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John Ryan

Sephora in the UK: A Matter of Timing

The beauty retailer makes a comeback after 18 years away

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Photography: John Ryan, London

HERE’S SOMETHING THAT will raise few eyebrows to anybody reading this in the United States. Sephora has landed in the U.K. and the first store to open is in the Westfield London mall in West London.

“So? We’ve had Sephora for years and yeah, it’s pretty good. But how come if it’s worked here has it only just reached the Brits? Isn’t it in other parts of Europe anyway?” The answer to the latter part of this U.S. line of questioning is yes, and to the former it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it’s been in the U.K. before, it’s just that people (including, it would appear, Sephora) seem to have overlooked this fact, amid all the marketing noise accompanying the new opening.

In fairness, Sephora traded from six stores in the U.K. until it called time on the operation in 2005. That makes it 18 years since it was last on these shores and that’s a very long time in beauty retailing. Indeed, it is probable that many of those dutifully waiting in the line that would, apparently, take seven hours to reach the front of if you were at the rear on opening day, would either not have been born when Sephora was last here, or would be too young to remember.

To judge by the crowds, it seems that it’ll be second time lucky for the LVMH-owned outfit. And since Sephora was last here, there has been a digital revolution in store, presentation methods have changed, personalization has become a thing and we’ve grown used to paying using our phones. That’s a lot and, alongside all of this, shopping habits have changed as well with people willing to travel to visit flagship emporia and local main streets feeling the breeze in consequence.

All of which would seem to point to good times ahead for Sephora U.K. management. As in all things concerned with retailing, it’s a matter of timing and perhaps the U.K. was unready last time round. Now it’s primed and raring to go, for this retailer at least.

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