For years there have been rumours of a move to the UK for beauty giant Sephora and the time has finally come. Last week, LVMH owned Sephora confirmed its acquisition of the major e-commerce platform Feelunique with a deal expected to close between March and July next year.
The buy signals a big move for Sephora as they will now take on Feelunique’s extensive product and cosmetic portfolio consisting of 35,000 different products and their 1.3 million active customers. Sephora’s foot in the UK door is sure to step on the toes of other beauty retailers such as Boots and Superdrug.
Martin Brok, president and chief executive of Sephora, says: “The transaction is a key step in Sephora’s European growth strategy and marks a first step for Sephora’s presence into the United Kingdom, one of the top 10 biggest Prestige Beauty markets worldwide, with a very high level of digital adoption. UK consumers have a strong appetite for a carefully curated Prestige Beauty offer that is tailored to their needs, and provided through a consumer-centric, seamless experience.”
So what does this move mean for the UK beauty scene?
Since its debut in Paris over 50 years ago, Sephora has become an omnichannel beauty trailblazer in 35 countries, with a constantly evolving array of carefully curated brand partners and products from classic and prestige brands to exclusive and independent ones.
In the past, Sephora’s physical stores have proven successful in drawing in customers. However, over the past year we have looked to retailers’ online presence as an indication of their true success and their ability to survive in the absence of bricks and mortar stores. Much of Sephora’s success is due to their digital customer experience. It is interactive, multipurpose and provides what feels like a personalised experience.
Some would argue that before other beauty e-tailers jumped on board the trend, Sephora revolutionised the way we shop online for beauty products. Offering user-generated content such as BeautyTalk, a forum for customers and experts to discuss products and needs, and the Beauty Board, a space for customers to post pictures and reviews of their experiences with Sephora-bought cosmetics taking much of the uncertainty out of online shopping.
Sephora’s ability to combine the best of both in-store and online shopping is what makes them truly shine in the industry. The beauty brand knows that digitalizing the in-store experience is a key factor to maintaining presence. Now as they acquire another large digital retailer, it is certain they will bring a personalised touch to Feelunique’s existing loyal customer base.
Founded in 2005, Feelunique is a fast-growing beauty e-commerce platform. Offering its 1.3 million active customers an extensive and ever-changing selection of brands and products – over half of which are exclusive to the company.
Sephora pulled out of the UK some years ago, and this deal marks a key step in establishing its presence in one of the top 10 global markets for prestige beauty. The purchase gives Sephora instant scale in the UK without needing to open stores. For Feelunique it’s an opportunity to tap into Sephora’s successful marketing tactics that have allowed them to dominate much of the industry for many years and made them one of the worlds largest beauty retailers.
Sarah Miles, chief executive of Feelunique, says of the deal: “Sephora is an iconic retailer in the Prestige Beauty space in Europe. We are looking forward to working together and leveraging our respective strengths to drive the Prestige beauty segment in the UK”.
Feelunique have undoubtedly carved their name firmly into the beauty retailer hall of fame, but Sephora’s global success is proof that their approach to a personalised and unique shopping experience has given their name an edge. It is clear that these are the qualities Feelunique are keen to learn from as their company goes from strength to strength.
News of Sephora’s acquisition of Feelunique comes at a key time for the UK beauty market. After a difficult period during the pandemic in which much of the country refrained from buying beauty products in favour of a more bare-faced, zoom-friendly glam, beauty retailers saw prestige cosmetic sales fall by 24% during 2020. However, sales of makeup and fragrance products are now set to soar in the coming months as we emerge from lockdown and return to work and social occasions.
New data from The NPD Group also reveals that 61% of consumers plan to return to their usual pre-pandemic make-up routines as restrictions continue to ease.
This suggests that there may have been no better time for this deal to be made as this could be an opportunity for these beauty giants to fuel this UK beauty rebound, encouraging sales and enticing consumers back to the shops, be it physical or digital.
The past year has also sparked a significant rise in online makeup sales with 20% of makeup consumers having purchased products via social media sites in particular. This is where Sephora’s social status and loyal following will come into play.
Sephora frequently use their Instagram with thousands tagging #Sephora in their posts for a chance to be featured on their page. This sincere, mutually beneficial, give-and-take relationship keeps their customers engaged.
The news of Sephora’s UK acquisition may have been music to the ears of beauty buffs but for other retailers the thought of a global giant like Sephora hitting the shores is sure to hurt.
For quite some time there has been talk of Sephora’s potential arrival in the UK and their interest in Feelunique. Many of the competing retailers in the UK such as Boots, The Hut Group and Asos, would have been wise to begin looking at how they could keep up should this deal finally be struck.
It seems many of these retailers did prepare for such an occasion and have been making significant moves to ensure they keep their seat at the heavyweight table. Over the past 18 months Boots has introduced well over 50 new brands and launched countless initiatives, including its Makeup Exchange Policy, a partnership with The Hygiene Bank, and a beauty product recycling scheme.
The continuing expansion of brand offerings at Boots comes as part of the huge 2020 beauty reinvention, which included the revamping of 60 Boots beauty halls across the United Kingdom, in an effort to move away from traditional beauty counters and replace them with interactive stations. Of course many of these interactive changes were fuelled by the pandemic but it is clear that the health and beauty retailer is keen to steer away from their typically high street name and develop into a seamless beauty retailer that can survive the Sephora storm.
This deal will undoubtedly make a significant impact on the UK beauty industry but as other retailers work hard to develop their shopping experiences, how much of an impact it will have is a question that will linger for some time to come.