The retailer officially opened in late October 2022 with a UK e-commerce website supported by massive spending on outdoor advertising. The campaign, Express All of You, featured five joyful Britons living their best beauty lives and popped up all over the UK on billboards, at bus stops and on black taxis. Unfortunately, none of the joyful five looked a day over 22 (probably why they were so joyful). This didn't go unnoticed by the British beauty community who were vocal about the campaign not reflecting the full inclusiveness of beauty.
This misstep coupled with website tech glitches, error codes and stock fulfilment issues frustrated customers who took to social media to voice their disappointment – even making the national news. While we can forgive a technical glitch, what is less defensible is the headline brands that Sephora is serving customers on its homepage and dedicated email newsletters. Customers want to hear from the Sephora brands they can’t buy at home – those niche, cool, indie brands that only Sephora can give them access to. So far, it is mainly established names like Charlotte Tilbury, Olaplex and Elemis that dominate the site – and that are available from numerous UK outlets.
Despite the lacklustre launch, Sephora retains the golden ticket to re-ignite the magic and excitement in its UK comeback – physical stores. Whispers of a flagship store in Westfield, London, are thrilling. The prospect of a store akin to Sephora Times Square – one of the largest in the US – is mouth-watering to any beauty shopper who will trek far and wide to sample The Sephora Experience. The store will (we hope) contain shelf upon shelf of exclusive brands we can't otherwise get our hands on. Its nerve centre will be the innovative Beauty Hub we’ve read about, where physical and digital retail meet and we can discover, learn, play and share our beauty routines, best buys and application tips via iPad stations. I can’t wait for the life-size try-before-you-buy virtual make-up, the look books and personalised beauty routines, not to mention the live make-up masterclasses, the access to brand experts and, of course, the big celebrity-filled launch party complete with a branded slide and ball pit. Come on, Sephora, we've waited nearly 20 years for you – give us what we've been missing. I, for one, am desperate to queue outside your flagship store and trot around town with my little black and white Sephora bag.
Jo Jones is a UK-based PR and brand-building expert who has launched several brands to market including Charlotte Tilbury Make-up, Victoria Beckham Beauty, Hair by Sam McKnight and Glossier (UK).
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