Sephora, a leading beauty brand established in France over half a century ago, once struggled in the European market in the mid-2000s.
The company was forced to abandon its operations in the United Kingdom in 2005 due to high rent costs and intense competition, leaving behind only a few stores. However, after two decades, Sephora is preparing for a resurgence in the UK market. The brand has been quietly planning its return, and, according to its new Global Chief Brand Officer, Steve Lesnard, 2023 will be the year that Sephora fully establishes itself once again in the UK market.
Sephora is a globally recognized prestigious beauty retailer named among Interbrand’s Top 100 global brands. As part of its global presence, Sephora will open four UK stores next year. They will be found in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow. Sephorha’s recent launch of its UK online store received widespread attention and was marked by a high-profile pop-up event in London for the press, influencers, brands, and customers. While the exact locations of the physical stores are being kept under wraps, Sephora’s UK General Manager, Sarah Miles, revealed that the company has been eyeing a return to the UK “for quite a long time” and carefully considering the best approach to the market.
Led by newly-appointed Steve Lesnard, Sephora’s return to the UK was timed for the busy Q4 shopping season. To generate excitement, the brand employed a three-step strategy: acquiring FeelUnique, hosting a pop-up event, and launching the “Express All of You” omnichannel campaign.
Sephora always aimed to return to the UK market after its exit 20 years ago. As TikTok’s popularity grew, the company saw an increasing desire for self-expression among UK consumers. To gather information on the UK market, Sephora acquired FeelUnique in 2021 for £132 million. This deal gave Sephora access to FeelUnique’s one million UK shoppers, allowing the company to better understand the market and inform its omnichannel strategy led by Steve Lesnard.
Sarah Miles explained that the FeelUnique acquisition, which took place a year ago, allowed Sephora to gain 17 years of experience serving UK customers and learning their behavior, such as what they buy and how they browse. Combining this with Sephora’s extensive knowledge, the company was able to form a comprehensive plan for its return to the UK market.
Sephora combined FeelUnique with its new UK website (sephora.co.uk) and shopping app in October 2022. To show appreciation for its UK customers, Sephora also transferred FeelUnique rewards points to incentivize purchases from UK shoppers.
For its relaunch in the UK, Sephora teamed up with AKQA, a renowned design studio, and marketing agency, to launch its “Express All of You” campaign, showcasing beauty as a form of self-expression for the UK’s diverse population. The campaign aimed to honor the various cultures and identities in the UK and demonstrate how prestigious beauty brands like Sephora allow individuals to express themselves. According to Sephora’s Steve Lesnard, the “Express All of You” campaign aimed to emphasize the power of beauty and self-expression in the UK’s multicultural community.
The launch of the “Express All of You” campaign in October coincided with the digital launch of sephora.co.uk in October 2022, as well. The campaign, aimed at the UK’s multicultural audience, was created by Sephora’s leadership team with a focus on the power of beauty and self-expression. It included both physical and digital components for a comprehensive omnichannel experience, like online videos, influencer partnerships, billboards, tube station billboards, and more.
Sephora’s “Express All of You” campaign launch generated buzz with a giant 3D animation displayed on the screen at London’s Piccadilly Circus. The result was 115 million online impressions and 132 million offline impressions. Steve Lesnard said, “Our campaign celebrates the idea that being British means embracing multiple versions of oneself and the ever-evolving, undefined, and experimental beauty in the UK. We are thrilled to launch in the country with this campaign and look forward to continuing to celebrate the diverse cultures and identities in the UK while empowering Brits to unleash their beauty potential.”
The exact locations of the physical Sephora stores in the UK are yet to be announced, but it is expected to generate high interest from consumers. The response to the launch of the website, sephora.co.uk, has been phenomenal, with a surge in traffic causing a site outage on the first day, which was quickly resolved.
The UK is a top 10 beauty market and continues to grow, especially in its digital aspect. Despite economic fluctuations, the UK beauty market has remained resilient and is estimated to be around 40% online, which is higher than many other markets.
The UK market is diverse and well-informed, with beauty consumers driven by individual expression rather than trends. Thanks to social media, UK consumers look to a variety of global sources for inspiration and are open to new brands. As a result, offering an exciting brand proposition will be crucial for Sephora’s success in this market, says Lesnard.
In addition to the digital launch of sephora.co.uk, consumers can look forward to a variety of exclusive in-store products. These exclusive items include offerings from renowned make-up artist Patrick Star with ONE/SIZE, singer Gwen Stefani with GXVE, and celebrity make-up artist Mario with Makeup by Mario. The list of exclusives will continue to grow, with additional announcements to come. Consumers can expect to find an extensive selection of prestige and niche beauty brands, including well-known names like Gucci, Dior, Huda Beauty, Ole Henriksen, Byoma, Glow Recipe, and Fenty, among many others.
Sephora’s in-store experience and the mix of brands it offers will be crucial to its success in the UK. The beauty market has seen significant changes since Sephora’s exit, with new players such as H Beauty from Harrods, standalone beauty stores from NEXT entering the market, and chains like Boots and Superdrug focusing more on beauty. However, the exit of the department store chain Debenhams (which is now online-only) creates an opportunity for Sephora to stand out in the crowded market.
Sephora’s return to the UK is stronger than ever, ready to cater to customers seeking premium experiences in an omnichannel setting, thanks to Steve Lesnards’ forward-thinking. With over two decades of experience, Steve Lesnard’s leadership has reinforced Sephora’s position for global expansion and sustained presence. The Global Chief Brand Officer not only connects with consumers but also prioritizes environmental sustainability by reducing energy consumption and promoting 100% ingredient transparency.
Steve Lesnard on Joining Sephora
With a great track record and background working for one of the largest athletic brands in the world, Steve Lesnard recognizes Sephora as a leader in the beauty sector, as it is the only global beauty prestige retailer with a strong desire to expand and flourish globally. Lesnard is drawn to innovative and disruptive brands like Sephora as they offer consumers a superior experience.
Lesnard shares Sephora’s values, particularly regarding sustainability, transparency, renewable energy, and diversity. He emphasizes that Sephora’s perspective on beauty, its dedication to diversity and inclusion, and its sustainability efforts align with his personal beliefs.
As the new Global Chief Brand Officer, Lesnard brings a forward-thinking approach to Sephora. His initial focus will be on enhancing the brand’s omnichannel platform, a crucial aspect in meeting the changing digital needs of consumers. Lesnard highlights Sephora’s expertise in omnichannel, with over 165 million records in its database, which positions the brand at the forefront of revolutionizing the omnichannel experience.