Mar 7, 2023
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Sephora UK store is "threat to incumbents", but VFM will be key - analyst

Mar 7, 2023

With Sephora due to open its debut UK store on Wednesday, an analyst on Tuesday said the French beauty giant poses a threat to established market leaders like Boots and Superdrug, but must be seen as offering value for money in order to succeed.

Sephora's Champs Elysées store - DR

Sofie Willmott, Lead Analyst at GlobalData, said: “Sephora may have only announced the opening of a solitary store in the UK, but the potential threat to the incumbent beauty retail leaders is significant. GlobalData’s UK consumer survey shows that one third of UK shoppers aware of Sephora, would switch to the global beauty retailer for their health & beauty purchases with the main retailers they would turn away from being Superdrug and Boots.”

That’s interesting given that Sephora — which previously exited the UK in 2005 — might have been assumed to be more likely to take business away from more premium retailers like H Beauty, Next Beauty & Home or Debenhams than the big, nationwide multi-price-level names like Boots and Superdrug.

However, GlobalData surveyed over 2,000 UK consumers and found almost 16% prepared to shop at Sephora rather than Superdrug and over 14% ready to abandon Boots. 

Next on the list of stores UK shoppers would switch away from in favour of Sephora are Tesco, Asda, Amazon and Primark. After that comes MAC, Selfridges, Wilko and M&S.

So clearly, the arrival of the French firm — both online and physically — has the potential to disrupt beauty specialists and multi-category retailers, as well as stores at the very budget end of the market and those firmly in the luxury sector.

Not that Sephora will have it all its own way. Willmott added that “the specialists are well prepared for Sephora’s re-entry to the UK – market leader Boots has introduced beauty halls and upped its game with contemporary, in-demand brands and Superdrug has focused on low prices and the services it offers to satisfy its young shopper base. Sephora will need to continue to highlight its exclusive ranges and make events, like those taking place around the launch, a permanent fixture if it is to drive repeat visits and steal shoppers from the UK stalwarts in the long term.”

She also highlighted how the brand has “chosen a challenging time to return to the UK with very little available shopper spend available for non-essential items and 65.4% of shoppers changing or intending to change their beauty shopping habits in response to rising prices”.

Willmott added that “Sephora’s younger shoppers are more likely to be altering the way they shop – 77.1% of 16-34s have changed or expect to change the way they shop for beauty products versus 60.2% of those aged 35 and over, with the most popular strategy being to buy fewer items or buy less often”.

And given that perceptions of the Sephora brand include it being “expensive” (ranked third behind “high quality” and “modern”), that adds to the pressure.

Boots and Superdrug are both very good at stressing their value credentials to that’s a challenge Sephora will need to overcome.

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