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Sephora is returning to the UK market for the third time, hoping that a renewed strategy and focus on e-commerce will make this trial a success for the LVMH-owned beauty retailer.
Despite being a category leader in other parts of the world, the UK has been a void for the retailer, which is known for its mix of masstige and high-end beauty brands, some sold exclusively by Sephora, as well as its ability to put independent brands such as Drunk Elephant, Saie and Summer Fridays on the map.
To re-enter the market, Sephora bought UK online retailer Feelunique for an undisclosed amount in 2021. On October 17, Feelunique’s website will become Sephora.co.uk. This gives Sephora a head start in the local market: Feelunique, launched in 2005, has 1.3 million active customers. Upon Sephora’s takeover, Feelunique’s rewards program will remain in place, but will be rebranded, with customers getting £5 off for every £75 spent, along with other perks. Sephora will bring its own eponymous brand, Sephora Collection, as well as Tarte Cosmetics, Skinfix, Ilia, One/Size by Patrick Starrr and Gxve (pronounced “Give”) by Gwen Stefani, among others, which are not widely available or completely unavailable at the UK currently.
Sephora made its UK debut in 2000, opening nine stores across the country. However, by 2005 the company had left (a spokesperson declined to comment on why). Sephora then offered shipping to the UK from the US from 2014, but this ended in 2018 following complications from the rollout of the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the Union European Union, which at the time included the United Kingdom. Rumors of a transatlantic return have been circulating for years.
Sephora currently has more than 2,700 stores in 35 countries around the world, including continental Europe and Asia, and has invested $7.5 million in new stores in Mexico in 2021.
However, competition is fierce in the UK. The Boots chain, owned by Walgreens, says its market share is over 40% for high-end skin, makeup and beauty, with beauty accounting for 50% of sales on Boots.com, after growing 125% over the past two years. Boots has increased its offering of high-end brands in recent years, adding Mac, Nars and Anastasia Beverly Hills, as well as Kylie Cosmetics. Competition also exists in the form of luxury retailer Space NK and online retailer Cult Beauty, among others.