By  on May 3, 2005

SHANGHAI — It’s easy to find the way to this city’s brand new Sephora shop: Just look for the little black-and-white bags.

Only weeks after the store’s mid-April opening on Huaihai Central Road, a pedestrian-heavy, center-city shopping spot here, the streets surrounding the store were already peppered with Sephora’s distinctive shopping bags. All anyone had to do was follow the trail to find the source, a 3,200-square-foot Sephora boutique that company representatives are calling a “beauty candy store” — a small but diverse mix of skin care, cosmetics, and fragrances that marks the company’s first foray into the China market.

“Beauty is bigger than ever before in China,” said Richard Lim, general manager for Sephora in China. “The demand for beauty products is on the rise. It’s obvious in the amount of investments the major brands already in China are putting into advertising and expansion. But we’re also seeing it in the excitement of our customers.”

The Shanghai Sephora shop, which has been in development for a year, is the first step in the firm’s plans to bring more makeup to China’s masses. Sephora, a division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is planning to open a second store in Shanghai this year and, in 2006, a third Shanghai store as well as a Beijing unit. The retail outlets are operated as a venture between Sephora China and a local partner, Shanghai Jahwa United Co. Ltd.

In a beauty market that’s already getting crowded with local and foreign brands, Sephora is hoping that its “please touch” approach to beauty products will make a splash with Chinese customers. Previously, beauty shopping has been mainly limited to department stores and a small number of single-brand, stand-alone shops and drug stores, where products are often out of reach or tightly sealed shut. Lim said he hoped Sephora’s hands-on philosophy would appeal to Chinese customers, many of whom are still learning about beauty products and looking to experiment with them.

Indeed, customers at the Shanghai shop on a recent weekday seemed taken with trying out the offerings. Young teens dabbed their fingers in pots of eye shadow and blush, the bright shades eliciting giggles as they were swiped on eyelids and cheeks. Middle-aged professionals carefully dabbed on pink lipsticks and pouted in mirrors. And yet despite the obvious popularity of sampling, Lim acknowledged that one obstacle with Chinese consumers is that they still have to be guided to just go ahead and grab.

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