LONDON — At last.
After 18 years, Sephora has opened once again on British soil, and to the tune of the Sugababes, who performed live on Tuesday night to a packed opening party at the brand’s new 6,000-square-foot Westfield White City store.
Huge black balloons filled the store as trays of Champagne made their way around the space with its black floors, warm lighting and walls packed with product ranging from fragrance to cosmetics to skin-boosting scrubs.
The curation and merchandising have been done with an editor’s eye. Walking around feels like flipping through the pages of a glossy magazine, with lots of slick branding, product news, exclusives, trends and recommendations.
There’s a stand called The Lipstick Bar with myriad brands, colors, textures and finishes on offer, and another stand called Hot on Social Media, which spotlights the top 10 trending items. This week, that included Prada Paradoxe and Wow hair products.
Other areas are devoted to Sephora Collection, which includes bestsellers such as the jumbo eye pencils and Size Up mascara. A vast selection of Sephora-branded body care is located at the back, right near the state-of-the-art self-service tills.
There are merchandise islands with names like Eye Must Haves and The Next Big Thing, which is currently showcasing brands such as Ouai and JVN.
In total there are more than 135 brands, in addition to a hub at the center of the store that offers services ranging from fragrance bottle engraving to professional makeup, skin treatments and diagnostics.
Brands exclusive to Sephora U.K. include Makeup by Mario, GXVE by Gwen Stefani, One/Size by Patrick Starrr, Vegamour, Skinfix and Commodity.
The store is also debuting brands in physical retail for the first time in the U.K., including Tarte (which has its own area near the front of the store) Glow Recipe, Supergoop, Danessa Myricks and Kosas.
The long-awaited opening follows Sephora’s purchase and rebranding of the e-commerce site Feelunique, which it has been using to feed, and monitor, the high demand coming from the U.K. market.
Sarah Boyd, managing director of Sephora U.K., said the region is among the top 10 biggest prestige beauty markets worldwide, “with a very high level of digital adoption.” She said that U.K. consumers have “a strong appetite for a carefully curated prestige beauty offer that is tailored to their needs.”
A few hours before Tuesday’s opening, she said the store has been merchandised in a “democratic” way, with no particular focus on one category over another.
“We’ve done that because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” and how the customer is going to shop, she said as the Sugababes practiced their set on a little stage in the middle of the store, and the shop assistants readied the shelves.
“We have the e-commerce business, and we can see what’s selling, but the sales in-store could be quite different. Our two biggest categories right now are skin care and makeup, and that’s likely to be the same in-store. Hair and fragrance are quite big, too, so we’re also giving a lot of space to those categories. We’ll see how the consumer shops and if we need to kind of make any adjustments,” she said.
Boyd added that she’s particularly interested in seeing how Sephora Collection performs in the new London store.
For the first time, the U.K. customer “will be able to see Sephora Collection all together, and play with it and understand it more. We have good brand recognition already, but I think when customers see it in all its glory, it will be really impressive,” Boyd said.
She added that, going forward, Sephora will be linking its app with the in-store experience so that customers can create wishlists, find the right products and navigate the store more efficiently.
Boyd confirmed that a second store will open in the U.K. this year, but declined to confirm the location. WWD understands that Sephora had viewed space at the shopping mall on the site of the former Battersea Power Station in south London.
Such are the expectations for this new Sephora that the opening party is set to last two days, with more guests in attendance, and the Sugababes performing once again on Wednesday, the first official day of trading.
Sephora has been marketing the opening far and wide, plastering the turnstiles at nearby London Underground stations with the retailer’s signature black-and-white stripes, and posting digital ads inside and outside Westfield, and in central London.
This isn’t Sephora’s first foray into the U.K. The retailer opened its first store there in 2000 in Bluewater shopping center in Kent, opening nine doors overall. But in 2005, they were shuttered, with the brand unable to break through the intense competition from Boots and others.
In 2021, post-Brexit and with Boots’ sales lagging, Sephora took its first step toward reentering Britain by acquiring the online prestige beauty retailer Feelunique in a deal valued at 132 million pounds.
It rebranded the site as sephora.co.uk. Feelunique shipped about 80,000 products per day.
There’s much to play for in the British beauty market. According to Euromonitor, it is the second largest European beauty market after Germany and is in the top 10 worldwide.
Euromonitor previously forecast revenues in the British beauty market to hit $17.32 billion in 2022, with annual growth expected to be 4.1 percent each year until 2026.
Sephora is not the first retailer to tap into the beauty cravings of the U.K. market.
Boots, meanwhile, has ramped up its beauty offer in major retail hubs, aiming to replicate the style, merchandising and buzzy vibe at retailers such as Sephora and Ulta Beauty.
Space NK is also in expansion mode, having recently opened its biggest unit at Battersea Power Station, while the beauty floors at the big London retailers such Harrods, Selfridges, Fenwick, Harvey Nichols and Liberty are packed with customers of all ages seeking products and experiences.