Sephora Opens Experiential Retail Flagship in Boston


Sephora Studio / Newbury Street / Boston

Sephora today debuts its first small-format store in the US that’s digitally enhanced with an integrated Beauty Studio for skin care and makeup, key to the brand’s strategy to elevate the customer experience.

The first Sephora Studio is now open on Boston’s funky Newbury Street, following a launch party last night.

“It has all of our latest digital thinking,” Calvin McDonald, President and CEO of Sephora Americas, told the Boston Herald. “It’s our most personalized services. It’s really driven out of our vision to create experiential retail through ‘teach, inspire, play’ across digital, stores and at home.”

“In today’s retail environment where very little is constant and clients’ expectations are ever-evolving, one thing has remained true for SEPHORA: there is no better way to create meaningful connections with clients than through personalized experiences and a customized approach to beauty. We could not be more focused on that notion than we are with the opening of SEPHORA Studio,” McDonald said in a press release. “The Studio merges the best of an inclusive neighborhood retail environment with best-in-class digital tools that enable our expert beauty advisors to customize recommendations on an individual basis.”

Designed for urban neighborhoods, the Sephora Studio store is 2,000 square feet—vs. a chain-wide average of 5,000 square feet—and includes makeup, a curated assortment of skin and hair care products and roller-ball fragrances.

Digital welcome screens with menus greet visitors and all employees are equipped with an iPhone 7 for mobile point-of-sales purchases instead of cash registers.

Employees can customize customer recommendations and email digital makeup guides to them to be saved in their online or mobile app Sephora beauty profiles.

In-store, a digital skin care guide is on offer along with 75-minute makeovers. An integrated AI “virtual artist” in the digital make-up guide gives a before-and-after look.

Sephora has confirmed three more US Studio locations: Brooklyn, New York; Hoboken, NJ: and Washington, D.C.

The welcome invite to customers: “Grand Opening weekend, pop in for a free Perfect Lips Mini Makeover at the Beauty Studio, or book a service with our Beauty Advisors to get personalized, unbiased advice. Plus, Beauty Insiders can receive a free Sephora Newbury Street tote bag with $25 in-store purchase, while supplies last.”

Going small doesn’t mean Sephora is thinking small. Sephora’s large-scale stores, more than 400 nationwide, are thriving, but the brand has its eye on its next act as more intimate customer engagement in the heart of a neighborhood.

Sephora Studio makes sense for Boston’s Newbury Street, with a dynamic retail mix that also includes a Lush store, Australia’s Aesop brand, Benefit Cosmetics, M.A.C. Cosmetics and Bluemercury. Other neighbors include the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Ralph Lauren and a local hot spot, the Thinking Cup.

The brand is turning its public face from a large store statement to a smaller store that fits into its environs yet stands out for state-of-the-art digital and customer experience.

“We picked Newbury Street because it is a classic neighborhood shopping street,” said McDonald to Fast Company (which has a must-read profile on the new retail concept). “There are streets in cities all over the country that are just like this, where people like to take a stroll on the weekend to pop into little boutiques.”

The center of the Studio on Newbury features eight makeup stations for booking personal consultations. The product assortment is smaller and focused on makeup and leveraging digital for customer engagement.

“The goal of the Studio is to foster personal connections between our clients and our beauty advisers,” said Mary Beth Laughton, Sephora’s SVP digital, to FastCo. “But we’re using technology to ease that relationship building. We’re not interested in using technology for technology’s sake.”

It’s a defensive/offensive strategy for Sephora, FastCo adds, as “the retail apocalypse that has overtaken the US is transforming many shopping centers into retail graveyards.”

In the midst of America’s retail turmoil that has seen Macy’s, Sears and RadioShack close multiple locations, McDonald believes his company’s success comes from a savvy approach to “experiential retail. Customers come into our stores to tap into the expertise of our advisers. They come here to play with products and have a good time.”

The new stores will complement – not replace – the larger format, he hastened to add. “Eventually, we could see as many as 80 of these sprinkled around the country.”

McDonald’s also took the opportunity while in Boston to visit its other locations—and was pleased with what he saw:


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