Store Concept of the Year: Sephora
Largest store footprint:
34th St., NYC
Store concepts opened in 2017:
Newest store concept:
Christopher de Lapuente
Ulta Beauty, Birchbox, Glossier
Best known for:
The Beauty TIP workshops, started in 2015, which feature an experiential, playful approach to the beauty retail sector.
Retailers have been opening new store concepts at a furious pace as they strive to make brick-and-mortar fun again. From Nordstrom's merchandise-free experiment to Target's small-format stores aimed at winning over the college market with convenience and localized offerings, retailers are jumping at the chance to offer differentiated in-store experiences.
Few do it better than Sephora — a company at the forefront of experiential retail for some time now. Starting with the Beauty TIP Workshop, a store concept first introduced in 2015, Sephora has been laser-focused on inventing new ways to make the beauty shopping journey fun and engaging for customers, with beauty workstations acting as the hub and iPads littering the selling floor to offer digitally-enabled self-service.
Its newest concept, the Sephora Studio, pushes the envelope even more.
Both of Sephora's store concepts are heavy on the tech. Customers in Beauty TIP stores or the Sephora Studio, opened on Boston's Newbury Street in July, can use the retailer's Virtual Artist tool, which lets users try on different looks virtually and the Color IQ feature, which scans a customer's face to find the perfect foundation match.
"It's a combination of human and technical interaction because, yes, we get the colors absolutely, scientifically precise, but there's a conversation about what kind of foundation finish she wants or what kind of format she wants. Does she want a powder or a liquid?" Deborah Yeh, senior vice president of marketing and brand at Sephora, told Retail Dive in November, stressing the importance of thinking about technology and store associates "in balance."
That balance between knowledgeable store associates and digitally-enabled experiences is part of what makes Sephora's store concepts so compelling, especially for younger shoppers who are increasingly seeking out more experience-driven retailers. A study by the Fashion Institute of Technology found that millennials were more likely to purchase from retailers who focused on experience and community, and other studies have shown that Gen Z is following suit.
"If you think about the difference of going into a Sephora, where you've got technology and knowledgeable staff members and a great variety of product, versus going into a Walgreens where there's just a row of a bunch of stuff that's hidden behind plastic that you can't try on — certainly, that more engaging experience is going to appeal to this generation," Jared Blank, senior vice president of data and insights at Bluecore, told Retail Dive.
Some of Sephora's most engaging in-store elements are predicated on the simple idea of allowing customers to experiment and play around with products before committing to a purchase. Beauty TIP stores with skincare studios are attended by working sinks, stores with fragrance sections have "the whole wheel of scent families" for customers to sniff through when looking for a new fragrance and Sephora's store associates (referred to as 'beauty advisors') are always close at hand for consultations.
Sephora's newest concept, the Sephora Studio, takes these concepts even further by focusing on the fostering of long-term customer relationships and consultation services, from skincare all the way through makeup. Although the store has only been open since July, Sephora said they have already received positive responses from their customers and they plan to expand the concept to more locations in the future.
While not every retail market is the right place for this kind of intimate environment, Sephora is watching closely for places to expand, namely in locations where "the real estate speaks to that kind of footprint," according to the company. But wherever Sephora's prototypes go next, it's safe to say they'll be focused on an experiential, engaging form of retail.
"One of the beautiful things about being in such a personal retail category is that there are human interactions happening all the time — and not just at a cash wrap," Yeh told Retail Dive. "They're happening in the aisles, in the beauty studios... and so each of those touch points becomes an opportunity for inspiration for us from our consumer."
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