In Brands, Exclusives, Insight, Retail

Accurately, Sephora sees itself as a beauty destination for the young, discerning, and high-spending customer. Where Sephora really does it right (unlike Ulta, their top competitor) is with their prestigious image, a fun and interactive experience where you can play and be “in” on the trends and invited to the best party in town. Keeping this self-defined and actualized image in mind, there are key factors to consider when developing products for Sephora.

1. Original Concept: What the merchants at Sephora like most is an original concept. Every brand in Sephora’s “curated” assortment has to have a point of difference. Does your brand have unique ingredients, a charismatic founder, does it offer unique benefits, is it gaining a big social media following, or does it attract a new kind of customer? You have to ask yourself, “Why is my brand different?” Make sure that you are extremely familiar with everything that Sephora carries because you will be asked this question and must be prepared to answer.  

2. Exclusives: Sephora loves being the exclusive retailer of brands. You will definitely have an advantage if you limit your distribution and make Sephora the primary destination for interested customers. For years they had the ability to control a brand’s distribution. They had a policy to kick out brands that opened distribution to Ulta or to They no longer have the same market share to be able to enforce such a policy, but you will definitely be looked on favorably if you provide Sephora with exclusive distribution or, at the least, exclusive products.

3. Crossover Products: Sephora divides its businesses into “worlds”: the worlds of color, skincare, hair, and fragrance (with other small categories). Customers tend to shop at Sephora in color cosmetics—it is their largest segment. Brands are more enticing if they can recruit customers from across categories. They always have their cast members’ (sales staff) on the floor focusing on sales optimization and service. How can they increase the average basket size? If you’re a skincare brand, for example, can you attract the critical color cosmetics consumer? A key strategy is to create crossover products. These products are hybrids of multiple categories. A tinted moisturizer or pigmented lip balm could satisfy a color customer and at the same time introduce them to your brand.  

4. Performance: Sephora prides itself on delivering on prestige quality. They have what seems to be an unlimited return policy, so they stand by everything they sell. They are always looking for products that provide the best performance. The merchants are always asking for clinical and consumer test results as support for product efficacy. Claims like 8-hour wear, 35% improvement, or 72-hour hydration sway both Sephora and consumers to invest.

5. Best in Class: Sephora is always challenging its brands to deliver best-in-class products. If you present a product with 8% glycolic acid, they’ll ask you to increase the concentration to 10%. They try to break their own records, always striving to offer the highest levels of actives. If a foundation claims to be full coverage, they want the most full coverage, the biggest shade range, at a lower price than existing products and in more generous sizes. If your cleanser claims 3 benefits, they will ask you to find more selling points so that new products they launch are truly best-in-class products.

6. Clean Products: In the last year, Sephora launched “Clean at Sephora” as an easy way for customers interested in free-of and natural products to navigate their assortment. Natural products are one of the biggest areas of growth and Sephora is capitalizing on the trend. If your brand can deliver best-in-class, high-performance products and comply with their clean guidelines, then you have a winning advantage that Sephora will find appealing.

If you keep the point of view of the merchant, cast member, and end customer in mind, you can create, position, and deliver appealing, best-selling Sephora products. 

Photo: LVMH via Google

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