Beyond Cosmetics: Building the store that changed the beauty scene

Transforming a category can’t be just cosmetic.

If you’re a woman who grew up in the early 90s, you’ll remember that beauty departments used to be deeply intimidating places. The real truth of the experience was that perfect-looking sales reps would size you up to assess whether you had cash and, if you did, they’d sell you hard.

Beauty halls are different now – they are fun places to experiment and play, with approachable make-up-artists on hand to offer inspiration, advice or just the latest celebrity gossip, if required. Sephora and Interbrand are responsible for that transformation. When the flagship store opened in 1996 it was visited by more people than the Eiffel Tower, eventually netting $150 million.

Animated data metrics.

A beautifully fresh approach.

Beauty had always been big business, but Sephora knew that to scale the opportunity, it needed to break all the rules of beauty retail and create an experience that anybody could buy into.

Together, we evaluated which interactions and experiences would deliver that iconic move. We re-imagined key touchpoints so that they had all the accessibility and ease of the supermarket experience. And we made one critical change: we stocked the brands in alphabetical order, in well lit, orderly rows, completely altering the previous convention of branded units, and ending the dominance of brand over the retailers and the customers. A generous approach to product sampling created inviting spaces to play with makeup and helped to redefine customer expectations of luxury cosmetics retail.

Now, Sephora is the number one beauty specialist retailer in the world, proving that a beautiful experience seriously benefits the bottom line. The company’s revenue is $3 billion and while other retailers struggle to succeed on the high street – 100 new stores opened in 2018. Sephora’s combination of opulence and access remains undefeated over twenty years later. A generation will come of age never knowing the horrors of mall cosmetics counters, of feeling judged while struggling through labyrinthine outlets, thanks to the genius and innovation of this one company. Beauty never looked so bankable.