When Sephora was founded in France in 1970, the store provided a new, first-of-its-kind experience for beauty product consumers. The open-sell environment allowed shoppers “behind the counter,” so to speak, upending the traditional department store model that relied on a commission-based interaction with a consultant at the beauty counter.
The brand opened its first store in the U.S. in 1998, giving Americans the ability to try products on before investing in them and creating an experience that many beauty consumers still primarily associate with Sephora stores. But just a year after that, the company also launched its online store, making its range of products available to fans who didn’t have access to a retail location in their hometowns.
That early adoption of the ecommerce channel meant that when the pandemic hit in March, Sephora had two decades of experience and innovations to lean back on as lockdown orders necessitated the temporary closure of its retail locations, according to Sephora’s svp and general manager of ecommerce, Carolyn Bojanowski. Since the pandemic hit, she said Sephora’s seen a 75% growth in its ecommerce business.
Over the last several months, the company has also made changes to the way its try-on options work in store and ramped up cleaning procedures, Bojanowski said, ensuring that safety and social distancing measures are implemented to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading at its locations.
“It’s been amazing to see how the stores have reacted,” Bojanowski said. “We wanted to only open when it felt safe, not only for our employees but for our clients.” That meant putting a pause on the traditional tester process, for the most part, and keeping close tabs on local regulations regarding visitor capacity and mask mandates.
Sephora has also added new services to its online store, creating a virtual shopping option for consumers so that folks can get an expert consultation on products without leaving their homes, and expanding payment options. It’s even expanded payment options like Klarna’s “buy now, pay later” scheme, which it added in May and has proven most popular among shoppers under 20, said Bojanowski.
“What’s great about Klarna is we’ve seen pretty rapid adoption online, and the next thing for us is to use it in stores as well,” she said.
Many of Sephora’s sales trends have followed or responded to the realities of the moment, Bojanowski added, with candles, facial masks (the kind that pampers your skin rather than the kind that protects strangers from your germs) and other self-care products proving most popular throughout the pandemic.
Consumers have also been more focused on “above-the-mask” products like eyebrow pencils and shapers, and treatment options for “mask-ne”—the pimples that form underneath those face masks. “We’ve developed a lot of content, along with our brand partners, on how to treat that,” Bojanowski said. “It’s a thing.”