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COVID-19

Sephora’s reopening offers a glimpse into pandemic-era beauty retail

Marielle Segarra May 21, 2020
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A Sephora store in Chicago. The beauty chain will reopen Friday, but the in-store experience will be different. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

Sephora’s reopening offers a glimpse into pandemic-era beauty retail

Marielle Segarra May 21, 2020
Heard on:
A Sephora store in Chicago. The beauty chain will reopen Friday, but the in-store experience will be different. Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Sephora will begin reopening its stores in 13 states Friday. The company is known for its hands-on in-store experience — you get to try on the makeup or have your eyebrows done. And its plan for reopening, which includes a long list of precautions and procedures, gives us a glimpse into how beauty retailers will adapt in this era.

When you go to Sephora, it really is an experience. At the door you’re hit with the — some might say overwhelming — scent of perfume. Then you see the makeup-testing stations, with disposable cotton balls and mascara wands. You can dip your fingers in a pot of foundation to see if the color works for you.

Aaron Patterson is 35 and lives in Baltimore. He said he loves Sephora.

“There are always customer reps walking around, asking you, do you need help with anything?” Patterson said. “They tell you if your skin is dry or oily. They have recommendations for you to use as far as facial cleaners.”

He’s even gotten a facial at the store, one of the many services it offers.

All of this is intentional. Sephora, like other retailers, has leaned into the whole experiential retail thing.

“A store has to be just as exciting or more exciting to shop as online is easy to shop,” said Tiffany Hogan, a principal analyst at Kantar. “You need to have a reason for shoppers to come to your stores, instead of just selling a commoditized product, as it can be viewed, for beauty particularly.”

So what happens now? Sephora says testers are going to be display-only. And there will be no in-store makeup applications or facials. Which means fewer chances to recommend products and make sales.

Hogan said Sephora and other beauty retailers are going to try to fill in the gaps with things like individually wrapped samples and “augmented reality.” Sephora has an app that lets you see how a certain lipstick or eyeliner would look on your face.

“It’s surprisingly realistic,” Hogan said. “Even with mascara, you can tell here’s the kind of volume you’re gonna get, here’s the length you might get.”

It’s not the same, but nothing is right now. Hogan said customers will probably come back to stores even without the hands-on experience. Because they’re kind of stir-crazy.

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