Secret Shopper: The battle of Sephora, Boots and Space NK at Westfield London
Westfield London is currently home to 46 health and beauty locations. In recent months, the shopping centre has become a particularly popular beauty hotspot with the opening of Sephora, relocation of Space NK, and revamped Boots store all launching since the start of the year.
For TheIndustry.beauty's latest Secret Shopper, I headed to Westfield London to check out Sephora, Boots and Space NK, evaluating their in-store offering to see how each retail experience compares.
I began my shopping experience at Sephora. This was my second visit to the store, after previously attending the press and influencer launch event in March. With a glossy look, new brands and even a performance by the Sugababes, it gave a very good first impression. So, when I returned to the store a few months later, I was eager to see how it was doing.
Having exited the UK market when I was a child and only returning within the past year, Sephora was only ever accessible to me when hunting down the retailer's stores any time I went abroad. So, being greeted by its massive glowing sign in Westfield London still feels rather strange... but above all exciting!
Entering at around 4pm on a Monday, the store was just the right kind of busy. I was able to navigate the space with ease, helped by the beauty category signage around the store – something I also enjoyed at Boots and Space NK.
As I browsed the product displays, the overall upkeep of the store was slightly less impressive. This wasn't the case for everything, as some displays were gleaming and fully stocked. However, at the time, quite a few testers were missing, certain (often popular) products had no stock, and some displays were left nearly or fully empty – leaving the store feeling a bit disorganised in places. Perhaps Sephora is still getting used to operating in the UK, but it must offer a seamless retail experience if it's to stand-out amongst the competition.
That being said, the space has some great features. The heart of the store is defined by a 'beauty hub', which provides a number of experiences across makeup, skincare, haircare, fragrance, bodycare. Dotted around the store, I also enjoyed the fun displays (when they were filled with products), such as 'The Next Big Thing', 'Hot on Social' and 'Haircare Bestsellers'.
The overall brand offering at Sephora Westfield London is also appealing. I could easily fill a basket (or two) with some of the new and exclusive products available in-store. Whilst I resisted the urge to splash some cash this time, I did purchase a few Sephora own-brand face masks before leaving the store.
After Sephora, I made my way down to Boots. This provides a slightly different shopping experience from Sephora and Space NK, as it offers both health and beauty. Boots has a good reputation in the UK – it's a high street favourite. So, this makes it difficult for me to imagine the retailer ever being pushed out by a competitor like Sephora or Space NK – especially as it currently has a much bigger store footprint.
However, the opening of Sephora certainly has made sure Boots keeps pace. Coinciding with Sephora's bricks-and-mortar return to the UK, Boots revamped its Westfield London beauty hall in March. The timing of this was no coincidence and is completely understandable – Space NK did a similar thing a few months earlier by opening a newly upsized store at the shopping centre.
Like Sephora, Boots Westfield London boasts a bright and inviting space. Its big windows and entrance offers shoppers a preview into the store and its expansive product offering even before entering.
The store's updated beauty hall is separated into two main areas. The first, located on the left, features a variety of high street favourites such as Collection, Barry M and Rimmel, amongst many others. On the right, the second area is home to a selection of more premium beauty concessions, including Kylie Cosmetics, Huda Beauty, Estée Lauder and Chanel. This felt like a good set-up as the store groups the more affordable brands together, leaving the premium brands (where customers might be looking for a more helpful and personal shopping experience) to dedicated concessions accompanied by 'beauty specialists'.
The space also features trending zones, discovery areas and consultation spaces. I particularly liked the 'mix it up' station, which featured lots of mini products across skincare and makeup. Curated product edits like this have become more common in beauty stores and seem like a great way to engage customers beyond standard product displays.
Located near Boots, I finally wandered across to Space NK. Simply put, the store is beautiful. The wooden accents, bold imagery and warm lighting felt so inviting!
Having spoken with Space NK's CEO Andy Lightfoot about a previous store opening last year, I remembered that the retailer has been elevating its store design concept – and it's certainly paying off! As part of this, Space NK Westfield London features a light herringbone floor to help draw the eye-line through the space. It also uses more imagery and has changed the way it merchandises brands to make it easier to differentiate where one brand starts and another ends.
Whilst smaller than Sephora and Boots, Space NK offers a more intimate, premium shopping experience. With brands such as Nars, Rose Inc, JVN Hair, Tatcha and Diptyque, the retailer's offering spans skincare, makeup, haircare, bodycare and fragrance.
A particular pull for Space NK is Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez. Since its launch in 2019, the brand has surged in popularity. Taking advantage of this demand, Rare Beauty was housed in a dedicated concession with imagery smartly positioned near Space NK's store front. This is clearly effective, as a lot of the products were sold out!
Aside from the retail offering, the store also includes a small beauty services area. This allows customers to try products and access complimentary shade matching, makeup tutorials and skincare consultations. In Westfield London's busy beauty retail landscape, these services are an essential part of Sephora, Boots and Space NK's retail offering- helping them to entice shoppers in-store with these elevated customer experiences.
Space NK and Boots benefit from having physical retail in some great locations. As a result, both retailers have built up a very loyal customer base. However, Sephora is still benefitting from the buzz of its opening. Its highly anticipated return outperformed expectations by 300%, according to Sephora's CEO Christopher de Lapuente. So, it will be interesting to see if this excitement continues or if consumers will favour more familiar retailers like Boots or Space NK.
Perhaps each business will co-exist harmoniously, as I see each retailer as having a slightly different demographic. To me, the Space NK customer is slightly older and more affluent, Sephora's is younger, more experimental and brand obsessed, and Boots' is loyal and someone who enjoys the ease of shopping health and beauty in one place.
However, I expect each retailer will want to be the best – and rightly so! Therefore, exclusive brands, unique customer experiences and points of difference are really important for Sephora, Boots and Space NK as they try to win over shoppers at Westfield London. I believe they're doing this fairly well, but there's always room to strive for even better!