Is Sephora's Retail Model the Secret to Brick-and-Mortar Success?


In the era of online shopping and the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, it may come as a surprise that makeup retailer Sephora is thriving. With more than 400 successful locations around the US, the brand is bucking the trend. Building off of this success, Sephora recently decided to open a new kind of shop: a neighborhood boutique—quite different from its traditional stores, which are sprawling, fast-paced, and lively, with pop-music pumping in the background.

The first of these boutiques, called the Sephora Studio, opened at the end of July on a charming historic street in downtown Boston. With a small storefront, the Studio blends neatly into its surroundings. The boutique feel is amplified by exposed brick and a customized floor, painted with the words “Hello Newbury Street.” According to Fast Company, “it generally feels more serene and peaceful than a traditional Sephora.”

The Sephora Studio is not a micro model of Sephora, but a separate store with a carefully-manicured experience. The small product selection focuses on make-up more than skincare and perfume, and the center of the space harbors eight makeup stations for personal consultations. Technology is key: there are no cash registers, and at makeup stations, beauty advisors can take photos of customers and add the products they tested to their online profiles. “The goal of the Studio is to foster personal connections between our clients and our beauty advisers,” said Mary Beth Laughton, Sephora’s SVP of digital. “But we’re using technology to ease that relationship building. We’re not interested in using technology for technology’s sake.”

Admittedly, Sephora’s general success has been somewhat unusual. Calvin McDonald, CEO of Sephora Americas, believes that it comes from the brand’s approach to “experiential retail,” which, according to Fast Company, is “a buzzword that refers to giving customers a delightful in-person experience that is about more than buying a product.” “Customers come into our stores to tap into the expertise of our advisers,” McDonald said. “They come here to play with products and have a good time.” The boutiques are simply an extension of this.

The Boston Sephora Studio is the first of many boutiques to come. Next up? Brooklyn, Hoboken, NJ, and Washington, D.C. As many as 80 Sephora boutiques are expected to sprout up in the years to come.

We don’t usually cover makeup here on PurseBop, but we thought Sephora’s situation is strikingly relevant to the issues plaguing luxury fashion’s brick-and-mortar stores, and millennials’ desires for experiential shopping. What do you think of Sephora’s success, and can it translate to our favorite fashion brands? Let us know in the comments!

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Photo courtesy: Sephora