really like to sample new products before they buy."

Plus, capturing ethnic consumers takes more than good selection and prices, say ethnic marketing experts.

"African-Americans want to know what you're doing to help support the community, and they're more supportive of companies that help in those efforts," says Ginger Nelson, president of consultancy Ethnic Technologies. "Black consumers want to know not just what you're selling but what you're giving back."


On its home page, asks customers to vote for the black organization to which a percentage of their purchase should be donated.

Organizations include NAACP, United Negro College Fund and National Urban League, but the site also asks customers to suggest other potential groups. is advertising in the pages of Family Digest and also on the Web sites operated by the media group. Radio and spot TV also are planned for 2000, as well as targeted mailings. Advertising is handled in-house.

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