When we announced the award for ‘Hottest market entry or launch’ at the Gem Retail Hotlist, we knew there could be only one winner: Sephora.
The Beatles, it seems, have nothing on French beauty brand Sephora. After strong rumour became an all-out tease, Sephora finally opened the doors of their Auckland store on Saturday 20th July.
The Paris-based brand was founded in 1969 and sells a variety of cosmetics, fragrances, and beauty tools. It has its own private label, but also offers over 300 other brands many of which have not been available in New Zealand before, including Rihanna’s Fenty.
It’s not just the products that make this the hottest store in town. Sephora’s unique style of ‘assisted self-service’ was launched in the late 1990s, well before its time, and offer customers the chance to try everything out for themselves with the help of staff if they want it. This is in stark contrast to other outlets that require a staff member to talk you through and apply products for you, with some concessions requiring a booking, or even charging for the service. Although many stores in Europe have moved toward a more ‘self-service’ model, this is still pretty unusual in the New Zealand market.
Sephora also offers a subscription service model also fairly unique in the market especially for such high-end brands. While their Beauty Box subscription isn’t yet available here, they are offering a Beauty Pass loyalty card scheme, and one-off beauty set purchases. Their online store launched in New Zealand in 2015 with free shipping on all orders over $55, free samples with every purchase and exclusive loyalty offers. Although only a third of their regular stock was available, their online presence was enough of a hit to encourage the beauty giant to push through their bricks and mortar plans.
On July 20th more than 800 shoppers from all around the country lined up for hours to be some of the first through the doors to experience the $5m fit out of Sephora’s Kiwi flagship. Some even camped out overnight. The excitement among fans was not just the increase in available brands in store, but the chance to touch, smell and try everything before buying – a tactile shopping experience that cannot be replaced by an ecommerce store.
The run up campaign to the opening also offered excitement as shoppers were able to vote for a bus to visit their region – the Sephora Beauty Bus visited Hamilton, Christchurch and Wellington in the days before the main store threw open its doors.
The excitement created by the Sephora campaign, the experiential shopping style on offer and the widening of the beauty brands now available in the New Zealand market make Sephora one of the biggest retail disruptors of 2019.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 764 October/November 2019.