Sephora, the masters of shopping experience

A case to define Experiential Marketing

Para leer este post en Español haz click aquí.


Can I tell you a secret? To write this post, one visit to Sephora wasn’t enough. And by the way, my pocket did not thank this at all, but my cosmetics box was very happy.

Let’s talk about Sephora. It is a beauty-retail concept founded in France by Dominique Mandonnaud in 1970, and acquired in the 90’s by LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton group. Sephora sells over 250 classic and emerging brands across a broad range of product categories including skincare, color, fragrance, body, smilecare, and haircare, in addition to Sephora’s own private label.

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As a make-up artist and cosmetics fan, I admit that in the past when I did shopping in Sephora, it was with a specific purpose. At some point I questioned if other people spend so little time in the store, as I did, and I’m talking about those who visit the store to browse without any particular need.

Then is when I considered necessary running an experiment to not skip any detail of the whole shopping experience, which I regularly did on my visits to the store. To carry this through, I decided it was going to exclude the on-line experience; it was going to be happen only in the physical store. I made two visits to two different stores on different dates, both had the same visual merchandising model, and on both visits I went through all phases of what professionals call Experiential Marketing.

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The Experiential Marketing seeks to create magic for the consumer, causing a sensorial response of great intensity. Currently the brands that are really successful getting to the customer, is because they understand he wants to communicate with the brand only if it’s relevant. It is proven that an effective way to achieve this is through experiences personalized to each user. Companies will survive tomorrow not because of their products attributes, but because of the experiences they offer to the consumers through their interactions, like it happens in the store[1].

What is Sephora’s differentiator? They preach is their open-sell environment, directly related to the Experiential Marketing, which lies in displaying in the store every product in stock. The products are placed on attractive and luxurious counters so the customer can play with them; this eliminates the seller as unique requisite to interact with the brands. “The biggest benefit is being able to shop without interruption” says Terry Darland, president of LVMH Beauty North America in interview with The Wall Street Journal.

The Fashion Marcom Case Sephora 2

Before I continue, I must confess I contacted the Sephora team in Mexico to access to information and complement my experiment; this access was very useful, although the key here was to spend all the necessary time in the stores, stop at every possible counter to discover the unknown, to apply and dab everything on my way, and to be open at all time to hear suggestions from the associates.

What happened? (Remember I said my pocket did not thank me at all for this experiment?) In a very patient mood, I went over my first visit to the first store, in which I spent nearly two hours. At my arrival the associates welcomed me and we started the tour together, and after listening absolutely every single tip and suggestion, I allowed one girl to do my makeup. And that is how I tried a different powder makeup than the one I’ve used for 15 years as I’m very loyal to a specific brand, which by the way, is not being sold here. After going crazy for trying a laaaaarge amount of liquids, powders, creams, sparkles, glosses, etc. I made up my mind and got a MakeUp Forever powder foundation, a Too Faced eye shadow primer and a 14 eye shadow palette from Smashbox. I know what you are thinking, and you are right, I did not need anything I bought, but I tried them, liked them and bought them… and if you allow me the suggestion, the three products are ah-mazing!

*Note: I apologize to all cosmetics non-users for confusing you with my girl talk.

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On my second visit, I went with a friend to help her find a make-up foundation; we played in the store for about an hour. I said we were looking for a foundation, and my friend ended up buying not only that, but also the Too Faced primer I got in my previous visit and I suggested she should get; this is known as worth of mouth recommendation. And as I couldn’t resist, I got a super vital travel size Flowerbomb perfume by Viktor & Rolf, another powder foundation by bareMinerals with its face brush to apply it (I promise it was vital, it was a matter of death and life!). In this occasion, nobody approached to us to suggest anything, anyhow we had our faces more moisturized than ever, and we both completed a purchase.

After the two visits and spending a bunch of money in products, I shall say again, did not need and still bought, I considered completed my experiment. I went through everything I lived and so I concluded the 5 reasons why I confirm Sephora’s Experiential Marketing model is successful:

  1. They promote themselves as an interactive space where you can touch- play- try; I concur. In addition to that, this place is educational as you get information about any product you may seem interested in; this is in the end a way to persuade you to buy.
  2. The displays are logically placed and ordered in a way that the interaction with the product is easy; they make your tour around the store very simple.
  3. Either you are advised by someone, or left alone in the store, it is by personal experience you try a product, and if you don’t buy it in that moment, it is very possible you return to the store to get it (for instance, I am definitely going back for that Laura Mercier foundation primer).
  4. When a customer seeks for a specific product, the associates suggest you additional “complementary” items, which is nothing more and nothing less than incremental sales.
  5. Thanks to the access Sephora Mexico team granted me, I know all members of the organization review everyday the company goals, thus they spend their days knowing what they must achieve.

Are they missing something? Undoubtedly. A fidelity program focused on make-up professionals is missing. I am of one of those who believe this kind of strategy incites recurrence from this segment, who in the end, do more transactions and more often than a non-professional because they need the products as working tools.

Anyways, do you realize? They converted me from the brand I’ve used for 15 years to new possibilities, just for interacting once with a product. And not only that, by suggestion I also made my friend buy new products, we are two new customers now. Imagine if they convert every loyal customer of brands not sold in this store, or customers of other stores that don’t have this same merchandising model.

Even though this post cost me over USD $200, to me it worth’s every penny. I discovered new cosmetics that are now in my drawer (yay!), but what I appreciate the most is the clear and explicit evidence of what the marketing trends dictate to define Experiential Marketing.

I want to express my most sincere gratitude to Sephora Mexico for all their support during my investigation.

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[1] Max Lenderman, Raúl Sánchez (2008). Marketing Experiencial, La Evolución de las Marcas. Madrid, España: ESIC Editorial.


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