In depth: Why Sephora chose Westfield London to launch its UK return
As the UK today sees the long-awaited return of Sephora to the beauty retail market at Westfield London, is it the right location from which to launch its UK comeback?
TheIndustry.beauty has taken an in-depth look at Sephora and its newly announced location, with exclusive commentary from Sephora UK's Managing Director Sarah Boyd, as well as industry experts and analysts to gauge their opinions on the retailer's bricks and mortar return and what it might mean for beauty in the UK.
Sephora left the UK in 2005, having opened only a handful of stores in the market. Sources claimed that high rents and tough competition led to its exit, but it's fair to say consumers have missed it.
In 2021, in a prelude to its return, Sephora acquired online beauty retailer Feelunique in a £132 million deal. Fast forward to October 2022, Sephora's highly anticipated return became a reality, as the global beauty retailer took over Feelunique's former website and launched in the UK online – along with a new app.
Following its e-commerce launch last year, Sephora has now officially opened its first store at Westfield London.
What to expect from Sephora Westfield London?
Open now, Westfield London is the first bricks and mortar location for Sephora in its return to the UK market. The new 6,000+ sq ft space showcases "an exceptional assortment of products and personal services", claims Sephora.
View this post on Instagram
The heart of the store is defined by a combination of human touch and technology experiences, where a Grand Beauty Hub provides "memorable experiences" for customers as they explore makeup, skincare, haircare, fragrance, bodycare and gifting.
Sarah Boyd, Managing Director of Sephora UK, said: “We have chosen to open our first store at Westfield London because it is one of the UK’s most vibrant shopping destinations. London in general is the perfect location for our first UK store because it is a very dynamic market within the industry as well as being the economic centre of the UK."
The battle of the beauty businesses
Westfield London is currently home to 42 health and beauty locations, from beauty retailers and department stores including Boots, Superdrug and John Lewis to branded stores like Aesop, Charlotte Tilbury and The Body Shop. So, even without Sephora, the shopping centre already offers lots for beauty consumers to enjoy.
Also within Westfield's extensive beauty offering is Space NK's newly upsized store. Spanning 2,500 sq ft, the new location marks the retailer's largest store to date. The space heavily focuses on "customer needs", as well as stocking the "most extensive assortment of the world’s best beauty brands".
The store features a makeup play table for customers to discover products, two treatment rooms offering facials with expert therapists and "expertise pods", where shoppers can learn more about a brand. It also includes a new fragrance discovery area, showcasing an edit of the "most coveted brands".
Andy Lightfoot, CEO at Space NK, said: "The store represents the physical evolution of Space NK; a more customer centric, welcoming environment with more brands, more choice, more exclusives all there to be touched and tried together with our expert staff. With more stores to come from our business in 2023, we are proud to continue to innovate, with our customer at the heart of everything we do.”
How will Sephora stand out amongst the competition?
Commenting on the opening of Sephora at Westfield London, Sarah Boyd said: "Our first store in the UK will offer a thrilling product range for beauty junkies of over 135 brands, with unparalleled curation from the Sephora universe. This full spectrum of brands will encourage customers to seize the unlimited power of beauty to best express their most authentic selves, echoing Sephora's 'All of You campaign' launched back in October 2022 to mark Sephora’s arrival in the UK.
"Sephora Westfield will also bring forward familiar design elements from our store locations around the world, while introducing several new design features to enhance the retail experience further.
"We have listened and tried to learn from the UK consumer expectations. In the end, the consumer is at the centre of everything and is the one who decides. We have worked very hard to find the best positioning to address our customers and to propose them the best offer, best services, and all they need/want from the prestige beauty retail brand we are."
What do the experts think?
Millie Kendall OBE, CEO of The British Beauty Council:
"It had long been speculated that Sephora would return and that the venue would be Westfield, so it’s not terribly surprising. Shopping centres are specific destinations that you go to with the intention of doing a reasonable amount of shopping. It’s not, in my opinion, the same cultural type of experience you would get at somewhere like Covent Garden, Shoreditch or Kings Road - where there is a vast array of shops, F&B, architecture, art etc. This inspires more discovery.
"Perhaps the shopping mall inherently inspires a large basket spend, and that is the intention, but I think there is something rather quintessentially British about a high street or shopping quarter. I do hope that Sephora would consider those type of destinations as the shopping centre seems very off the back of an American type strategy, and Britain has a mix of types of shoppers. Some do opt for the more American style larger shopping trip, but that’s not for everyone. And a country of cities, towns and villages will need a mix of retail footprint to make it work here I feel."
Wizz Selvey, Consumer & retail trend analyst:
"Sephora has a great opportunity launching in the UK, with a fan base of beauty consumers who have shopped from Sephora abroad and the huge database they acquired from Feelunique.
"The challenge will be how competitive beauty retail is in the UK. The department stores hold big market share in London and key cities. In addition, there is a lot of new entrants to beauty over the last three years, such as NEXT, Flannels, H Beauty and Boots expanding their premium beauty offering. Certainly now that Sephora will a physical store in the UK, Space NK is on the defensive, expanding to bigger and better experiential stores.
"Physical retail for beauty is an important part of the consumer journey in the UK. Space NK has always had an advantage of physical retail in some great locations throughout the country and built a very loyal customer base. However, I see the Space NK consumer as a slightly different demographic than Sephora’s and that of Feelunique. Space NK customers are an older demographic with a slightly higher spend, Sephora is more playful, experimental with a different brand portfolio.
"Exclusive brands, product launches, customer experiences and points of difference to other retailers will become even more important for retailers as they try to win over beauty consumers. "
Mark Faithful, Global retail & real estate specialist:
"The biggest surprise about Sephora's return to the UK is that is has taken so long. When Sephora first arrived in the UK it was on an international expansion programme that also took in opening a flagship in New York, but for some reason the company never really seemed to get behind its British launch and, looking back, creating a flagship at an out-of-town mall - even one as popular as Bluewater - was a strategic mistake. I think for Sephora to make a splash it really needed a big, all-singing, all-dancing West End flagship on the same level as its Champs-Elysees store.
"Having got to around half a dozen stores, Sephora closed down its UK operations and blamed high rents and the costs of operating in Britain. But really it felt like it had never fully committed to the UK market.
"This time, I would hope that it's going to go all-out at Westfield London. There's a ready market for Sephora and a lot of the department stores that used to dominate beauty and skincare have gone, so it's a large market ripe for a quality player like Sephora.
"What will be interesting is to see how many stores Sephora feels it needs to have to support its new online UK offer. Large flagships in important city centres would seem the way forward. That is going to require some investment but it is part of a stable of brands with deep pockets, so it should be achievable."