The world’s leading omnichannel prestige beauty retailer, Sephora, has been dazzling beauty junkies since 1969, when it was first launched in Paris by Frenchman Dominique Mandonnaud.
Then known as Shop 8 in Limoges, France, it was the first-of-its-kind “assisted self-service” environment that allowed shoppers to try and test products (namely perfumes) before buying them — a concept unheard of in the beauty retail industry back then. This new way of shopping became such a hit that a dozen more Shop 8 outlets started to sprout up in the next two decades, along with the acquisition of numerous Boots pharmacies in France.
By 1993, Mandonnaud decided to merge Boots and Shop 8 and rebranded them as Sephora, offering customers an open-sell retail experience selling premium skincare and fragrance brands.
“Our founder was an absolute disrupter in the industry. When he created Sephora, the prestige beauty industry was still in its traditional retail format. But Mandonnaud believed in one major point: consumers must have the freedom of choice. That they should be allowed to select from across hundreds of products and brands to give them a sense of empowerment,” says Alia Gogi, president of Sephora Asia.
Mandonnaud continued to expand the Sephora brand through the 90s, opening up its flagship store in Champs Élysées in 1997, the same year Sephora was sold to LVMH. This version of Sephora 2.0 saw rapid global expansion and bolstered the chain's product offerings to include cosmetics, body and hair care, and Sephora's private label.
Sephora's global footprint covers 36 markets, with close to 3,000 stores and 36,000 employees worldwide. In the past year, Sephora has enjoyed double-digit growth for the whole region of Asia, despite the pandemic.
In the early 2000s, Sephora 3.0 (as Gogi calls it) started to develop its omnichannel strategy to integrate its digital ecosystem with highly interactive physical retail experiences. Today, as the brand gets ready to enter the second quarter of the millennium, Gogi is about to roll out Sephora 4.0 — unveiling the future of beauty retail with a space specially designed to elevate the consumer journey.
Now open, Sephora’s “store of the future”, located at Raffles City Singapore, is a first for the global beauty retailer showcasing exclusive and holistic beauty services, workshops, digital touchpoints and a wide assortment of curated products to create a seamless consumer store experience. “We went from being a store that was all about trying-before-buying to now moving to a much more connected platform that enables a holistic lifelong beauty journey,” says Gogi, whose team was instrumental in launching this new store concept.
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A project two years in the making, Singapore was chosen as the first country to kick off this concept, as it is the city for innovation. “Singapore is an innovation hub and the best country in the world to launch new digital initiatives,” adds Gogi. Next year, her team will take this model and launch it in China and, slowly, the rest of Asia.
“In today’s fast-changing retail environment, Sephora has always been passionate about meeting our customer’s dynamic shopping needs as they evolve. This store is the perfect intersection of innovative and experiential elements where our customers can immerse and transform themselves in the absolute best of global beauty brands through a hyper-personalised retail approach,” she says.
Gogi adds that the pandemic pushed the team to think faster about how to shift the experiences in stores. “We were already discussing updating the store, but Covid-19 accelerated our plans. There was a greater urgency and push for us to put this into motion.”
She explains how the idea for the “store of the future” came about. “We asked ourselves why consumers would come to stores? These days, you don’t need to be physically present to make a purchase, as there are many ways to make a transaction. Ultimately, people shop for the experiences. Our challenge was how do we elevate these experiences and integrate them with tech and digital tools and services.”
After going through multiple rounds of brainstorming and customer insights, the 426 sq m store of the future at Raffles City was born, designed around three main touchpoints — immersive spaces, human interaction and digital tools.
The new look and feel of the store is designed to facilitate and amplify Sephora as a beauty playground with areas created for testing, browsing, learning and shopping. For make-up junkies, the Play Table is an interactive area which allows customers to “shop by look” and make purchases based on popular makeup looks with frequently updated video tutorials.
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Those concerned with their skin can visit the Skincare Lounge, a cosy corner offering a curated assortment of on-trend skincare products and a semi-private facial room that uses resurfacing technology to cleanse, exfoliate, and hydrate the skin deeply. You will also find a Care Table where customers can shop for skin concerns. The products come with a helpful lift-and-learn digital function where information about the item you’re holding will flash on the screen. And if you want to get to know your skin better, you can enjoy a free 15-minute consultation using a dermatologist-approved Skincredible app from the US that scans your dermis to determine your skin concerns.
In another first for Sephora in Asia, there is an open back room called the Beauty School, built with state-of-the-art ceiling-to-floor LED screens and modular seating, that will offer about 50 free makeup classes and other workshops, which can be booked via a mobile app.
Throughout the store, you will find various other staff-assisted tablets to virtually pay for your purchases (yes, this is Sephora’s first cashless store) — and a Scan-to-Interact application, where you scan any item for over one million consumer reviews from all around the world.
As part of the elevated experience, Sephora will also leverage the expertise of its beauty experts to offer beauty services (which are now payable), such as dry hairstyling and complete glam make-up services.
To coincide with the new store launch – also pandemic-inspired – is the introduction of a new self-care and wellness category offering an array of calming products such as candles and room sprays. New brands have also been introduced, such as luxury skincare by Augustinus Bader, plant-based skincare by Juice Beauty, performance makeup by Patrick Ta, award-winning lash serums by Grande Cosmetics, and homegrown aromatherapy brand Hush Candle.
“Sephora has a point of view when it comes to beauty trends, and this is what has been one of our successes. We have incredible instincts and insight into the latest trends and brands, which has been an important part of how we curate. We hope our ever-evolving products, such as the Clean Beauty category, make you feel empowered, nurtured, delighted, and most importantly, extraordinary.”
To end, she shares a company motto that inspired Sephora’s continued success: “We exist to expand the way the world sees beauty by empowering the extraordinary in each of us.”