Beauty’s value in building communities and in-store experiences

Stephen Haggarty

When it comes to what drives us to shop, we humans have always behaved in very similar ways. This usually follows the lines from some well-trodden psychological frameworks involving security, sustenance, sex, and status. As consumers, we are arguably still driven by these factors, but there are also new drivers emerging that are increasingly relevant for sectors like the beauty industry – and which have helped to cement Sephora’s footing in the UK beauty retail landscape.

Firstly, we all want speed. This is especially important in any online model, but it should also be built into retailers’ bricks and mortar models too. It’s not just about the behind-the-scenes tech that leads to a more sophisticated end-to-end experience, it’s also ensuring product discoverability is simple for the consumer.

This has led to the growing importance of curation in beauty retail and something that Sephora does so well: offering handpicked products to guide customers on their purchasing journey. This is also mirrored in-store, with a roster of curated services and interactive merchandise stands that really enhance this discovery process, allowing customers the freedom to explore, test, share and be entertained as well as be with others and feel excited about a purchase.

One of the biggest challenges for many beauty brands is to achieve ‘stickiness’ in the hearts and minds of shoppers and drive repeat purchases. A retailer that can make this as simple a process as possible will increase the chances of this tenfold.

But consumers must first want to shop there, which means your proposition has to be attractive to them and suit their values. A genuine focus on sustainability and social responsibility is now a huge driver of shopping behaviour, and Sephora has been instrumental in championing this in its marketing and the choice of inclusive brands it chooses to stock.

But the most important driver – and what Sephora has masterfully created – is building a community for its customers. This creates a sense of trust and belonging for customers, which elevates them to another level of loyalty. Sephora’s tiered ‘Beauty Insider’ programme provides customers with exclusive discounts and gifts. The higher you reach in the programme, the more exclusive the perks – from special invite-only VIP events through to custom makeovers. In North America alone, the programme boasts 17 million members, which are responsible for 80% of its overall sales. There’s certainly real care at the heart of Beauty Insider which has helped build a new attitude to shopping.

No one brand owns these drivers, but great retail experiences need to find ways to adopt them. If, like Sephora, you have a mission which is to ‘create a welcoming beauty shopping experience for all and inspire fearlessness in our community’, then you must live up to that.

It’s no surprise that the flagship London store exceeded all expectations. London was ready for it. By understanding the complex cultural landscape of the UK and the London community, Sephora was able to pull on all the years of understanding these new drivers into a heady mixture with community at its heart.